Ray Mosby Column 3-1-13

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2013

Family stoic sheds tears, finding himself now the family’s patriarch

“…for you still walk the furrowed fields of my mind. Faded shirt, your weathered brow, your caloused hand upon the plow, I loved you then and I love you now…”—Kenny Rogers

COAHOMA—For a significant part of my life, there were three Ray Mosbys in our family. There was my grandfather, Ray Overton Mosby, and there was my Dad, Harold Ray Mosby, and there was me—the Jr., that thankfully no one ever called me, since people called Junior bring to mind the simpleton in overalls that used to be on “Hee Haw.”

Within our family and to most outside it, there were Big Ray and Harold and Little Ray, which as best I could ever tell, suited all three of us just fine. The Big and Little on the Rays pretty much faded away after my grandfather died, leaving just Dad and me for all the years since, and after a fashion that came to be all right, too, within the little self contained world that all families somehow just are.

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It is simply a shared state of mind, a little familial puzzle into which all the different pieces are recognized to fit, until a piece falls away, leaving a hole in the mind’s eye view of the way things are.

After a simple and what some folks might think an unusually short and unadorned graveside service, we laid my Dad to rest Sunday afternoon in the same family cemetery soil that has embraced the other puzzle pieces named Montroy and Mosby and their kinnery since 1837. Every family has their way of doing such things, I suppose, and that’s just ours.

So now there is only one Ray Mosby in our family, and for all I know, the whole country, for that matter. And there is not one single thing that suits me or is all right about that. There is one hell of a great big gaping hole in our family puzzle where for 40 years, its patriarch has been.

That’s an interesting word—patriarch. Its origins in Latin, it has nonetheless become intrinsically grounded and linked to the American South. Tennessee Williams certainly, and to a lesser degree, Faulkner, recognized that, and wrote about it quite a lot. “The male leader of a family or tribe,” is its first definition in The American Heritage Dictionary, but I think one of its alternate ones, “An old and venerable man, an elder,” is more to my liking, in that “venerable” means “worthy of respect by virtue of dignity and character.”

Dad wasn’t merely our patriarch, he was what all who knew us recognized as a venerable patriarch.
Both by nature and training, for at least the last two-thirds of my life, I have been the Mosby family stoic, the one who relies on reason and keeps his emotions in check and pretty much to himself—except mad. I do mad right well.

And so, in the oh-so-long days immediately before Dad’s passing, days spent in a first-rate hospital in Oxford, I was the one who tried to shield as much as possible the other family members from what I knew was coming. I was the comforter, the one with the shoulder to cry on and the one with the hugs and the one with the handkerchiefs to dry the tears and the one to try to think of the right thing to say when there really is no such thing.

That’s just me. That’s what I do and that’s what I did even after I had touched my fingers to Dad’s neck and knew. I gently told the others that it was over and shuttled them out into the care of the chaplain because there are some things that happen then that folks just don’t need to see, even if they think they do.

All but my sister Lisa, that is, who came to me for what I thought was some more comforting, and instead said softly into my ear, “All right, you are the patriarch, now.” And as she somehow knew in that way that only women can in dealing with the men folk they love, those were the words that shattered the stoicism and allowed me to have the good cry in her arms she knew I needed.

All right, I am the patriarch. I’ve sure got the elder part down pat, so now I need to get to work on the venerable. God knows, I’ve got the blueprint.

(Award winning columnist Ray Mosby is publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork. Contact him at deercreekpilot@bellsouth.net)