My Grampa died last week. Melvin Ray “Red” Reavis. He was called Red because he had a red face as a baby. My Grandma is called Pat (even though her name is Virginia) because she also had a red face as a baby. So it’s no mystery where my pink cheeks came from.

Grandma Pat and Grampa Red

They were married 64 years. Twice as long as I’ve been alive. Few people ever have such a privilege. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose it.

I’m still processing the sadness at losing him and the gratitude I feel for having him in our lives for so long. It still doesn’t make sense. Just a few days ago we could visit him, hear his stories, his laugh, his self-taught fiddle playing, his opinion about the weather or random goings-on in town. He’d be sitting in his easy chair watching Bonanza or out at the new McDonald’s with its views of oak trees and cattle pastures with Grandma drinking coffee.

There was little warning. He was having some heart problems, but after preliminary testing, he told everyone the doctor said he had the heart of a 45-year-old. He knew this wasn’t true, and that the next tests might kill him. But he just made jokes about how he dreamed Mexican banditos were after him while he was under anesthesia, and we didn’t find out the truth until it was too late. He was no doubt trying to be noble, didn’t want anyone to make a fuss. It was just his time to slip quietly out of this world.

But so many of us wish we had called, or visited. We wished we had known it was anything but another routine doctor visit. I guess the lesson is to call or visit anyway. Because you really never know.

Along with being a world-class wood-carver (self-taught in his 60s), amateur fiddler (self-taught in his 80s), unparalleled storyteller, cattle rancher, horse rider, electrician, plumber, carpenter, post hole digger and fence mender, serial cow dog owner, Gunsmoke watcher, Western reader, hay baler, tractor cusser, coffee drinker, biscuits-and-gravy eater, amateur yodeler, and patriarch of a huge and growing family…

My grandfather was a gifted, funny writer frequently published in Stigler’s newspaper. In Sept 2009, my mom gathered several of his stories into a book called Stories from the Pen of Melvin Reavis, which she published on Blurb.com. You can preview the book for free at the link, see some great old pictures, and read a few of his stories.

He tells his own story best, but just to preface it, he was born on May 31 in 1927, “the year of the big flood,” as he always says, the youngest (and by all accounts most spoiled and doted on) son of a large farm family in a tiny community near Stigler known as Taloka Prairie. Here are the first couple of pages of his book, which were read aloud at the funeral:

[Begin Excerpt]

Believe it or not I was born (and not hatched out of a stump from an egg laid by a passing buzzard) in a four room house that was set in the middle of Taloka Prairie. It was the last day of May in the year 1927. I was named by a bunch of cotton choppers and raised by one of the busiest farmers you ever saw. I say this because I was number 10 in a family of 11, and he farmed over 350 acres of cotton, corn, and oats. What his hobby was I never found out.

I took my training from Mom and Dad and nine older brothers and sisters. By the time I was 18 years old, I had made five round trips to California and made all kinds of money (I thought), and then I was drafted into the Army on my 18th birthday. I didn’t like no part of that. After I came home I went to California one more time and got all I wanted of that.

So I came back to Oklahoma and married a girl from guess where? Taloka Prairie. I took my buddy with me to buy my marriage license which cost $3.50. I had $3.25 so I borrowed 25 cents from him and got the license with the help of my Mama. We got her to go with us by telling her we were going riding around. She had her apron on and didn’t want anyone to see her in the courthouse, so they let me take the marriage license down to the car for her to sign since I wasn’t 21 years old.

I drew my 52-20 veterans unemployment until it ran out. Pat, my wife, was working and I never had it so good, but all good things must come to an end. I got a steady job with Public Service Company and worked in Stigler. I bought a car, on payments, bought a home, on payments, had four kids, on payments, and got ten dollars every two weeks to spend any way I wanted to.

We lived high on the hog, I thought. ’Course when I started to work I had 12 dollars in my pocket, so I was way ahead of that all along. I never got to be president of the company or even on the executive board, but I got to do all the good healthy work outside — too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. But, Mama said to keep that ole money rolling in and we survived, and I made a lot of friends and met a lot of people, and I guess I would do the same thing if I had it to do over again.

I had an intestinal operation in 1975 and then worked another five years and had to retire on disability. Our children are all grown and married and we have 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. I haven’t done a lick of work since I retired. I go to the mail box every day to see if my check is in, eat all I can catch and get Mama to cook, so I have no complaints or regrets.

