Monday, March 23, 2009

Remembering Gary on His Birthday

I wrote this eulogy (with a great deal of input) for my brother Scott to deliver at the funeral of our other brother, Gary. March 24, 2009 would have been his 44th birthday, so I thought I'd post this in his honor:

I got the opportunity to sit down and reminisce with the family about Gary the other day as we were making plans for his funeral. My sisters, Donna, Lisa, and Laura were there, as well as his two kids, Tiffany and Anthony.

Many descriptors came to mind as we were talking about Gary: He was stubborn, boisterous, incredibly loyal to family, intelligent, funny, quirky, protective, playful, adventurous, resourceful, proud, competitive. He was, in short, a Mayes boy.

Gary Ray Mayes came into the world on March 24, 1965 in Midwest City , Oklahoma. He lived there until he was four, when Dad moved the family out to California.

Even from a young age, his stubborn and boisterous personality was evident. His best friend in elementary school, Jiro, took karate lessons, and one day he told Gary he’d teach him what he knew. Gary came home from Cub Scouts that day and told Donna he knew karate, and could prove it. She told him there was no way he had learned karate in just one afternoon.

Imagine my parents’ surprise when they came home from work and found the sliding glass door in shards and slivers all over the back porch. He had done a running, flying kick at the door, and had crashed right through. Gary didn’t worry about the mess or the damage he might have done to himself or to the house, though; he just wanted to prove that he had been right. Still bleeding from various cuts and wounds, Gary turned to Donna and said with a twinkle in his eye, “See, I told you I knew karate!”

His adventurous spirit and quick wit came in handy when we moved to Clovis after Dad got a promotion when Gary was in the sixth grade. Entering a new school can be tough at any age, but in the middle of your sixth grade year, it can be especially difficult.

Gary took it in stride, though, and quickly adjusted and made new friends, many of which he kept when he moved on to Junior High and became a member of Kastner’s first year of students. He went on to attend both Sanger High and finally McLane, where he really found his niche as number 36 on their football team.

After high school, Gary considered his options and decided he’d like to serve in the military. He followed Dad’s footsteps into the Air Force, where he served as a Radar Operator. It was work he was proud of and was well-suited to his analytical mind.

After he got out of the Air Force, Gary worked a number of odd jobs. One of his jobs was working at 7-11. Believe it or not, that was a job that would change his life. It was there that he met Sandi, who would eventually become the mother of his two children. Sandi was working at a different 7-11 at the time. He happened to stop in Sandi’s store to buy some roses for the girl he was on his way to pick up for a date.

He got to chatting with Sandi, and realized they were both enjoying the flirting and the company. Always resourceful, he gave her one of the roses intended for his date, and said he’d be back to ask her out later. As far as we know, the other girl never knew why Gary was late for the date, or if she realized that her dozen roses was one shy. We do know, however, that he went back at the end of Sandi’s shift, and the rest is history. They were both smitten, and they began what would ultimately be a life-long connection.

In his adult life, Gary devoted himself to two things: his family and his sports. The two proudest days of his life were the days his kids were born. As it often does, fatherhood changed Gary. He was one of the proudest daddies you ever saw, and he was fiercely devoted and protective of his babies. When Tiffany was born, Gary couldn’t wait to show her off to everyone. He carried her like a football, head cradled in his hand, little tiny body tucked in against his chest.

He pointed out to everyone the trademark “Mayes nose” that he had passed on. His biggest joy was making Tiffany smile, and as she grew up, he grew up as well. It was when he became a dad that he started to really realize the importance of his own family. He forged new bonds with Mom and with his own brother and sisters, recognizing how important they would all be in helping to create the positive support and environment he wanted to provide for his kids.

When Anthony was born, his joy and pride in his kids doubled in a way that he couldn’t have known. He became even more playful and family-oriented--a very hands-on sort of dad who rolled around on the ground with the kids and cheered loudly for them at all the t-ball games and class performances.

In 1999, Gary moved with his family to Idaho.

His other life-long devotion, of course, was to his sports. Highly competitive, he found outlets to express that competitive spirit in a number of ways. This love of sports also started out very early on in his life. As a kid he was an avid collector of baseball cards, and later that expanded to football cards.

He continued to collect all kinds of sports memorabilia his entire life. He loved his teams and was a devoted fan, win or lose (even though he hated losing): baseball was all about the Cincinnati Reds, his football teams were the Steelers and Fresno State, and LA Lakers were his basketball team.

In addition to following the pro teams, Gary was involved in his own sports organizations. Dad taught us all to play pool when we were growing up, and for Gary, the love of the game stuck. He played pool for more than 20 years. He was a member of the United States Pool Players Association, as well as the Valley National 8-Ball Association. Gary played in many different leagues and tournaments over the years, and even went to a National Level competition one year in Las Vegas.

He often frequented the local pool rooms, especially Classic Billiards. The catch phrase my dad started many years ago at the pool table- -Rack ‘em, Loser--is on Gary‘s personalized license plates on his car.

In April, Gary and I played in a 9-ball tournament in Seattle. His daughter, Tiffany, took pictures. After we got the pictures developed, Gary pointed out to some of the hospital staff that I was “racking” in the picture. This was a clear sign that I lost and he won.

Gary was also a very strong bowler, who played on several local leagues when he lived here in Clovis. He was able to play on some leagues with Mom and Sandi. Tiffany remembers getting to stay up late at Aunt Donna’s house while mommy and daddy had date nights at the bowling alley.

Not too long ago, Gary made his last trip out to California for a visit. We knew it was probably the last trip, and Gary and Donna and the kids got to sit around and chat a bit with the kids, and perhaps get an opportunity to say some things that might not otherwise get said.

Gary and Donna and the kids all went around the room and asked a ‘big question’ that everyone else had to answer. One of the questions was, “Who has made the biggest positive impact on your life?” Gary’s response: The first part of my life, my dad, because he taught me how to be a man, and the second half, my son, because he taught me how to be a kid again.”

The kids both said their dad had been the biggest positive impact. At the end of the day, at the end of a life, that’s all we can really ask for; that we made a positive impact on someone else in this world and left it a better place. When you look into the eyes of the two children Gary leaves behind, you know that he did just that.

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