For some of us, at some point in life, a person will come along who will…through gentle words and a huge kind heart…have a profound and lasting impact. Gary and I, and our three children, have been privileged to have such a person in our lives. Here is her story…a very small part of her story…but such a large part to us.
Her story, at least the part that was to affect us, began before either Gary or I were born. In the little Smoky Mountain town of Bryson City, North Carolina, a very young couple were married. Sixteen year old Leo Briggs married 19 year old Ray Moore.
They were so young, and I’m sure so full of youthful hopes and dreams. But those hopes and dreams did not fully materialize. There are many details that are unknown to us…details that don’t need to be known. At some point the marriage was over, and Ray and Leo moved on with their lives.
Both remarried. Ray’s second marriage was to be greatly important to us. You see, Ray married Willene Edmonds. Ray was in the Merchant Marines, so he took his new bride with him to Port Arthur, Texas…far, far away from the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.
Again, details are sketchy to us, and perhaps that is best. Willene was soon pregnant, and Ray was thrilled. That we do know. What we don’t know is why Willene called her brothers when Ray was out to sea and told them to come to Texas. She wanted to move home to Bryson City. So move she did, while Ray was gone, and it seemed that this chapter of her life was over.
The marriage was over, as well. But Ray really wanted to be there for his baby that was coming. For some reason, this wasn’t allowed. Ray did pay for the baby’s birth, but he never got to see his new baby…his son.
Ray and Willene’s new little son was named William Gary Moore, and known to all as Gary. I know this Gary very well. He is my husband, a most wonderful man on whom God’s grace was abundantly given. It wasn’t easy to be raised without his dad in his life. It was especially hard to never know why his dad wasn’t in his life. So Gary grew up thinking that Ray didn’t care. In reality, the opposite was true. But in those days, especially, secrets were kept close inside a person’s heart, not to be spoken of ever again.
Ray married again, as did Willene years later. Gary grew up in Bryson City, and was blessed to have many wonderful uncles and other men in his life…men who taught him how to be a man. Gary spent his last two years of high school living with his Uncle Jay and Aunt Teetle in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Then he was drafted into the army during Viet Nam, went to Thailand, and returned home a tired and philosophical young man who still had no father in his life.
God reached down into those mountains, through His Word and through the prayers of his godly grandmother, and miraculously saved Gary. Gary went to Bible College, where I met him, and the rest is history. Another marriage took place…ours…and later military life took us around the world.
In the meantime, Willene was a fabulous part of our lives. She was a wonderful mother-in-law to me and a very loving Granny to our three children. But there was never any talk of Ray. It seemed to be a closed subject. Willene’s husband died when I was pregnant with Aaron, and she moved back to Bryson City.
Ray’s wife, unknown to us, died. Leo’s husband also passed away. Ray was living back near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Leo was living in Florida.
There is a part of this story that I didn’t mention. Leo and Willene had been friends growing up together in Bryson City in the 1940’s. Despite having married the same man, their friendship continued.
One day, Willene got a phone call. Leo was on the other end, excitement in her voice.
“Willene!” she exclaimed. “Guess what? I’m getting married!!”
Willene was very happy for her friend.
“And guess who I’m marrying?” Leo playfully asked.
“Ray?!” Willene guessed. And she was right! Leo and Ray were going to be married…again…after all these years!
Willene was very happy for Ray and Leo. There was never a hard feeling there at all. And you know what’s amazing? Willene went to their wedding, held in Bryson City where they were now living. Willene and Leo laughed and laughed at what people must have thought. And Willene gave herself a new name. She called herself the Wife-in-Law!!
During all this time, Leo had begun to do her gentle work. She began reminding Ray that he had a son and three grandchildren whom he had never met…and that he really needed to meet. Ray was hesitant, understandably so, after all these years. But finally, Ray reached out to Gary with a letter.
I will always remember the way this impacted Gary…the way he responded upon receiving this first letter…having this first contact with the dad he had never known. Gary’s response was actually very concise.
“Patty,” he said, “I just don’t feel like a piece of the puzzle is missing. He’s never been in my life and I don’t think I need him in it now.”
I had been excited about this new development with Ray, but I also totally understood Gary’s reaction. So on our end, I was patiently trying to encourage Gary to respond to Ray. And in North Carolina, Leo was also encouraging Ray not to give up. Willene, of all things, was very hopeful, too, that this long-closed door would open.
It was God Who did the best work, though, and eventually Gary did write a letter back to Ray. In the summer of 2000, at Ray and Leo’s beautiful mountain home, father and son finally met. Ray also got to hug his three grandchildren for the first time. He became Grandpa…and dad.
The next few years were full of communication…of learning about one another…of sharing love too long denied. It was amazing to see how similar in personality Gary and Ray were. It was sweet to see them walking together in the mountains they both loved. We wished we lived closer.
We also wished we had been given more time. You see, Ray developed a pre-leukemia condition and was placed on chemo. He developed some random infection that quickly and unexpectedly took his life in October, 2008. Once again, time with his dad was denied to Gary, but all of us were very thankful for the time that we DID have.
And it was all because of the loving prodding of Leo. She knew that this missing puzzle piece truly was of upmost importance. She knew that her Ray needed to get to know his son and his grandchildren. It didn’t bother her one bit that they came from his marriage to another woman. She opened her mouth and her heart when it was extremely important to do so. It would have been easy to ignore it…to stay silent…to go on with her new life with Ray again.
Leo made room for all of us in her huge, loving heart. She is still a part of our lives. It’s because of her that Gary got to know and love his dad…and call him Dad! Our children know their Grandpa now. All of us know that what Leo told me once is very true.
“Ray is a very wonderful man,” she said. And he certainly was.
And Leo, you are a very wonderful woman!! We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for completing our family circle. Your love and influence will never be forgotten.
As you struggle with your own health issues now and are on Hospice, may you know how deeply you are loved and respected by each of us.
Thank you for finishing our family puzzle…for completing our picture. That last piece has been amazing and beautiful!