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An ode to a real Kickapoogian – Grandpa Ray
Ode to Grandpa Ray

GAYS MILLS - On Saturday, we closed another chapter by hosting the Celebration of Life for my Grandpa Ray. 

We had the event at the 212 Main Street Community Building in Gays Mills, which had some historical significance for my grandpa, as he would go there to see performances and also play with the family band, the Kickapoo Hillbillies. 

If that wasn’t enough, as it turns out, his father Merle was a stonecutter and had helped to build the building as part of the WPA work done in Gays Mills. 

Despite a few snafus here and there, including Chasca staying up all night to help roast the hog,  and me accidently listing my own, very much alive dad, in the ‘preceded in death by’ section of the program, (Sorry dad!), the party overall was an incredible time.

Faces of folks we had not seen for years and years came through the door, with armloads of food. There were lots of hugs, conversation and good times shared. 

My dear aunt Doris, a sister-in-law to Grandpa Ray walked in with her fluffy white dog and a parade of grandchildren. All of them carrying crock pots or loaves of her famous homemade bread. 

Aunt Doris actually promised to give me one of the coveted loaves. However, I later learned, she gave them to damn near everyone she talked to and I wasn’t quick enough to be one of the chosen ones. I ate a few slices though and that will hold me over until Apple Fest, when she makes her return. 

Thatcher, always the party animal, was quite excited to celebrate the life and times of (Great) Grandpa Ray. Being three, the concept of a celebration of life doesn’t quite get there for him. So, despite how much we corrected him, he kept calling it Grandpa Ray’s birthday party. 

He proudly dressed in his Ray Hadley finest for the affair. Stripped bibbed overalls and cowboy boots. It was fun to see a few other people donning their finest boots and bibs in honor of Ray. 

When it came time to do the stage thing, I became a bit anxious. I had been working hard on this eulogy to deliver to this mixed crowd of family and friends. I had lain awake reciting it in my mind, worried I’d most certainly miss something. 

I grabbed my cousin Wes, who was to sing before my little speech part and then sing a song after. 

I got up on the stage and welcomed everyone and set Wes to playing. Wes, who is Ray’s first grandson, was among the few of us grandkids that inherited his musical talent. He played the classic Kickapoo River Blues and Low Income Blues, silencing the crowd with the incredible renditions. Although it was so weird to hear anyone else tackle these almost sacred songs, Wes did a terrific job, and brought pride to all the hillbillies in the room. 

 As soon as Thatcher saw me get back up at the mic, he grabbed his bells and stormed the stage. 

As though he didn’t hear me attempting to wobble through this speech, which I had to read from my phone since I had forgotten my print out, he jangled his bells and belted out his rendition of ‘Jingle Bells Batman Smells,’ like he was born to do it. 

The rare feeling of embarrassment overtook me a bit as I struggled through getting out what I came to say. All the while, Thatcher joyously jingle-jangled away, singing his heart out. I decided to cut my bit short and invite others to come and share their stories, memories and song. Thatcher, continued to play. This time accompanied by his Grandpa Markie.

When I stepped off the stage, I was greeted by Chasca who assured me, I did great. As well as many other people who seemed to truly enjoy not only my little bit of talking I was able to stammer out, but Thatcher, who stormed the stage and performed with all the moxie of his great grandfather Ray Hadley. For if there is anything we know about Ray, it is that when he sang and played, he commanded the space he was in with his unique voice and powerful strumming. 

I’m almost certain that wherever he is, off in the ethers, he was proud to see little Thatcher carrying on his legacy as a real Kickapoogian.