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Dear Ray .pdf


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Shooting the Curl
Dear Ray,

31st July, 2016

Well, it isn’t that we didn’t have enough time. Seventy-one winters to have a ten minute conversation about
the hereafter and the meaning of life, and you say, “Spare me the dissertation,” and that was that. We
spoke of “water under the bridge” and how much we respected the other for the difficult lives we’ve led, and
that was that. Too soon, too late, and now i’m the Elder of the immediate-bred Chilton clan, represented
with this Memorial, today.
It’s hard to speak about someone, even a brother, whom i hardly knew. Though only five winters older, you
came of age in a different time, when the transitions of the mid-Twentieth Century had yet to clash with the
globalism we experience today. You were one of the first to introduce me to that world as we flew together
in a four-engine prop plane from San Francisco to what was then-called “Lockheed” (now Burbank
International) Airport, allowing me to sit by the window, which I still enjoy to do. If you as my brother
excelled in areas of life i admired but was not drawn to, this was and remains, as your eldest daughter Sarah
said in a remark posted on Facebook, “Two brothers couldn't be more different and yet the same.”

Letter to Ray - 2
It’s no surprise that, as a young boy, i looked up to you for your natural athletic prowess. i remember being
mesmerized at the ease of the ballet between you and our step-grandfather, Volney Clifford Munger, play
catch on the outer lawn of our Encino home, once owned by the actress Mary Astor. As i recall you were
then a pitcher on the Van Nyes High School baseball team, and had a mean fastball and vicious curve, “plob!”
right into Clifford’s mitt. He throws it back to you slightly off to the side as you slide your arm effortlessly to
the right. “Flob!” as the ball lands in the upper web. Eyeing Cliff’s highcatcher’s stance you offer a changeup
which momentarily surprises him, but he quickly recovers and throws back a return. Emulating you later
when it came for Little League i “held my own” but was never exceptional.
In taking up your real sport of “Hanging Ten” i again modeled you by trying my own knack at body surfing, of
which i was reasonably proficient but never the master you were. How i marveled at the extraordinary ease
you “drove the wave,” and literally danced your way through the curl. i sooo wished i had your coordination
and balance, and in the few times i “caught a ride” with your older friends to the beach i usually sat watching
y’all hither and yon out on the waves inbetween my reads, scribbling or “eyeing the girls in their bikinis.”
i was both envious and thrilled when Charlie Daniels, a business colleague of our Stepfather Roy, offered you
a deckhand slot on his schooner during his trip to the Pacific Oceanas islands. Influenced as many youngin’s
in reading Melville i had a love of the mystique of whaling, and was fascinated with the scrimshaw carvings
on whale bones and teeth, which show’d those incredible upshoots of volcanic-made “tongues” of solidified
molten earth. i simply couldn’t accept the fact that these were real depictions. How amazed i was when you
brought back films from Tahiti, showing how these upshoots truly existed!
Returning to the States at the height of the Vietnam War, you shortly thereafter enlisted in the Marine Corps
Reserves, and, at the behest of our Mother, Shirl, fearing the reality of Selective Service, you tried your best
to persuade me to do the same. Having already made my decision to, if necessary resist and accept jail time if
prosecuted, i rebuffed your entreaties, and you were truly disappointed, more for my future than our
mother’s desire, and i in turn was deeply moved, but steadfast. That was the last time we ever had an
extended, heartfelt conversation between just the two of us until the day of Shirl’s Memorial in August, 2013,
a gap of more than 40 winters. Like today, those were difficult, unsettling times, and, coming into my own as
a young adult, i was rebellious, angry, passionate and loving, and you and i were simply too different to
overcome the divide that separated me from what i considered to be the conformist demands of the family.
As i grew older and broadened my experiences with the world i began to realize there were deeper roots
than appeared to this family schism, and came to comprehend, even understand, that this was derived from
sources far back in time. Therapy allowed me to shed my bitterness toward Shirl, and she relented to my
request for “a knowledge of our family’s past” by sending me, without comment and by regular postage, a
modest packet of photographs and writings in her own mother Helen’s handwriting. i was amazed in reading
these few notes probably written from the 1930’s to discover how both the Cox and Bishop sides of the

