The year was 1968. I was 9 and loved my new obsession. They were the hot new gadget that every kid collected. They came in every color imaginable and they were addicting like the finger widgets of today.
Clackers, for those too young to know, were clear, marble-type balls made of tempered glass, they hung one on each end of a string with a loop in the middle. The idea was to clack them together up and down over and over to see how long you could continue without the balls clacking your wrists.
As Forest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” I was stupid and had the bruises to prove it. I was trying a new trick—throwing them up in the air and trying to catch them.
My parents had just purchased a brand-new Pontiac. It was parked in our driveway; a trophy my parents’ hard work had earned. It was shiny and new like my clackers, only the glass on its windshield wasn’t shatterproof.
My dad came home for his dinner break from the store and was obviously upset. He told my Mom about a huge crack in the windshield of their beautiful trophy. He suggested to my Mom that a rock must have shattered it from the road.
I had a hard time finishing my dinner. My conscience was cracked.
Games. What comes to mind when you hear this word? The English language provides many different meanings to this familiar word. Whatever your current situation or focus is will determine which definition you think of first. Games can be played together at a table; they can be practical jokes played on someone not in on the game; they can be negative too, if someone you know is playing you in an immature or mean way.
I’m reminiscing a lot these days. Losing someone you love will do that to you. Since my brother passed away last month our family has been on a roller coaster of memories–all good–but each one has a sting to it since there will be no more new memories made. What was, is what is.
Growing up in the 60’s we played lots of games: swimming pool games, outdoor games, indoor games (if it was too hot or raining) and practical joke games. The latter was my brother’s favorite, by far!
As kids we rode our bikes all over Pine Hills. Our parents had no idea where we were and only required we come home before the streetlights came on. We spent lots of time in the nearby woods exploring, building, making up various versions of hide and seek. One of our favorites was, There’s No Ghosts In The Graveyard, and had to be played after dark.
My brother’s favorite hobby was to scare me, and he excelled at it!
The way the game was played was to pick one person to be the ghost. You hid somewhere while all the others counted to 10. Then the whole group would start walking around chanting, “there’s no ghosts in the graveyard” over and over until we got close to where the ghost was hiding. The ghost would jump out and yell, “Yes there is!” and everyone would scream and run to home base as fast as our legs would carry us. If the ghost tagged you before you got home, you were the ghost. Being afraid of the dark, I never wanted to be the ghost. Hiding alone waiting for the group to get close was scary to say the least.
Which leads to why I was afraid of the dark in the first place.
Once again my brother took it on himself to help me overcome my fear by making me face it–over and over again! One way he did this was to hide either in my closet or under my bed at night. He would patiently wait for me to crawl in bed and turn the lights off before he’d jump and scream like a banshee. This would always be followed with howls of laughter (his) and uncontrollable tears (mine). One would think I would get used to it, but I never did.
Fast forward to 1975 when the movie Jaws hit the big screen. My brother was being extra nice and asked if I wanted to go see it with him and his good friend. I should have been suspicious at that point, but I was also very gullible. Another trait of mine he loved to hone in on.
Unbeknownst to me Billy and his friend had already seen Jaws. We got to the theater and they had me sit in the middle. I was enjoying their attention and had no clue, until it happened. When Jaws appeared for the first time, my brother and his friend knew it was coming. They both in stereo screamed and grabbed my arms. I was terrified. And they were entertained, more by me than the movie.
Games. There are so many more we played as kids–rotton orange fights in our grandparents’ groves, hopscotch, splash (our own version of Marco Polo), and Horse-played around our basketball goal in our driveway.
When my brother and sister started driving the games elevated to the streets–Chinese Fire Drill was played often and with tons of laughter. I haven’t thought of this game in years and I’m wondering why the name? Here’s what I’ve learned…
The term goes back to the early 1900s, and is alleged to have originated when a ship run by British officers and a Chinese crew practiced a fire drill for a fire in the engine room. The bucket brigade were to draw water from the starboard side, pass it to the engine room, and pour it onto the ‘fire’.
Who knew we were acting out a moment in history? We just were having fun.
Life is like that. You think you’re just having fun, but at some point you realize we were making history–our own family’s history. This means more to me now than ever.
What games did your family play as you were growing up?
My brother died on a Monday. It was unexpected. He was supposed to get better, but he didn’t. We were left reeling from this new reality and aware that we had to plan his Celebration of Life service. It would be small–immediate family only. But good friends made it possible for us to offer a Live Facebook of the service as well as a You Tube video available now at the bottom of this post.
Following is what I shared. I have much more to say about this experience and what God is showing me through the sadness, but not yet.
Bill Gray – 1954-2021
I want to thank all of you who are joining with us on-line how much your prayers and encouragements have meant to our family these last 5 weeks. It has been one of the hardest seasons we’ve faced and you have helped carry our burden. Words seem inadequate, but it is all we have to give. Thank you.
