No Longer Almost Heaven

9 11 2014

Phone rings, “Johnny this is Ray, it’s so hot out Linda and I have decided to go to the beach to cool off; can you tell us which one would be best for being close to the water?”Ray Marshall 2

Or “Johnny, if a man becomes a father at 20 when his son turns 10 the boy will be 1/3 the age of his dad. Ten years later when the father is 40 and the boy is 20 he’ll be ½ his dad’s age. When they’re 50 and 30, he’ll now be 2/3 as old as his dad.” “Okay Ray, I see that; your point is what?” “Well at this rate there’s a time coming when the boy is going to pass his dad up and be older!? Then another one of his gems was, “Johnny, if a man suffering from multiple personalities threatened to kills himself, would that be considered a hostage situation?” So it was with my beloved Cousin Ray Marshall, a man with a comical wit faster than a gun slinger’s draw. You never knew what he was going to say, but if it was something filled with levity and lightheartedness; he’d grin the broadest grin and fill the room with laughter more than anyone else could.

Besides his humorous wit he was the king of practical jokes. Once when we were leaving a parking lot, he rolled down his window and yelled to a man, “Hi Hank, how you doing? You sure look better than the last time I saw you. Alright, see you at the card game,” and we drove away quickly with the man standing there completely puzzled but gingerly waving us goodbye. I said to Ray, “You know that man?” “Nope, never saw him before in my life,” and once again the laughter rolled! Probably my favorite was a story he told during his coal mining days. He had come up to a friend who was working a jackhammer, placed a hand on his shoulder, said a few words and then walked off. It took a minute before the unsuspecting victim realized my cousin had walked off, because he still felt the weight of Ray’s hand on his shoulder. It actually was Ray’s hand, a weighted artificial one he bought at a magician’s shop. Ray said when his friend saw him standing at a distance and then saw the lone hand on his shoulder; you could hear him scream from one end of the mine to the other! As I sit here gazing at a picture of this jester of a man more and more stories like these flood my memory, enough that I could easily sit and write of his escapades all night long. But if I did that, I would be cheating you of getting to know who this person is, and why he’s loved by so many.

When I speak of Ray’s humor, smile and laughter, I speak of a portion of his personality and ways. I don’t believe this man ever met a stranger; he had a way of making anyone and everyone feel comfortable, especially in his home. If there wasn’t room for one more person to sit, or to share a meal Ray would find a way. He loved to learn from others anything he could, and learn he did well. If he was ever told something it stayed with him from that point on; his ability to remember details that others couldn’t was beyond amazing. Ray was as comfortable holding conversations with intellectuals he met at the college his daughter taught at, to sitting at break on large stones with a group of fellow coalminers two miles beneath the surface of the earth and to endless silly talk with his grandchildren he loved dearly. Ray’s daughter, a professor at small university once told me she loved for people in her academic world to meet her dad, not just to see how wonderful of a man he was, but to show him off, to say, “Look how wonderful I have it to have this man as my dad!” All three of Ray’s children will attest to these same bragging rights, they know they were blessed with someone different from other dads and those differences were what made him special.

Scholastically, Ray never achieved above a high school education, marrying his beloved Linda and childhood sweetheart he set out make a living anyway possible to support his family. But as I mentioned he learned from talking to others, plus reading and later gathering information via the internet. With that he often challenged what the norm was especially in politics and government. His was not a desire to argue as much as it was to hold accountable the people elected to represent us in government. And Ray could do this with a combination of down-home easy going character as well as cite laws and court decisions like a Supreme Court justice, except maybe with a joke thrown in here and there!

I once spent time in D.C. with a lobbying group; during that stay I had wished Ray could have been with us. Instead of being treated in a patronizing manner by certain senators and representatives, I pictured a couple turning to aids and saying, “Call security and see if you can get this guy out of here! Then cancel the rest of my appointments for the day, I’m taking a sedative and going to bed!” Of course if my dear cousin saw something like this he’d be saying, “Hey, can I do anything to make you feel better, get you a glass of water or something?” (Could you imagine what we could do if we had about 100 Rays to turn loose on Washington; Awesome!)

Probably the biggest impact Ray had on me in my younger years was his ability with the guitar. Before the Beatles or even Elvis, this man’s talent on a six string could keep me mesmerized for hours. If he had more opportunity, I believe he could have been one of the top guitarists in the early county music or bluegrass field. He not only drew enjoyment from playing music (and this next is one that probably only other musicians will under stand), he became a part of the music, in his heart and soul; that was evident to all who heard him perform. Because of that passion I knew one day I would play and live music just like my cousin and now my children who come after me. When I got older I loved playing along with Ray and he and my wife sang “Almost Heaven West Virginia.”

Well what can I say? Thoughts and memories are coming so fast they’re running together and I have to walk away and regroup. Perhaps some wouldn’t see what is so special about this man anyway, just a West Virginia coal miner, common folk like most of us. But anyone that pays attention to my writings knows people like Ray are the ones I like to talk about, unsung heroes of everyday life that we never hear about. So who exactly was this man you’ve written about, John; what more could you have to say? Well allow me to fully introduce this “Traveler of the Rock Road.”

Ray Marshall, man of some sorrows but more of joy? Yes. Ray Marshall, jokester extraordinaire and musician? Yes. Ray Marshall, devotee, student and even teacher of life? Yes. Ray Marshall, lover of his family, from his beloved Linda of 57 years, to his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, sisters and their families and friends that he treated like family? Yes! And Ray Marshall, believer and follower of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, YES!

To the shock and sorrow of all of us who knew and loved this man, Ray was suddenly called Home to be with the Lord on Oct. 30. No one was ready for this departure. I suppose many of us feel cheated that he’s no longer here for us in that way only he could, somewhere just to talk like we’ve done for so many years. Even with the knowledge that Ray is in Heaven, happy as can be, the selfish side of human life wants him back here with all of us again. Since we know that can’t happen, we have one precious item to hold him with us, and that’s our memory of how he blessed so many.

“After you are gone the assessment of how you enriched others is not by what you have lined their pockets with, but what you have written on their hearts. Therein lies the true inheritance.” J David Miller

Today scores of us are much richer because of what Ray Edmer Marshall wrote on our hearts, a message of love, happiness, joy, and most of all, Hope. Ray, my cousin, friend and Brother knew where his Hope lay at the end of his “Travels on the Rock Road.” His hope was in Jesus as Lord and Savior, now he’s Home and looking forward to all of us joining him someday.

John 5:24, Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Looking forward to making music with you again, Cuz, in God’s Resurrection Band! Save me a spot next to you because it will no longer be Almost Heaven, it will be the real thing for eternity. But I better not be finding a fake hand resting on my shoulder!!

Thanks for putting up with the Gray One’s ramblings, see you again soon!!!


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