[End of Excerpt]

His writings are full of understatement and humility, which was belied by the enormous attendance at his funeral and the collective mourning the whole town went into (along with people all over the world who knew him) when he died. The chapel at Mallory Funeral Home was standing room only with several packed spillover rooms. People joked that they’d never had to show up at a funeral an hour ahead of time just to get in.

There’s a group of men that Grampa played fiddle and sang with every week, and they played and sang old gospel and Bluegrass tunes throughout the service. The whole family came, from wherever they were. Mom had made a video of old family photos for Grandma and Grampa’s 60th wedding anniversary four years ago, and it was played again during the funeral.

The preacher was borrowed from the Baptist church since Grampa’s First Christian Church currently has a female preacher, and my Grampa wasn’t so sure about that idea. She put in some words during the service, but the Baptist was the star of the show. He didn’t do too bad a job, but it was jarring when he tried to console Grandma by saying the Rapture might come any day, hopefully in our lifetimes, and mentioning that we should remember other people suffering all over the world, “like them Jewish boys in the Middle East.” (No mention of them Palestinian boys; perhaps they slipped his mind.)

There was a little controversy about what clothes Grampa would be buried in. Everyone assumed that since he spent the majority of his life in overalls, that would be the most natural thing to bury him in. But my Mom adamantly refused: “Grampa is not going to be buried in overalls! We are not a bunch of hillbillies!”

My brother laughed and said, “I see you’ve reached the first stage of grief: Denial!”

But Mom had her way, and Grampa was buried in the kind of collared shirt he wore to church and family events. There was a little drawer built into the lovely oak casket, and several of us sent him to the next world with notes of love.

Grampa in his natural state

All in all, Grampa would have loved it. We wished he could have been there, like Tom Sawyer triumphant, telling us it was all a big misunderstanding and basking in the love and the grief turned to joy. As Mom said, “He would tell ten funny stories, play his fiddle, and then yodel four Jimmy Rogers songs.”

After the service we went out to Garland Cemetery, a beautiful spot deep in the countryside, where he was laid to rest beside his oldest son, Mike, who died too young in 1989. It was a beautiful partly cloudy day, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be stuck in the traffic behind the massive funeral procession.

Back at Grandma’s house, we hung out in Grampa’s room, which still felt thick with his presence. He had the old mirror made from a mule yoke, three cowboy hats on a rack, an enormous wall of Western paperbacks, the random ceramic boxing kangaroo he’s had since time began, a photo cube of happier times with green grass and horses, and his carvings and drawings decorating the walls and shelves. And of course several framed photographs of his wife.

Virginia "Pat" Reavis as a young woman

One of my fondest memories of Grampa was when I was maybe five years old and he showed me where he kept his soft old handkerchiefs in a drawer and said I could have one if I ever needed it. I felt so rich to know such a treasure was mine for the taking.

I opened the drawer where he keeps them and took out one last soft red handkerchief, a token of innocent and unforgettable times.

It’s a beautiful life, and we’re all so lucky to have him in it. He’ll always be a part of us.

Melvin Ray “Red” Reavis, May 31, 1927 - January 30, 2012

May you rest in infinite peace and love. We'll always miss you.

A portrait Mom had made of Grampa. He loved it!

This was carved in the tree outside their house. Red and Pat. An epic romance.

The first carving I ever got from Grampa, when I was 8. I named it after one of his horses, Lucky.

The carving I coveted for years before I finally dared to ask for it when Grampa said he had too many carvings on his hands and asked us to take some. I could hardly believe my luck.

Here’s a poem my brother wrote for Grampa

No words to describe what I feel
Except to say this pain is real.
Lost a loved one, was not prepared.
Good to know so many did care.

Red was special there is no doubt,
Loved us all and knew all about
Jesus and country, family and friends.
Stood strong before us ’til the end.

Stories and laughter will be missed,
Whine of a fiddle, harmonica bliss.
Could extract from wood any design
Santa, horses, mules, and bovines.

.
And here’s a song that was played at his funeral. It was written by Albert E. Brumley, a cotton farmer from Spiro, Oklahoma, in 1929 (when Grampa was two years old).

I’ll Fly Away

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away;
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away;
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away.

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away.

From Red and Pat's 60th wedding anniversary with all the kids, grandkids, spouses, and great-grandkids. While we were playing in the front yard during the celebration, Grampa nudged Grandma and said, "Can you believe we did all that?"

.

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.”

― Kahlil Gibran

.

Advertisements