James W. Grey, Jr., 1941-2018

80 comments on James W. Grey, Jr., 1941-2018
19 minutes

My father died last Wednesday, one day after his 77th birthday.

I’m sure I will have a lot to write about my father in the months to come. My relationship with my father is a key part of who I am — for better, and for worse. I’ve had to do considerable work as an adult sorting out my childhood and my adult relationship with him to find happiness and good emotional health. Writing about him and about that process will help me grieve this loss.

Today, I want to tell his life story. Settle in for a long read, because even treating his life in thumbnail I wrote more than 3,500 words.

JWG Sr Jr proc
James Grey, Sr., with James Grey, Jr.

James Wilson Grey, Jr., was born January 9, 1941 in Handley, West Virginia, a small railroad town just down the Kanawha River from Charleston. His father, James W. Grey, and his mother, Bertha (Legg) Grey, were from that little town’s two most prominent families.

Prominence is relative, of course. In the remote hills of West Virginia, what qualified those families as such was that Dad’s grandparents owned the town’s two most important businesses. His paternal grandmother owned a tavern and boardinghouse that served the rail workers, and his maternal grandmother owned a general store. Dad’s parents lived in an apartment above the general store.

“Everybody in town owed money to my grandmothers,” my father said many times. “It let me go anywhere and do anything in that little town. I was the prince of Handley.”

But there is no way to sugar coat it: Dad had a difficult childhood. He was born while his father was away in the Navy fighting World War II. He remembers clearly his father coming home from the war: this man he did not know walked into the apartment and embraced his mother. It angered my young father, who ran to this strange man and started pounding on his legs in a vain attempt to protect his mother.

His parents’ reunited marriage did not last long: late one night, Dad’s mom suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Dad, his younger sister Karen, and his parents all slept in the apartment’s one bedroom, and the commotion woke everybody up. My father, at four years old, watched his mother die.

JWGJr - Bert Legg Grey - x - John Eugene Grey - Mom Grey maybe - x boy - Katie maybe proc
At left, my dad in the arms of Bertha (Legg) Grey, his mother. Next to her is Rae Grey, wife of Dad’s uncle Tom; Ethel Grey, Dad’s grandmother, and Katy Hall, Ethel Grey’s half sister. Dad’s grandfather, John Eugene Grey, stands behind all the women. The boy at bottom might be Rae’s son Tommy.

Dad entered school that fall and refused to speak to his teacher. I’m sure this was in part because of his shock over losing his mother. But Dad said it was also because his teacher was an unkind woman who took pleasure in pushing children down the side of the hill when their backs were turned. Dad had to repeat the first grade because of his recalcitrance, but fortunately a different woman taught first grade the next year and Dad participated.

Dad’s dad was a laborer who had quit school after the 8th grade, and was also a drinker and a fighter. He had no idea how to raise small children, and he had to work. So Dad and Karen went to live with their grandmother, Ethel Grey. The whole family called her Mom. She was a tough, ornery woman, busy with her tavern and, I believe, still raising the youngest of her many children. While I’m sure she loved her grandchildren, the last thing she needed was more children to raise.

Dad and Karen
Dad and Karen

The stories Dad told me about living in his grandmother’s tavern, in a room directly above the kitchen, make me think he felt like he was a burden to his grandmother. And he missed his dad, whose work took him away for long periods. Sometimes his dad drove a truck, and he would delight his young son by making his route run through Handley. I believe one summer Dad even got to ride with his dad on one trucking trip. Other times his dad took factory and construction work in South Bend, Indiana, where some of his brothers had relocated. Other of Dad’s uncles and his one aunt remained in West Virginia and were involved in raising my father and his sister.

All I have are Dad’s stories, which I heard over and over throughout my life, to have any idea what growing up in Handley was like. Through them my sense is that it was a scrappy place, one where you were expected to fight for your honor. You especially did not say unkind things about anybody’s mother. Casual words about Dad’s mother having passed on led to a few fights.

