On October 24, 1920, Clarence Ray Till came into this world. Though I don't know all the details of Grandaddy's childhood, I do know that he played a very important role in mine! As the oldest (and for over 8 years, the only) grandchild, I had the benefit of having his full attention growing up...we were buddies!
My grandfather loved to tell the story of how he came to be the pastor of Northside Baptist Church. In 1943, his brother Holmes Till had resigned his position as pastor of the church in order to find a place to live where his daughter, who had severe allergies, could breathe better. My grandfather came in view of a call, and when the votes were cast, there was only one nay vote. One woman in the church voted against my grandfather for the simple reason that he wasn't yet married and she didn't see how he could minister to families without one of his own. Two years later, my grandfather married her daughter, Mary Kathryn Wells. They were married on September 27, 1945.
Almost two years later, in July of 1947, Rev. C. Ray & Mary Kathryn Till gave birth to my mother, Kathryn Annette. In January 1949, they had thier only son, Alan Wayne. And about 10 years later, my aunt, Carolyn Raye was born. Eventually, four grandchildren were born - me, my brother Josh, and my cousins Katie & Whitney.
My grandfather retired from the only church he ever pastored - Northside Baptist Church in Anniston, AL in 1986 - after 43 years of service. He touched the lives of many people in Anniston during that time and was more affectionately called "Brother Ray" by just about everyone who knew him but didn't have the privilege of being related to him!
Grandaddy loved the deal. He often went to sales and auctions with his buddy Oscar Cotton. He also loved working on cars. And I loved working on cars with him! I don't think I was really any help - but I was company and I adored everything my Grandaddy did...and he adored me! He adored each and every one of his children and grandchildren. I think we all thought we were his favorite...he never compared one of us to the other, so we were all certain we were the one he loved most!
Many times, Grandaddy would pick me up and take me out for what I used to call "cherwy pie and coffee." What it was in reality was Shoney's Big Boy strawberry pie. Grandaddy did have coffee...but mine was more a cup of milk and sugar with just a hint of coffee...or maybe sometimes hot chocolate. Every time I eat strawberry pie or drink coffee, I always think of my Grandaddy!
Alzheimer's robbed Grandaddy of his memory, and eventually, of his life. I can remember the day that the family was meeting to decide what was the best care plan for Grandaddy when the Alzheimer's had stolen so much of him from us that my grandmother could no longer care for him. Not wanting Grandaddy to be upset by the conversation, they decided to meet away from my grandparents home. I had the privilege of staying with Grandaddy while they met. On my way to their home, I stopped at Shoney's and picked up a strawberry pie for us to share. While we were eating together, Grandaddy said, "You know, I used to pick up this little girl and take her out for pie like this." He didn't recognize me as being that little girl so long ago and when I desperately tried to make the connection for him, he gently said, "Yes, she called me Grandaddy."
Grandaddy loved to tease. He was never mean, but he could often be the slightest bit aggrivating. :) I remember many times when he was in his bedroom, either preparing for his sermon or watching TV, if I passed by his bedroom door, he would call out, "Darrrrrrrrrrlin!" I don't know why it aggrivated me so, but he knew it did and would therefore do it every time. What I wouldn't give just to hear him say that just one more time! I wouldn't pout and say, "Oh Grandaddy, stop it!" Instead, I'd smile, run in his room and give him a great big ole' hug!
One more thing I'd give anything for is to walk down the church aisle and shake hands with his congregation. During the closing prayer of every service, Grandaddy would make his way up the aisle so he could shake hands with the congregation as they left the sanctuary. From the time I was a little girl until I was in my early teens and thought myself too old to do so, I would always step out in the aisle as I heard the familiar jingle of Grandaddy's keys in his pocket as he walked past my pew. Then I would proudly stand by his side and shake hands right alongside him! At his final service, just before he retired, I heard that familiar jingle coming up the aisle and I debated about stepping out as I'd done in my childhood...but pride took over and I stayed put. I opened my eyes as the sound of his keys told me he was near my pew...and saw that he still moved over as if I were still stepping out next to him! I kick myself now for being such a prideful teenager that I didn't step out that one last time!
Even though Grandaddy never met a single one of his great-grandchildren, he named my son. I was about 10 - 12 years old when I made the declaration to Grandaddy that I was going to name my first little boy after him. He immediately made me promise not to put "Clarence" on a child. Sensing how much Grandaddy hated his own first name, I agreed with the stipulation that my son's first name would have to start with a C because Grandaddy signed his name "C. Ray Till." Together, we came up with the name Christopher and the matter was settled until Christopher Ray Till Jansen was born some twenty-something years later! The interesting thing is that even though Christopher never met his great-grandfather, he also prefers to go by C. Ray!
Today, Grandaddy is spending his 90th birthday in a wonderful place called Heaven. He's celebrating with his wife, who joined him in eternity almost two years ago. And some day, by our faith in Jesus Christ, our family has the hope of seeing him again someday! My precious Grandaddy was a very important part of my life - my friend, my confidant, my advisor, my grandfather!
Happy 90th Birthday, Grandaddy! I love you!!!