Warning: This is a very personal blog, one that most may not understand. You’re welcome to read it. But, if you didn’t know the man, you may not understand.
I remember Clifford Ray.
Not like most do. For I feel I was fortunate to experience him early on and up close and personal. What I remember may or may not coincide with your experience of him. If so, I’m sorry. For the man, who I have not talked to at length in years, was a unique individual.
First of all, I remember him as a cousin. We were born to know each other. That didn’t mean we had to grow so close. But we did early on. I was an awkward kid. I didn’t relate with most of my male cousins. They were all woodsy, earthy, handy kids who seemed to live on a planet totally unlike mine. For some reason, I usually gravitated toward my female cousins. I just felt more comfortable with them. Maybe it was because I spent most of my raising around my mother. Whatever it was, I just got along with them better.
But Clifford was different. Like me, he wasn’t like the other male cousins. He was unique; a loner. And as a loner myself, we gravitated to each other. As outcasts from the same clan, we clung together. We stuck to each other for our protection and our sanity. And, also, because we liked one another. He had me by a couple of year, which made him cooler than me in my young eyes. He was someone I could look up to and, yet, relate to as equals.
As my elder, he introduced me to things I would otherwise have missed. He led me into a more active lifestyle. We played tennis and basketball together. I’m not sure which came first, our friendship or my love for tennis and the stars of that time, but we shared it anyway. Rivalries like Jimmy Conners and Bjorn Borg lit up our conversations. We would spend time both on the Tennis and Basketball courts, both not very good, but enjoying the challenge of someone we could compete with.
He also introduced me to music I had never been acquainted with. Most of the details escape me, but I do remember distinctly that, if not for Clifford Ray, I may have not discovered Freddy Mercury and Queen. I remember going over to his house and sitting in his room listening to his records. He exposed me to styles and more modern types of music that I, coming from a purely country and bluegrass background, had never fully appreciated. Part of my growth into the rock of the seventies and eighties is because of him. It may have started with my looking up to him, but, being a man of music, I made the mad quest my own.
I remember Clifford as a man of faith. A man of God. Not perfect, mind you. But, dedicated to what he believed in, so much so, that it enforced my own young belief to have a peer feel the same way about God and the church as I did. As we moved away from each other, we talked for many hours on the phone about what God was doing where we went ot church and about the music of the time that inspired us and our faith.
I remember the odd silence at times over the phone when we ran out of things to discuss. Still we enjoyed the silent bond between us; not just of blood, but of spirit and soul.
Even today, I’m not one to make many close friends. I’m stand-offish at times and come across aloof and maybe a bit anti social. But when I make friends, I make them strong. And, although we hadn’t talked to each other on the phone much in the last few years (something I regret now), we were always the best of friends. And we will always be. Of the handful of people I count as true friends, he is at the pinnacle of that list.
And, even now, as we are separated quite severely by cycle of life, I still count him as one of my best friends. And, even though his earthly life has ended and taken him from us, our faith in our Creator and His steadfastness will bring us together again. He’s probably the closest person I’ve ever lost in death. AND he will be one of the first I look up in the life to come.
God bless you Evelyn and Tiffany in your loss. And to all of those who were close to him, God be with you until we all meet again.