Dad as boy 1
Dad as probably a preteen

Handley was a place that the law could not easily reach. Mom Grey famously used to stand on her tavern’s front porch and kill squirrels with her shotgun so all would see she was a good shot and know not to mess with her. She locked the tavern door at 11 pm each night, and instructed all of her children that she guarded that door with her shotgun and that if they tried to enter that door after 11 pm, she would assume it was an intruder and would shoot them right through the door.

But for all her pluck and drive, raising two children may have become too much for Mom Grey as Dad and Karen got older. The story as Dad tells it was that the family liked to pick on Karen at the dinner table. Dad kept silent, but never liked it. His anger grew until one day he had quite an outburst over it. This upset and frightened Mom Grey enough that she immediately sent Dad and Karen to South Bend to live with their father. Dad was 11.

Dad learned quickly that while he might have been the Prince of Handley, he was considered just a dumb hillbilly in South Bend. His dad reinforced this thought, telling him point blank that he was going to have to fight the boys who dared call him that. But my father was anything but dumb. The schools in South Bend assumed they’d have to put this kid from West Virginia’s hills back a year, but Mom Grey insisted to school officials that he be tested for placement. He tested well and was able to stay in his grade.

Dad was tall and athletic, so he was recruited to the basketball team, his first time ever playing the game. He also played a lot of baseball and, at least by his stories, developed a pitching arm good enough that he was being scouted. His father valued work over baseball dreams, however, and insisted that his son quit baseball and get a paper route. By the time Dad reached high school, he had been recruited to the swim team.

Dad at 18
Dad in 1958, a senior in high school

But as he moved through high school, he no idea what he’d do with his life. He felt sure college was out of the question. Even if it wasn’t, what would he study? Nothing really interested him. I think he was angry, feeling shortchanged in his life: having lost his mother, not having felt wanted by his family, not seeing a future for himself. And so his senior year he simply didn’t attend several of his classes for the first 23 days of the first semester. It earned him automatic Fs in those classes, cost him his place on the swim team, and earned his father’s anger. “You blew it, kid,” Dad told me his father said to him. The manufacturing plant where he worked was offering scholarships to employee children to attend Purdue University, and those Fs scuttled Dad’s chances.

Upon graduating, unsure what was next for himself, Dad disappeared for a couple days. Knowing he’d have hell to pay when he got home, he stopped by the U.S. Navy recruiter’s office and enlisted. Dad walked into his father’s apartment and, without a word, laid the enlistment papers before him. “It’s about damn time,” was all his father would say.

Dad home from boot camp 1960ish
Dad home from boot camp, probably 1959

Dad said many times that while he was in the Navy, he was drunk as often as he could be. Yet he also expected to make a career out of the Navy. He became a radarman. He served during the Bay of Pigs Invasion; his ship raced toward Cuba as fast as it could but it was all over before they arrived. Dad’s ship also participated heavily in building US goodwill, possibly as part of Dwight Eisenhower’s People to People program. Dad’s ship visited many ports all over the East with the purpose of allowing sailors to meet and mingle with local people. Dad told stories of a state dinner in one obscure country where he got the governor’s son in trouble, of eating sushi in a dark Japanese pub where when he got to the bottom of the plate he found two fish eyeballs staring up at him, and of singing his best Elvis impersonation on stage in a small Philippine town.

Dad’s sister Karen was found to have ovarian cancer while Dad was in the Navy, and she died. He was granted leave to attend her funeral. The timeline is not entirely clear to me, but it was during this time that he lost his zeal for a Navy career and let his enlistment end, and that he met my mother.

Carole Ann Frederick, 1963

Carole Ann Frederick grew up in an upper-middle-class South Bend neighborhood, the daughter of an engineer who worked for the Bendix Corporation, a prestigious South Bend employer. There was no end to the men from her family’s social circles who were interested in her, but none of them drew her in. Then she met my father. She knew he was a drinker, that he was always out at bars hustling pool, and that other women hung loosely around him all the time. But she fell, and fell hard. And so did Dad.