Letter to Ray – 3
family, from Bristol, Pennsylvania and Abington, Virginia, respectfully, were both slave holders, and that our
Bishop ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War – a fact i later confirmed in visiting southwestern Virginia,
making Shirl eligible for membership in the Daughters of the America Revolution, a membership to the best
of my knowledge she wasn’t aware of, and never pursued.
While still living in New York City both you and Roy called on me to visit with you both, and we spent a
pleasant afternoon having a meal at Tavern on the Green and walking through south Central Park. It was the
last time i was to see Roy, and the last time i was to see you until 2008. The conversation was cordial
enough, but i came away thinking how Roy seemed subdued (i had not yet been told of his divorce from Shirl
in 1979, nor was it mentioned), and was at the time annoyed with your ethnically-derived humor, as i truly
admired you both greatly for your ease in being with people and wonderful sense of humor.
By the mid-1980s, and after i had come to Nebraska, my attempts to communicate and re-engage with the
family were colored by my own need to learn the truth of our family’s past and the subversion of Shirl to
block such knowledge at any cost. Nearly ALL of the immediately–related blood or marriage Shafer/Chilton
clan then still alive – including first cousin Candace – came together at the time, but i wasn’t told until
afterward, when i was sent a photograph of the event. When Roy died i was never told of his death until
afterwards, and never told at all of the deaths of Uncle Bob or Bill, and never told in either my childhood or
adult life of the presence of our real grandfather Shannon Shafer, whose life so affected the family’s actual
history, who died in 1978. The myth that Shirl spun about me and my place in the family, about my “always
asking for money,” about how i had chosen to not relate with the family when just the opposite was true,
kept me from genuinely and authentically being a brother, son and cousin to virtually everyone but Candace,
with whom i had been infrequently corresponding with through all these winters, until i visited south
California in 2008, and even then, you unfortunately chose to de-recognize me, to which I took no offense,
and understood, sadly, knowing by then the true genealogy and history of the family, as to how and why.
This changed with the death of Shirl, where on the day of her Memorial, you and i began the first of three,
final conversations which placed our lives in context, and made each of us express, if minimally, what we
needed to hear the other say to one another before either one of us would journey. You frankly said that
even then, you still had difficulty speaking with me but that i, in being a member of the family, one where
Shirl had felt “i would either win the Noble Prize in Literature or burn down the United Nations,” respected
my choice to choose how to live my life as i saw fit. Even more of an indication that things were slowly
changing was a remark said to me by Sarah as we were leaving the Chart Restaurant at King Harbor, imploring
to “end this nonsense, and bring this Family Back Together.” I really appreciated that.
To the extent that we could, both you, Bob and i found over the next three winters some “wiggle room” for
this to occur. But it came far too little and too late to help much with those of us older than 50, and now only
a few other Shafers and Chiltons of that era remain, and given my own views as being expressed here,

Letter to Ray - 4
will probably not change, much. i’ve known for more than a decade, for example, of the presence of cousin’s
Bobby’s daughter and her family in Omaha, only 80 miles away from where i’ve lived for more than a quartercentury, but have not imposed myself upon them, nor has cousin Bobby followed through our conversation
held on the boat the day of Shirl’s Memorial, of reaching out to me on the Indigenous reservation of the
sovereign Omaha, say, as i invited him, during the He’dewachi, or Homecoming time, a Pow-Wow held each
August nearest the full moon, as it has been held at that time for a thousand winters and more throughout
numerous geographic places of the Interior Continent of North America. This is the public presence of the
Omaha, and families return from all over the United States and occasionally from overseas, just for this
purpose. At anytime since Shirl’s Memorial, when the full extent of knowledge of my life here first became
known to the family, anyone of the Chilton/Shafer clan has been and would be welcome.
In our last conversation i asked you if you wanted me to come visit, and you said, “maybe in July or August,” a
code phrase from a hospice bed that no, even now it would be too late, but i could join the rest of the family
at your Memorial today. In tune with Shirl’s mythology of my “always asking for money,” i had earlier spoken
to Bob before you and had held our last two, back-to-back conversations, in making such arrangements, but
neither he – nor i - followed through in doing so, even as both my adopted Jewish family in New Jersey and a
few friends in New York had offered and i accepted, such subsidies to travel and visit them over the course of
my 40 winters in being “away from our natal family.”
Still, the resilience of the human spirit is remarkable in its capacity to see through the trauma of the past, and
the fact, that, in her last winters, Shirl began facing up to the abuse she endured as a child passed unwittingly
onto you, Bob and myself, has a transcendent side that places all this in true perspective. For, as men, all
three of us have an abiding love of women, and no stronger indication of this can be shown but through the
extraordinary gift both you and Bob have given to your wives and families, as i have given to mine, and (not
being a parent), my wide variety of friends and commitment to the community i reside in and the work that i
do, this is the legacy you leave and what i remember you by, Ray, and thank you for more than anything else.
You may not have been able to say to me until a few days before your death that “it’s water under the
bridge,” but i knew even before I left California in the early 1970’s, having known as an acquaintance the
woman who was to became your first wife, Janet, the mother of Sarah, the kind of family man you are, and
continued to be after Janet’s sad journey, and imparting upon a continued journey with Mary, your second
wife, the mother of your younger daughter, Connie. i believe this is the gift our stepfather Roy gave each of
us through his love of Shirl.
Being a product of his time, Roy’s love of Shirl may not have been able to overcome the imprint of multigenerational abuse from Shirl’s own childhood that was set-up from the abuse her father, Shannon, may have
experienced in the household he had grown up with in Missouri in the 1880’s, and generations before in the
Shafer clan - fraught as it was with a religious split that went back to the founding of the Church of Jesus

