Whether you like it or not, you’re forced to come to the realization that death is out there. But I don’t fear death, I’m a fatalist. I believe when it’s your time, that’s it. It’s the hand you’re dealt. ~Clint Eastwood
Today is bittersweet. As we move from one year to the next, God has brought home another one of His blessed sons. It saddens me to talk about the passing of my Uncle Ray and yet I am very proud of the man I knew and shared the surname Piper. I am also very happy he is no longer suffering and reunited with my Aunt Clemmie. I bet Ryan is showing him around!
My heart goes out to my cousins who lost their grandpap, great grandpap and father. Also to all of my cousins, family and friends of the family everywhere, may you be comforted to have simply known Uncle Ray and the truly upstanding man he was. Stories of Uncle Ray will be told for years to come, for he was one of the good ones who lived a very full life.
Naturally, everyone on Facebook is sending their thoughts and prayers to the family. My cousin Brook, one of Uncle Ray’s grand kids commented on Facebook that Uncle Ray was shot in the chest at age 19 in France while fighting with Patton’s 3rd Army. What? Really? Wow! I had no idea! I’m sure over the years, I’ll probably learn more about Uncle Ray then I could ever have guessed, certainly more than my little world ever knew. So let the stories begin! Uncle Ray has earned center stage!
Uncle Ray was my pap’s brother on my dad’s side. Yep, Uncle Ray was a Piper through and through. Of course, I cannot speak of Uncle Ray and exclude his late wife, my Aunt Clemmie. They were two peas in a pod, and admittedly a couple of my favorites.
It’s funny, but most of my memories of Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie included Halloween. No joke! My family grew up on a ridge, not the one Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie lived, but a connecting one. It’s great living away from town except for the fact there are no walkable neighborhoods to trick-or-treat during Halloween. Minor downside. Mom would always take care of that situation by driving all of us ghosts and ghouls around to collect our share of sweet treats. In addition to acquiring more candy (because you know there is never enough) and extending the Halloween fun, trick-or-treating the Piper ridge was a great excuse to see family, aside from the Piper Reunion in July. Me, Ryan, Nicole, Casey, Joel, and Elizabeth, and later Mikey would pile in the car. Usually mom took us because Karen had Marla and later Stacey. We would make our pit stops all along the ridge, hitting up family and friends of the family.
Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie’s stop was a favorite, also one of the last ones. I loved going back to their house. It was always so creepy in the darkness and among the trees. Perfect for Halloween, loved it! Uncle Ray always made us homemade potato chips in the barn. To this day, I can still smell the grease and taste the crunchy starchy goodness of the chips. Growing up, mom and dad never kept junk food among the cupboards, so the homemade potato chips were a real treat!
As a kid, I hated to wait for chips to finish bathing in the oil, and let’s not discuss the patience I had to demonstrate while they cooled. (I was never very patient) When Uncle Ray added the salt, I knew it wasn’t long before I would get a taste! Looking back on it now, how many kids were blessed with freshly made potato chips made from a real cowboy?
Throughout the summer, me, Ryan and Nicole would take turns spending a week with my gram and pap on the ridge. Ryan was lucky, he usually got to go to the sawmill with pap, while I was stuck with gram. Nicole never did mind laying around grams house, which I still don’t get to this day. Although, to break up the time, gram would drag me around to visit local family. Usually, it was uneventful, except when I would hang with my Uncle Ralph and of course, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie. My days were spent in the barn or in his fields. Uncle Ray would help entertain me by letting me help him with small chores. Seriously the best! I loved helping out around the house and spending time with Uncle Ray. He always wore that cowboy hat! I used to think he was so goofy. Naturally, I would tell him so and he would always pick back. Loved him!
One more quick story. Periodically, throughout the winter, my parents would fire up the snowmobiles and take us for rides back through the woods. Those trips were a blast! You see back then, winter really was winter. Snow laid on the ground from about November or December till about March or April. It was great! There wasn’t just a dusting either, there was consistently piles and piles of snow all winter long! So going through the woods was a non-issue, especially when you’re racing above the ground with a feet of snow between. The ridge my parents live on connects to the Piper ridge, via the Butina ridge (these are most certainly not technical names but it was how I was grown up to refer to such places and most people understand these directions).
Mom would ride with Nicole and dad would take me and Ryan. (Ryan always got to ride upfront and steer while I was stuck behind dad. Just like Kyle, always a stinker.) Mom would call a few relatives to let them know we were heading up, to be ready for us. Sometimes mom and dad’s neighbors, the Davis’ and the Ferry’s would fire up their snowmobiles and ride along. We always left when it was dark, adding to the excitement! In my mind, it was midnight, when in reality it was probably around 6:00 pm or so.
By the time we got to Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie’s, which was always a stop, Aunt Clemmie would have hot chocolate ready to bring me back from my frozen state. I always got really cold, even when I ate ice-cream, so riding in the cold wind didn’t do me justice, even though I loved every minute of it. We always hung out at Uncle Ray’s, shooting the breeze and gold old fashion visiting, before calling it a night and making our departure back down the ridge.
I can still see Uncle Ray and Aunt Clemmie’s faces. They never seemed bothered by us kids running around and always welcomed us! I think Aunt Clemmie loved being my hot chocolate savior!
I am truly grateful that Kyle got to meet and hang out with Uncle Ray. Even though the meetings were short and didn’t mean much to my little man at the time, I am certain over the years he will learn more about his family and appreciate them as much as I have come to.
Rest-in-Peace Uncle Ray and God Speed!
This video cracks me up. How many conversations are going on all at once? This is what it’s like when you get a room full of Piper’s together. c.7/2011