Mom expected she would live a party lifestyle with my father. Her parents didn’t approve, and it wasn’t how she was raised, but she was head over heels for my dad and was going to live whatever life he made for them. But when they married, Dad turned his life around. He learned to weld and got a decent factory job, ending up at the Oliver Corporation, which made farm implements. He stopped drinking and insisted that they be asleep by 10 pm each night so he could be ready to work each day. Dad built his life around his work and his wife.

Jim Grey Jr. 1968ish
Dad was proud to work at Oliver. Here he is in one of the company’s tractors, in about 1968.

They first rented an apartment in South Bend above a real-estate office. Mom worked downstairs while Dad went off to Oliver’s.

But then in July of 1964, one month to the day after their wedding, Dad’s father fell to his death in a construction accident. It was an awful blow to Dad, who adored and idolized his father. Dad withdrew deeply into himself. It was a terrible strain on my parents’ young marriage.

Everyone to whom my father would have been closest in childhood, his parents and his sister, were gone. But Mom Grey was still alive and had retired to South Bend. Three of Mom Grey’s children, Dad’s uncle William and uncle Tom, and his aunt Betty, all lived and worked in town, too. And, in time, Dad remembered that he had his wife and was building his future with her.

927 Lancaster Drive, South Bend, our first family home

I came along in August of 1967. I was named for my grandfather, a man I never had the fortune to know. My parents moved from their apartment into a tiny ranch house. Dad made little money then; were they not able to assume a mortgage from a family desperate to get out, they could not have afforded even that basic house. We lived there, in a neighborhood we called Rabbit Hill, until 1976.

Mom Grey, my brother, and me, 1969

My brother Rick came in July of 1968 and then our family was complete. Dad kept on at Oliver’s, which became White Farm Equipment, and moved from the factory floor to be the plant’s quality control man. With increasing fortune we were able to buy a larger home in a nicer South Bend neighborhood. Our lives were typical for the time: a nuclear family with Dad working, Mom staying home, and the kids walking to school.

dad&son 5x7
Dad and me, about 1970

We lived a quiet life. We weren’t joiners. We didn’t go to church. We were home a lot. It was by Dad’s design. His young life had been so chaotic that he absolutely insisted upon stability for his family. It was stability almost to the point of stagnation — yet there was real comfort in knowing that Dad would be home by 4, dinner would be on the table by 5, and we would spend our evenings quietly, with the newspaper, the TV on low, and our homework.

In the early 1980s, as manufacturing began its downturn in northern Indiana, White was sold and its pension fund liquidated. Soon the plant closed. Dad had nothing to show for 18 years of service. Dad spent a lot of time in bed. It wasn’t spoken of, but I assume now that he was deeply depressed.

Greys and Aunt Betty proc
Our family with Aunt Betty, Dad’s father’s sister, in about 1980

But back on Rabbit Hill, a couple had moved in next door in about 1966 who became my parents’ best friends. Dean Porter moved from New York state to South Bend with his wife Carol to join the faculty at Notre Dame and curate the school’s art gallery. My parents played Canasta with them almost every Saturday night for more than 40 years. Dean achieved his Ph.D. during those early years, and worked to fulfill the university’s goal of building a large, new art museum. He raised the funds and oversaw the construction, and when it completed he became its first Director.

Dad’s best friend, Dean, in our home at Christmas, 1984

This was about the time Dad lost his job. Dad had dabbled in woodworking as a hobby and had made a small wooden keepsake box for Dean as a birthday gift. Dean called Dad: “I need someone to design and build benches for patrons to sit on, and pedestals for art to rest on, throughout my new museum. I want you to do the work.” Dad said, “But Dean, all I’ve ever made are little boxes like yours! What makes you think I can make these benches and pedestals?” Dean’s reply was simple: “I know you can do it.” And with that, Dad went into the cabinetmaking business. It was a family affair: Dad designed and built the pieces, my brother and I did grunt work like moving lumber and sanding, and Mom managed the books. Mom also got a job as an aide at the nearby elementary school. It kept our family going. If you visit Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art today and sit down in a gallery, you will be sitting on one of Dad’s benches.

