My friend Ray Ellis passed away a week ago. There was a memorial celebration of his life yesterday which appears to have been well attended by his family and friends. I didn’t make it to the celebration, but my thoughts were very much there.
I have only known Ray for 44 or 45 years, he died at the age of 49. Losing him is like losing a member of the family. If you grew up in a small town you know what I mean, and if you didn’t you will probably never understand. But I will try and convey the closeness that occurs in a small town, and a small school.
Our graduating class, Ray was in my class, had 35 members, give or take one. Of those 35, at least 20 of us went to school together for 12 years, and the others were with us for over six of those years. This forms a bond that is not much different than being brothers and sisters. You may not always get along, but you have to be forgiving of each other, because tomorrow you’re right back together. There was very little dating within the group, we dated up or down a class or two (the one exception I can think of produced a marriage that has lasted nearly 30 years now.) Maybe it was just too weird to date someone that close.
Being a member of a group like that means that you might not see each other for years, but when you do it’s like seeing a missing family member. It’s not awkward. You just catch up, and pick up where you left off. These are people that I would gladly do anything for, and I think they would for me. I may have secrets, but not from this group, as they know me as well, or better, than I know myself.
This closeness extends to everyone, though not quite as tightly, that you attended school with, up a couple of grades and down a couple of grades. It is a feeling of comfort which is hard to explain, but a joy to experience.
Sadly, Ray is not the first of our number to die. At least six that I can think of are already gone. Two were killed in auto accidents, and one was murdered, within two years of our graduation.
Farewell Ray, I will miss you and your wonderful sense of humor.