When I was a youngster there were lots of people in Lynchburg who helped me along my way, so much that my childhood almost seemed like a fairytale. One of them was Raymond Lee Turner.
I wasn’t really related to Raymond, but for a long time I thought I was. Raymond was the husband of my mother’s first cousin, Ava Lee (Young) Turner. They had a son, Randy, who’s the same age as me, and in my early years I spent a good bit of time at their two-story home at 722 S. Broadway St. in Lynchburg.
Raymond died last week at the age of 82. When my parents called to tell me of his passing, we reminisced a bit, and in the midst of that conversation, and another time since, my dad said: “He was a good man. They didn’t come any better than Raymond.”
I was too young to know Raymond well in those years our families spent time together, but I remember this: He was always quick with a grin and fun to be around, loved his family and sports, and I don’t believe I ever heard him say a cross word.
I have lots of memories of time spent with the Turners, and some of them I’ve wrote about before. But they are worth retelling, if for no reason than the fact that they kind of encapsulate the Raymond Turner I knew.
I’m sure Raymond knew me from the time I was born, but my first really clear memory of him is when he took me, Randy and Randy’s older sister Debbie fishing one time at a pond somewhere near Lynchburg.
I don’t remember how old I was, but I know I wasn’t very old, and was about as inexperienced as fishermen come. On the way to the pond, Raymond gave us all kinds of instructions – what to do, what not to do, and so on – enough to make me think I was ready for anything.
We were fishing from a dock that day, with railing on the front, but it must have been open on at least one end. Sometime during the course of events, Debbie started teasing me, dangling a big old slimy nightcrawler in front of my face from the end of her fishing line. I took a couple steps back, and she kept coming. I backed up some more and she got closer. I backed up some more and the next thing I knew was – SPLASH. I had backed myself right off the end of the dock.
The water was over my head, or at least that’s how I remember it, and I didn’t know how to swim. But the instant my feet hit the bottom on the pond, I came up out of that water like a bolt of lightening and was standing on the bank in like two seconds flat.
I don’t remember where we were at, I don’t remember if we caught any fish that day, and I don’t remember if we fished any more after I fell in the water. But I will never forget that worm dangling in my face and how fast I came out of that water.
I spent the night at the Turners’ from time to time in those younger years. One of those times they took me to Wilmington. We stopped in store somewhere, the old G.C. Murphy, I believe, and Raymond bought me a bag of those little plastic Army men which, other than occasionally a ball of any type, was my favorite thing to play with in those days.
I saw the Cincinnati Bengals on TV for the very first time at the Turners. It had to be during their first season in 1968, when I was 7. That was when they wore real football uniforms, rather than those Halloween costume-looking things they wear these days.
One evening somewhere around a couple years later we were playing in an alley near the Turners’ home, next to an old lumberyard. The rest of the guys started throwing rocks on the tin roof and listening to the ting, ting, ting, and they seemed to get a big kick out of it. I didn’t think it was a good idea and went back inside. I don’t remember how events unfolded from there, but I must have told on them, because they all got in trouble, and I was the good little boy. Or the rat, depending on how you look at it.
Then there was the day we had a family Easter gathering at the Turners. It was hot that day and a few more years had passed, but we were still in our very early teens at best. Bored with the family activities, five of us boys took off on a walk across Lynchburg. We ended up at a pond. And we went swimming – in April, and the water was just fine. Somehow, we broke a floating dock or diving platform in the pond. We walked back to the Turners, told everyone we’d been swimming – of course leaving out the part about the broken dock – and nobody really thought much about it.
Funny how nobody really worried about young boys doing such things back then. Take off without really telling anyone, walk across town, go swimming … just another day in the early ’70s.
In my later teens, Randy and I and our dates, and a couple other couples, had been somewhere together. Knowing that Raymond and Ava Lee were out of town, and not supposed to back for a while, we slipped over to the Turners’ house. After a while, we dimmed the lights, slipped off to separate areas of the house, and were just getting comfortable when the lights flipped back on. It was Raymond and Ava Lee – they had arrived home much earlier than expected. and we were busted. I was about as embarrassed as embarrassed can be as I hurried past them on the way out. But, they never said much, at least to me. Might have been a different story for Randy.
The last time I really spent much time with Raymond was a couple years later, when I must have been in my late teens or very early 20s. I insulated part of the Turners’ home. My dad and I insulated lots of homes in those days, but this time he sent me out on my own. When I was done, I believed there had been a prearranged amount I was supposed to be paid, but Raymond slipped some extra.
As extended families tend to do when each of their own families become more extended, I saw less and less of the Turners as I grew older. Randy and I stayed in touch somewhat, then we both had sons about the same time. They played a few junior high basketball games against each other, and we got them together for a birthday party or such a time or two.
In recent years, it seems that the only time I see any of the Turners is at a wedding or a funeral. And that’s how it works, I suppose – just kind of the way the circle of life spins.
Childhood can never be recaptured, just like the memories that Raymond Turner and his family gave me can never be replaced.
Raymond suffered a good bit in his latter years, but he’s not in pain anymore. If I were to guess, I imagine he’s hitting golf balls somewhere with the angels.
So long, Raymond Turner. I can only hope that I’ve left some youngster with the kind of memories you and your’s left me.
Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.