Dad alternated between cabinetmaking, including building furniture for private clients, and working in various manufacturing management jobs. These were the years my brother and I were in college. My father’s entire goal of parenthood was to see that his sons went to college. He always felt that his lack of education limited him. There was evidence for that: at one company where he rose to Plant Manager, when it came time to build a larger plant (because my father had increased productivity so much) they replaced him with a fellow with a master’s degree. But more than that, I think he was ashamed to have only a high-school education. A college education would prove to all that he wasn’t a dumb hillbilly.

My brother and I were both intelligent and did well in public school. Thanks to need-based federal financial aid and a large grant from the Lilly Foundation, which was then helping first-generation college students attend private colleges, I was able to attend Rose-Hulman, a top engineering school, and Rick was able to attend Notre Dame. Still, the portion of tuition, room, and board that Mom and Dad had to bear left them with next to nothing during our college years. But my brother and I both graduated, Rick with honors. My father wept openly when I graduated.

Dad kept making furniture and running various manufacturing operations after his sons had transitioned into their adult lives. Mom continued to work in the school system. They settled into empty-nested lives.

The Greys, in my home in 1995

But then Dad and Mom decided to make a go at building furniture full time. It turned out Dad was better at building than he was at sales. Moreover, he insisted on making only the finest furniture, bespoke, and there wasn’t enough of a market within reasonable range of South Bend. Cash flow became a serious problem. It drove Dad to look again for a manufacturing leadership job. He found one, helping build operations at a startup company. But it did not work out and he was fired.

These two failures flattened him. He never sought a regular job again. Mom found a job as a clerk in the county probate court to make ends meet. Dad took cabinetmaking work when it found him, mostly through word of mouth around Notre Dame. He also bought a mat cutter, and matted and framed art for the museum at Notre Dame.

Mom Dad Damion Garrett
Mom and dad with my sons in about 2005

Dad turned his energy to service. He became involved in the Republican Party in his county, serving as Treasurer of his local party office. He also sought to advance social concerns that would improve conditions on the impoverished west side of South Bend, where he lived as a teen with his father. He hoped to build entrepreneurship and encourage higher education in those neighborhoods. He worked hard to turn a vacant west-side K-Mart into a community market where locals could produce and sell wares, as a way of helping people find their way to brighter economic realities. His dream never came true, unfortunately, as he was never able to build a sufficient coalition of backers. He also joined the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Senior Men’s Club, a group of men who promoted social concerns in South Bend.

And my father began to actively practice Stoicism. He declared that he was a natural born Stoic, that the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus resonated so deeply with him that he felt they were kindred spirits.

Dad in 2012
Dad at my home in 2012

Dad had smoked for 50 years in 2007 when lung cancer struck. In the eleven years since he had his left lung surgically removed and underwent several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

We have all felt like most of these last eleven years with him have been bonus time. And he has been in reasonable health, all things considered; he was able to do most things he did before. His reduced lung capacity limited his activity a little. And we believe the chemotherapy affected his cognition; he struggled to make connections and once in a while even to form coherent sentences. It also made him grumpier, to the point where it was sometimes challenging to be around him. And macular degeneration was robbing him of his eyesight. Rick and I kept buying him vision-assistance gear so that he could see well enough to argue with people in Internet forums, which had become his second favorite pastime after he and Mom retired to Indianapolis in 2014. His favorite pastime was telling stories from his life. While I readily admit to being frustrated to hear the same story for the hundredth time, it was this repetition that made Dad’s life story stick so that I could write it.

Last summer Dad decided to drive Mom to South Bend for a family reunion. He had been keeping to himself that his eyesight had recently and suddenly gotten much worse. While on that trip he crashed his car into a median he simply could not see. Fortunately, neither he nor Mom was injured.