Letter to Ray - 5
Christ of Latter Day Saints in upstate New York the 1820’s - that we now know, through our increasingly
expert understanding of neuroplasticity, culture and the subtext of the trauma/pleasure symbiosis that may
have so enamored Shirl to fixate on money as the predominant “savior” of her life.
So Roy’s imprint on us, his informally adopted and real sons, made an indelible impression on each of us, and
in remarkably similar ways, as shown in each of these young women and men lives, from Ray’s eldest
daughter through Bob’s youngest. The compassion, acceptance of loss, and transcendence exhibited by both
Sarah and Connie in providing for you “the Great Goodbye…(from) Camp Irvine to hug our favorite Camp
Counselor Grandpa Ray,” embodies the very essence of the meaning of life through the pictures and video of
you with your three-month old granddaughter Cora, just hours before your journey. This is the triumph of the
Chilton/Shafer clan over the inability of the previous generation, through Shirl’s unfortunate, even desperate
attempts to reframe her personal history which had fractured the family almost irreparably, from consuming
the succeeding generation in such a cycle of unresolved abuse.
The irony of all this is that, after a fashion, Ray, i DID, collectively, receive a form of the Noble Prize on March
22, 2016, through the unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Omaha
after a nine winter litigation that literally aced the Federal legal system, first Tribal and then District Court,
the Circuit Court of Appeals and finally, the Supreme Court itself. In the 226 winter history of this system
since 1790, no other tribally-derived and sourced case had ever won such a “clean” and emphatically Indian
decision. While i contributed only a single page to the 1,500 page manuscript that eventually set the tonality
of the increasingly stronger court opinions and became the heart of the case, it was my yeoman work IN
PROVIDING THE MONETARY RESOURCES both in Nebraska, New Jersey and New York that were then sent
back to the reservation, that kept the physical capacity of the work that we, my partner Dr. Margery Coffey
and our colleague and Omaha tribal member, Dr. Dennis Hastings, were collectively accomplishing to finish
and package the manuscript later used for this purpose.
I truly, truly wanted to be at your Memorial today, Raymond, but simply could not afford it to do so, and, as
in the past, no member of our natal family, in their sorrow and loss in losing you, or earlier with the loss of
our mother, stepped forward with generosity, authenticity and compassion to provide for this. After 30 years
of delving into our family’s history to learn why Shirl so consistently pushed me away so – and after spending
$3,500 of my modest inheritance from her in order for Margery and i to both attend Shirl’s own Memorial
three winters ago – i’m done from trying to re-connect with our family in a real and authentic way, and thus
formally withdraw, and pass the mantel of our patriarchal-oriented German/Dutch/English-derived family
onto the capable hands of our youngest brother Bob Chilton. If i am out West in south California as i was in
both 2001 and 2008 and the Bay Area in 2009 i will certainly inform the family of my visit, and anyone is
always welcome to visit the reservation should they chose to do so as a sidetrip from Minneapolis, Michigan
or other regionally-nearby places, and i of course will answer phone calls and letters, e-mail, etc., but i want it
understood in no uncertain terms that it was not i that left this family, this family left me. With love, richard.

Circa 1962


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