You got a Keeper...
Married by the Air Force Chaplain at Chanute Air Base in Illinois, twenty one year old Jim Gray and his 20 year old bride Fran took a trip down to Mobile, Alabama to meet his folks. Fran and her new father-in-law Jerry hit it off right from the start. Before they headed back to the Air Base, he pulled Jim off to the side and said, with both pride in his son and admiration of his new daughter, "You got a Keeper". Jim used a lot of artistic license in the outfits he chose for the folks who made their way into his Joy of Life Parade. Fran would have never worn a showgirl's costume in real life, but she was a knock out to him, and he wanted to remember the girl he fell in love with, and she always was the queen of his Parade. To the other extreme, the bearded man in the blue shirt could have been dressed in the finest this world has to offer, but Jim portrayed Him as He had come once before; a humble man, who would not have been put off by a hard day's work. Once again, it was the simplest additions from Jim's brush that identified the only One he held in higher esteem than Fran.
A couple of the handwritten pages that Jim had tucked away on a bottom shelf in his studio. I was spending the last night my folks old apartment, after moving them to Jill's House and getting them settled in a couple of weeks before. Knowing that the three canvases had an "A" "B" and "C" on them, I was certain that some sort of notes, that would identify all in the Parade, must exist. Just before I was going to turn in, the night before an early morning flight back to Maine, I had looked in everydrawer and was in the process of searching the last shelves in his studio, when I found three rolled sheets of plastic with numbered outlines drawn on them. Inside each of these rolls, I found a sheet of yellow legal pad paper with the corresponding ABC codes. I was glad that no one was staying in the apartment next door, because I shouted out, " Oh Thank You Lord!" and danced around the studio with Joy. One last look at the back of the shelf revealed two spiral notebooks with handwritten back stories from throughout Dad's most interesting life. Tears were welled up in my eyes, and at that moment I began to realize just what a treasure he had left for us all.
Old photos almost always show Jim smiling , for his life has been good. The one of a young Jim Gray, in front of an oil on canvas, is all business...but it was just too cool to not find a place to share. Those with a smile are the faces that I remember best. The sudden change that brought that smile back, at near 3 in the morning, remains a mystery, but I thank God for letting me be there to witness it.