His rapid vision loss seemed suspicious to my brother and I, and we pressured him until he agreed to see his doctor. It turns out that not only was his lung cancer back, but it had spread to his liver and his brain. By this time, he was functionally blind. A scan showed a tumor pressing on the part of his brain that controlled vision. Radiation at that site restored enough of his vision that he could see to walk around, but his Internet-trolling days were over and he never drove again.

Christmas 2017
Me, Damion, Garrett, Rick, and Dad, Christmas Eve 2017

Dad’s doctors warned us that this would be the end of him, that he had weeks, maybe months, left. He received good care that kept him in the family game and in pretty good spirits through autumn and the holidays. He told his old stories to anyone who would listen at our Christmas Eve family gathering. But in the new year he took a sudden and rapid downturn. He lived to see his 77th birthday last Tuesday with his family around him, but on Wednesday he slipped away, quietly and peacefully.


80 responses to “James W. Grey, Jr., 1941-2018”

  1. Frost At Midnite Avatar

    This is such a good post, one which is a heartfelt tribute to the man he was. I’m sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with you and your family.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you. We’re a pretty stoic family – we will push through this. But we’ve experienced an outpouring of good wishes and it’s really lifted us up.

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    I am very sorry for your loss. It is interesting to see the distinct resemblance in the 1958 photo.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I always thought my brother looked much more like my dad than me, but everybody says I’m a ringer for him.

  3. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Sorry for your loss Jim my prayers are with you and your family I’m glad that you are able celebrate is life in this post such a nice tribute.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Christopher.

  4. dan james Avatar

    Jim, sorry to hear about your dad. I lost mine to cancer after a long battle a few years back.

    I think you’re absolutely right that writing will help you work through the emotions of the coming weeks and months.



    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Dan. I’ve got to decide, of the things swirling in my head, are publishable. One thing that’s tricky about writing about this stuff is that it involves other people, who might have a different perspective on what happened, or who might be hurt to learn what’s been in my head.

      1. dan james Avatar

        Absolutely. It might be there’s a chunk of stuff you need to write for yourself, but just not make public. I’m not especially close to my brother, but I know we have a quite different recollection of our parent’s splitting up when I was 11 and he only 5, and his subsequent relationship to my dad was less “influenced” by the break up shall we say than mine was.

        Anyway, write what you need to, whatever helps.

      2. Steve Miller Avatar
        Steve Miller

        Don’t worry which stories are publishable; write them for yourself. You’ve been given something special, both is your ability to write and in the stories you’ve been told. Please make use of them. We’ll understand if you don’t wish to share them.

        With each year, I realize more and more the stories I didn’t ask my parents. There are pictures, but sometimes those raise more questions… or the stories are only partially told, or mis-interpreted.


  5. conspicari Avatar

    Sorry for your loss Jim. A fine tribute to your dad. My father passed away at the age of 56, I was in my mid twenties and just starting to get to know him again.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      56 is too young to die. I’m sorry you lost your dad so early.

  6. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Very interesting Jim. When we were there on Lancaster Drive and struggling to make ends meet, your family was doing the same thing. Hadn’t really thought about that before. Your dad had his ups and downs, that’s for sure, but he made a good life for his family and kept you all together. I enjoy your stories and your writing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sure we all were making our way as best we could on Lancaster Drive. So many young families there!

      I have some complaints about my dad, valid ones, things that caused me some challenges in my life. But I also enthusiastically admit that his vision and drive for a stable family with kids who completed college created the conditions for the success I’ve had in life.

  7. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    A beautiful way to share your father with us. Your telling proves to me once again that every life involves struggle and hardship that others know little or nothing about.

    So much of this reminds me of bits of my own parents’ lives. And the Republican Party in South Bend – definitive proof that your Dad was not in politics for victory or glory. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Dad was also a Chicago Bears and White Sox fan, so he was used to lost causes.

  8. Dawn Grey Avatar
    Dawn Grey

    Sorry for loss loved meeting my UNCLE James; you and your family at the family reunion in Handley WV the last couple years before Uncle Larry passed away a couple years ago. Praying for Uncle James and the family as a whole. God will help though anything all we got to do is ask.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was good to meet you in Handley! I hope to be able to come back.

