As of June, 2021, I’ve lived longer than anyone else in three generations of my family, longer than grandparents, longer than Mother and Daddy, longer than my sisters and brothers. None of them got to be 80, the number I’m now celebrating. Getting to be 80 years old doesn’t feel like a random event. It feels momentous.
I’m not the only one among my kinfolk with hopes and dreams and plans and I’m mindful of many opportunities the people who came before didn’t have. I was present at the end of the lives of some of them and heard first-hand what they wished they could have stayed around to accomplish.
One of the last things Mother said to me was, “You’re lucky you were born when you were. You have choices I never had.” Both those things are true. I remain in awe of all she accomplished during her time, in places and ways no one could have predicted. I hope somehow she knows how it all turned out.
At the end of Daddy’s life, he exhibited no restlessness about his closing chapters. He spoke only of gratitude. “I have had me some beautiful morning walks.” I wish he could have had many more.
During my 80th year I have the privilege of holding in my hand a book just published. My family lived it but I was the one who lived long enough to write about it.
I’m a person of faith so none of this feels accidental or coincidental. Wherever the stories come from, in whatever form they want to take, written or spoken, I’ll keep putting them together, though perhaps not as driven as Mother and a bit more grateful like Daddy.
Daddy was Reverend Raymond D. Jones, aka Brother Ray: preacher, evangelist, high lonesome tenor-singing rhythm guitar player, pioneering pastor for his sect and Mother’s forever boyfriend.
Born in 1914, if he were here today he’d take a look at social media, say “Don’t that beat all!” and figure a way to work it into a sermon.
Photo above: 1955, First worship service inside the new church in Bogalusa, Louisiana
The church under construction
In Americus, Georgia early in his ministry, he was in charge of creating a congregation and building a church. During the war no new lumber was available, so the congregation bought an old hotel and demolished it, re-purposing the lumber for a new building.
That’s Daddy on the left, wearing his preacher clothes,
working with the crew.
And one of my favorites. Brother Ray in a Sunday morning suit.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, from one of the preacher’s kids.
Modeling at Webb’s Department Store, Glendale CA 1957
My family arrived in Southern California from the Deep South in 1957, part of a migration of Southern gospel singers and musicians. We didn’t own much more than the contents of the trailer we pulled on Route 66 from Louisiana to my grandmother’s house in Glendale. I was a sophomore at Herbert Hoover High School, working after school and weekends at Webb’s, the major department store on Brand Boulevard.
On certain Saturdays, some of us walked through the store modeling different ensembles which we changed several times a day. We carried cards that described our outfits and answered questions about what we were wearing and where to find it in the store.
This sweater in the picture was my first encounter with cashmere. It was a lovely shade of chocolate brown and the skirt was authentic Pendleton in a cashmere and wool blend. In those days, a sweater like that required hand washing in Woolite and that skirt would go to a dry cleaner who charged by the pleat. Not exactly practical for high school, right? But many girls at Hoover wore outfits like that every day and they arrived in the student parking lot driving their own cars, many of them fancier than the vehicles owned by our teachers.
My other job at Webb’s, which I loved, was running the elevator. During my training I learned an elevator still has a lot of glide in it once you release the handle, especially when it’s carrying the maximum number of shoppers allowed, so bringing that machine to a stop exactly even with the floor every time became a point of pride.
I was paid $1.00 an hour and the guys in luggage (on the mezzanine) gave me coffee for free. In spite of being surrounded by elegantly dressed girls at high school, every time I got a paycheck, instead of saving for cashmere, I bought a record album.