I am Debi Walter, Billy’s little sister, and Bettie is Billy’s older sister. I am sharing today on behalf of both of us what my brother means to us. Bettie was born in 1953, Billy in 1954 and I was born in 1959. My Dad was a pharmacist with his own store and soda fountain. It was a great time to grow up.
Billy took great delight in teasing both of us as often as he could. But I still believe I got the brunt of most of his attention. He made up all kinds of games with the excuse of being able to tease us. Like “Flinch”. If he acted like he was going to hit you and you flinched, then you had to let him hit you. Being 5 years younger I usually let him and had the bruises to show for it. I’ve heard he was a lot like my grandfather. They both loved to fish and loved to tease those they loved—unmercifully.
Billy and his good friend invented the group hug. But it wasn’t a pleasant experience when it first began. If you were caught in the middle between the two of them it always hurt. But they laughed and I learned to laugh too. Now the group hug has become a tradition in our family whenever we are saying goodbye. No one ever knows who will end up in the middle, but the younger ones fight to be caught in the center of it all. Lots of love goes into those hugs. Like holding on tight because we don’t want to let go.
Another game was a take on the pool game Marco Polo. But instead of calling out “Marco” with your eyes closed, you called out “splash”. Wherever you were in the pool you had to splash. The idea was to tag someone making them “it”. I always managed to be “it” because I wasn’t fast enough to tag anyone, especially my brother or his friends. One time I remember being caught between two of them while they both splashed me. My brother accidentally splashed my ear and caused my ear drum to rupture. He felt bad and I felt worse because I wasn’t able to swim for the rest of the summer. I was often the casualty of his games.
It’s strange how stories from when you were young that used to cause heartache, become the very things you’re grateful for as adults.
My brother loved me and my sister very much. But I didn’t realize this until we were adults. Being the baby of the family I know I was bratty. I most likely asked for much of the undesired attention he gave me.
On family vacations I would always end up in the middle of Bettie and Billy in the backseat. Invariably, Billy would say, “Hey Bettie, want a fight between you and me?” And they would both start slapping me. I would cry. My Dad would yell for us to stop. And Billy would grin in my face, bragging that he got me.
Yeah, that’s what we did on road trips before iPhones, screens and DVD players were available in cars. We played games, sang songs and ate candy my Mom packed from my Dad’s candy counter at the pharmacy.
When Billy went away to The University of Florida (Go Gators!) My sister was already married to Dennis, so I was home alone. I missed him so much. And I think he missed me too. He sent me a card once that he had drawn of our toothbrushes side by side. His had racing stripes on it and He said he couldn’t wait to have tooth brushing races again. It sounds silly, but as a 15 year old this card meant so much to me. It was true the adage that says, “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. It certainly did for us.
He graduated from U of F the same year Bettie graduated from nursing school at Valencia, the same year I graduated from high school. Major events for all of us that prepared us for our life ahead.
Our family attended Powers Drive Baptist Church. This is where we made many lifelong friends. Many of whom are watching today. It was at this church where we each were saved, baptized, and married. We grew up realizing the power, love and support there is in being in a community of believers who love Jesus. We are so grateful for the impact this church and its members had on our lives.
In 1978 Billy found the love of his life, a cute blond named Sherry Newmons. He brought her home to our house for Sunday afternoon dinner. We could tell this was the one he had waited for and we fell in love with Sherry too. At this same time Tom and I began dating and got engaged too. Once again we were doing a major lifetime event together. In 1979 we got married only 5 weeks apart. My poor parents! They never complained about how difficult having two weddings so close together would be. But it was fun sharing this season of life together.
All three of us had our children at the same time, which was fun watching cousins become friends.
That’s our history. When my Dad died in 2004, my brother took on the role of caring for us in the ways my dad had—providing medical advice and help whenever it was needed. He helped us through some very frightening times, most recently with two of our grandchildren. I’m so grateful for the way he loved us, cared for us and was there for us.
My sister and her family are here today and I know if she were able she would also talk about their adventures. Bettie and Billy had a special bond. They were only 14 months apart so they did everything together. Just recently Bettie and Dennis and Billy and Sherry went on vacation to see the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. Tom and I were unable to go, but I am so glad they had this time together. The photos and memories they made are precious today.
I don’t know what the future will look like without Billy here to make us laugh, give the best hugs, share funny stories, offer support or to help us in our times of need. But I do know that Billy would tell us all—what really matters is this – make sure we know and love Jesus by living our lives for Him and his glory.
Billy is seeing his Savior face to face and I believe if he could he would say, “Whatever you do make sure you are ready when it’s your turn to enter eternity. Live for Christ! You never know when your days on earth will be over. Make every moment count!”