  9. whitneywilger Avatar

    Great read, as always, Jim. This is a lovely tribute to a your father, and again, I’m sorry for your family’s loss.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Whitney. Tough days.

      1. whitneywilger Avatar

        You are one of the strongest people I know. Keep sight of the good memories.

  10. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    An amazing story, Jim. Thank you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Jason!

  11. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I grabbed my first cup of coffee this morning and dialed up your blog expecting a camera report or a story of some old piece of pavement you’d discovered. Instead, there was this. What a warm and loving tribute. Perhaps the best piece of writing I’ve seen here. I didn’t know the man and I only know you through this blog and a few emails, but your words affected me deeply. I am sorry Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks John. I’ve been working on this since Friday and am still making minor edits to it. I heard Dad’s stories so many times I was sick of them, but I can’t say I didn’t know what his life had been about.

  12. Mike Avatar

    Great telling of your father’s life Jim. I only knew you briefly, but I did see some reflection of me in you. Probably had no clue at the time during seventh grade at Jackson middle school. Reading your story highlights several similarities. I believe my story and my father’s story are on similar paths. To the end, my dad passed from cancer in 2005. He had retired from Steel Warehouse as a Truck Driver and trainor. We struggled with family issues, never owned a home and either rented or lived with other family members up until I graduated high school. I moved, out of a two room ranch hand home, to Orlando for my promotion as assistant manager of Popeye’s. Great to tell your father’s story, your family will appreciate getting to know their family/father better.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I had no idea you had such a transient experience then. I guess we all just live our reality and it seems “normal” to us.

  13. DougD Avatar

    Thanks for that Jim, and as trite as it always sounds I’m sorry for your loss. That was good to read, and hopefully it was good for you to write.
    It must have been hard for your Dad’s carefully constructed stable life to delve back into uncertainty. That’s one thing I’m thankful for my own parents, after childhoods of poverty, war and emigration they have led pretty boring and stable lives (and this has rubbed off on me as well)
    No doubt you and your brother have a lot of things to do and process in these weeks, blessings to you both.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Dad masked a deep anxiety. He wanted things to be certain. Anytime something was up in the air he moved to make it land — and could be quite unpleasant about it.

      This loss only started to sink in over the weekend. My feelings are all over the map.

  14. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    My condolences on your loss but I enjoyed your telling of your father’s story.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks — his story is interesting for sure.

  15. Ron Avatar

    Beautifully told. Reminds me a lot of my own father’s story.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh how interesting. I am sure there are few truly original stories under the sun.

  16. Michael McNeill Avatar

    Thanks for sharing this, Jim. An interesting life, for sure. Stay strong at this difficult time. Best wishes, Michael

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much my friend.

  17. lmstevensphoto Avatar

    Beautiful story Jim. So sorry for your loss. These are hrd times that no one can prepare you for.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They are for sure. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

  18. SilverFox Avatar

    Sorry for your loss Jim, good that you are able to chronicle and celebrate his life in this way. I lost my father last year, he had started to write down his memoirs but hadn’t got very far so we have lost a lot of information about his life which he kept mostly to himself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I am indeed fortunate that my dad would tell his stories over and over to anyone who would listen.

  19. Bobby Avatar

    Condolences on the loss of your dad,Jim.Your touching memoir did shine through with the love that you have for your dad.May blessed happiness and gladness follow you and yours henceforth.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you Bobby. We’ll pull through and be okay on the other side.

  20. divetrash Avatar

    I never knew your dad started actively practicing Stoicism so late. He definitely was a natural born stoic. In fact, after I read your news, I was telling Scott about him and the story of meeting your parents for the first time and I described your father as “stern and stoic and quiet and a bit intimidating for me”. But boy could he bust out with the one liner. I called your parent’s house once a few years back during the lost years so I could get your work number because I needed to check on you. I remember praying that your mother answered the phone, but alas, your father answered, so I started in with “Hi, Mr. Grey, my name is Laura Tyrrell. I don’t know if you remember me, but I dated Jim while he was at Rose-Hulman. We met at his dorm once…” There was a pause and then all your dad said was “I remember.” And, the way he said it… I think I blushed about 40 shades of red in that moment!

    Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Please also give my best to your mom.


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Dad was quick witted and had a keen. almost supernatural, understanding of basic human nature.

      Dad read the writings of the Stoics when I was a boy, but really started talking about it only in the last ten years or so. He was “stoic” all my life in that he tended not to show much emotion (except anger…boy, could he get angry). But as he practiced Stoicism he learned much more to take life as it is, not as he’d have it, and find whatever goodness he could in it.

  21. davidvanilla Avatar

    Jim, condolences on the passing of your father. I read you account of his life. It is a testimony to two men– your father who overcame his demons and determined to raise productive children, and to you, his son who determined to benefit from his teaching. Well done.

    My father has been gone nineteen years this Spring and I still miss him. You will grieve for a time and then come to the joys of the memories you have. Blessings: may the Lord enfold you in his loving care.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you very much David. Can I admit that I’d like for this time of grief to just do its work and move on? Because it feels like an ill-fitting suit: you just can’t wait until you can get home, shed the thing, and put on more comfortable clothes.

  22. Robin Grey Avatar
    Robin Grey

    What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. John spoke of his brother frequently and we share your great loss. Please extend our deepest condolences to your family. Warm Regards, Robin & John

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Robin — it’s definitely a sad time as we all cope with this. Thanks for reaching out.

  23. Heide Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your dad, Jim. Even without knowing you well I can see that you followed in his footsteps with your pragmatism, your adaptability, your intelligence, and your integrity. He must have been immensely proud of you. My heartfelt condolences go out to you and your family.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much H. I know Dad loved me.

      1. Heide Avatar


  24. Create Space Avatar

    Hi Jim, I am sorry to learn of your loss and admire your courage and honesty as you introduce your story. Because of lack of time and having to pace myself I wonder if you would consider posting your story over a few instalments? I will revisit your post to read it all but I just wondered would creating a weekly post of 500 words encourage revisits?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I know that dumping 3500 words on you all at once is an awful lot. I considered breaking this up, but I decided in the end that I needed this particular story to be told so I could move on to other topics. This is, after all, primarily a photography blog. And I do have more stories to tell.

  25. the6millionpman Avatar

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your father Jim, he seemed like he was such an interesting man. Very sorry for your loss, my thoughts are with you and your family at this time.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you so much. I’m happy you enjoyed my dad’s story.

  26. Jennifer Leigh Avatar
    Jennifer Leigh

    THIS ❤️

    1. Jim Grey Avatar
  27. shaynecey Avatar

    Worth reading.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  28. Sam Avatar

    Hi Jim, beautiful tribute. Sorry for your loss. RIP.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Sam.

  29. Film Beginnings Avatar

    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. That was a fantastic tribute! Thank you for sharing. David

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much. Felt good to tell the story.

  30. dovecatherine Avatar

    This story caught my attention because I lost my mother young and my brother and I too had to be taken care of by an ornery grandmother and our father took to drinking for some time. I really enjoyed your memory’s of your family.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy that my dad’s story resonated with you!

  31. freshquirkycommentary Avatar

    I enjoyed your story. “The devil is in the details,” and your minute memories, combined with authentic historic pictures, make this tribute special.
    Without question your father looks like a man of dignity — never more than when older, sight-impaired, in jeans and plaid shirt. You and Rick are look-alikes, aren’t you — but you more: same intricately sensitive features, same bedroom eyes! (Smile.) I read your write-up on Rabbit Hill. Sounded SO Jean Shepherd (he’s written many things on growing up in Indiana; the writer behind the movie, “A Christmas Story.”)
    I too have Indiana heritage now — a transplant from Taiwan. I am not Chinese; my parents were missionaries. Always I’ve resisted being identified and thought of as a Hoosier. Sixteen years in Asia — a concept which central Indiana seemed to steadfastly resist — always made me want something more. I’ve lived in many cities — San Diego, Phoenix, Chicago, Indianapolis, Holland, Mich. — but Indiana has a way of CLINGING to one’s psyche, doesn’t it. Thank you for making a place I find challenging sound so winsome.
    My favorite picture is the one with mostly women, including Ethel Grey. Northern Indiana may be a bit more gutsy: working in the western suburbs of amazing Chicago, and during my year in gorgeous west-Michigan Lakeshore, I’d often drive through the northeast (and central) parts of Indiana. Both Ethel Grey’s picture and the testimony to the squirrels she shot at from the tavern porch make me think: “I can respect that!”
    My father is 85, I think: he’s been married the second time for about 17 years. I do not look forward to the day when I will be looking back, like this.
    Sincerest condolences,

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re quite fortunate to still have your father at 85!

      Being a Hoosier is a pretty good gig. Embrace it!

      The people of South Bend and of Handley both have guts — they just come out in different ways.

  32. freshquirkycommentary Avatar

    You also had a truly beautiful mother. Did she look like your Dad’s sister Karen at all?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Why thank you! I never met Karen, and have only seen a couple photographs of her, so I don’t know whether Mom resembles her.

  33. Stories BY Alexis Avatar

    Blessings to you Jim & family on the loss of your father and ‘guide’ in this journey of love.
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful piece in honour of your father. Regards, Alexis.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you for reading my dad’s story!

  34. The Trailhead Avatar

    I’ve been waiting until I had a nice chunk of time to take in your posts about your dad’s life and death slowly and deliberately. I’m glad I did; what an interesting story, in many ways a quintessential American story. And hoo boy, do I ever understand having a complicated and paradoxical relationship with one’s parents. I appreciate the energy, love, and effort it takes to hold it all in tension as best you can, both during their lives and thereafter. But what an amazing thing you’ve done here — even though we all have our own perspective, your dad comes through in yours as deeply human and authentic. What a gift to have your children see you as a whole person, and be willing to work with all of it.

    Off to your next post.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Why thank you so much for making time to read this long post, and to consume the others I’ve shared since. I have a few more posts about Dad in me, one written and queued, and a couple more just in my head.

      I had to do a lot of personal work in my 40s to be able to present my dad now as human and authentic. He was very difficult when I grew up and I had to see through to his crap childhood to be able to have compassion for him, and then forgive him, and then be able to have the best relationship with him that he was capable of having.

      1. The Trailhead Avatar

        I’m a veteran of the same process, so I sympathize. For me, empathy had to come after validation of my own feelings and experiences. There’s a special place in my heart for good therapists who enable that.

  35. seatacphoto1951 Avatar

    What a great way for me to start this Monday morning. This story has so much life in it. I was born in 1951 and have 3 sons. I left them and my wife when they were very young and it has taken years but now I have great relationships with them. Your story has reminded me how important that is and that I need to always cultivate those relationships. Thank you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s good that you made the effort to build relationships with your children. My wife’s first husband didn’t do that after he left. He just disappeared from their lives. That’s some deep pain right there for all of the kids.

  36. Photobooth Journal Avatar

    So sad to hear of your father’s passing Jim. He sounds like a wonderful man and dedicated dad. I really loved reading about him and your family history. You definitely know more about your dad’s early life than I do about my father’s. My dad never wants to tell stories, so, even if for the hundredth time, you were lucky in that. My condolences to all your family. Kate.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Kate. It’s good to know my dad’s story as it helped me sort through my own childhood.

      1. Photobooth Journal Avatar

        I’m sure it is good to keep talking about that and about him.

  37. windswept007 Avatar

    I was saving this for when I had time to read it properly and not just skim it. You did a great job and I feel I got to know your dad a little. He seemed like a real character. Thanks for the chance to get to know him a little.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I feel honored that you set this aside until you could really read it. Thank you so much!

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