Remembering Debbie

by on November 14, 2017 · 5 comments

in From the Soul

By Ernie McCray

Debbie, my first born,
is gone, and now
is but a sweet memory for me
as I mourn.
With tears in my eyes
I reflect on our journey in life together
since she arrived,
seemingly out of the rich blue
of the Tucson skies
on January 4th, 1957,
a wonderful clear and cool
sunny winter day –
when I was but an
eighteen-year-old freshman
basketball whiz at the U of A,
still riding high
from strolling down the halls
at Tucson High
to hand shakes and high fives,
playing a game I love
while cheerleaders and song leaders
chanted in rhythm and rhyme during the game of the day
with marching bands high stepping
and twirling and blowing and drumming away…

All-City, All-Star, All-State…

Oh, I had “the world on string, sittin’ on the rainbow…”
And the next thing I know
I’m scampering to a baby’s screaming cries
in the middle of the night,
boiling formulas and things,
and diapering and powdering
and somehow studying
and writing
in between…
Becoming a “man,”
evolving into who I am
in the natural scheme of things,
learning, from Debbie,
the magic of a lullaby,
the power of a “peek-a-boo,”
or an “I see you,”
grasping the human truth
that the desire to be listened to
crosses all ages
as I tried to answer questions she had
about having to enroll in kindergarten
in San Diego
because she was only five years old
after having been in kindergarten
in Tucson when she was just four,
already reading,
ready for writing and arithmetic
and much much more.
And questions like
“Why can’t we watch The Flintstones?”
when JFK’s life was taken away
in Dallas on a warm sunny day
and everything on television
was about his assassination.
I had to explain the need to “honor,”
to “remember,”
to tend to her innocent and inquiring mind,
as my mother had to do with me,
when FDR died in 1945,
and I couldn’t listen to shows like Amos & Andy
on the radio…

Oh, I can see her in so many scenarios:
She and her brother and sister
ducking down in the back seat,
so embarrassed,
as I drove them through the streets to their school
in our rusty old 49 Ford
with its upholstery coming apart at the seams,
and its muffler
gasping and coughing in decibels
that could wake the deaf,
the horn, at times, honking on its own.
And I was red-faced too
but that raggedy-assed car
was getting us from point A to point B
and that’s all I could ask
on my beginning teacher salary…
It was rough. The world was rough.

Vietnam War! Police clubs and police dogs unleashed
on black folks who sought equality,
and college students
were gassed demanding free speech and peace…
And such matters are bound to make it to
a father and a daughter
and I recall a conversation
that began
with me asking Debbie why she had cut ties with
a white girl, who, at the time was her best friend
and she replied “Because you are going around
wearing a dashiki and talking about Black Power.”
We must have talked for more than an hour,
with me underlining
how what I was talking about
wasn’t about hating anybody
but about a people loving themselves,
appreciating who they are
and standing in their blackness with pride…
Then it was:
“Well, if we’re supposed to love ourselves,
how come you insist that I go to Paradise Hills that is mostly white
when I want to go to Knox that’s mostly black?”
I had to pause on that
because it took me back.
But the fact
was one school had a kicking PTA and all kinds
of rich activities and a dynamite staff
and the other school, at that point in time,
was a little behind the curve
when it came to such things.
Debbie didn’t buy that until much later in life
when she was choosing learning environments
for her offspring.

I remember great times:
Beaming with joy
listening to her play clarinet
in the the City School’s All-City Elementary School Band;
writing down one of her rbi’s
as scorekeeper and team dad of her softball team…
And I remember our agonizing moments
when our family
fell apart
in ways
that I’ve never been able to fully understand
and/or explain,
as I only know my version
of what happened
in all that misery and pain.
All that in many ways
sent us off in separate ways,
but we managed to squeeze some bright moments in
like when I was her Lamaze partner
for the birth of her first son,
my first grandson,
while her husband-to-be
was away at sea.
That was an experience
of a lifetime for me.

And I will forever hold dear
our clearing the air,
a few days before her cardiac arrest,
of a few misconceptions
and impressions
she had of my role
in the unraveling
of our family.
Without that conversation
my grief would be way more overwhelming
than it already is.
I thank Debbie for those precious moments
and for being the first of my children
to help me find out who I am,
guiding me into being as decent a father
and human being as I can be.
May she rest in the most gentle of peace
in that “better place,”
wherever that place might be.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie November 14, 2017 at 10:47 am

Ernie, a big hug to you. Such a wonderful father who speaks with so much love for his daughter. Peace and happy memories to you.


Geoff Page November 14, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Beautiful, Mr. McCray, my heart goes out to you as a father myself. I cannot imagine, do not want to imagine, how this must feel. I hope your memories remain vivid and are enduring.


retired botanist November 16, 2017 at 7:38 am

Gorgeous writing, Mr. McCray, thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your daughter. And it so lovingly conveys the importance of communication, for us all, no matter how challenging. May you find some peace and solace in that.


Virginia L. Franco October 23, 2019 at 3:53 pm

Thank you Ernie,
You did it again; you brought me to tears. Yes, remembering Debbie, her picture on my dresser in my office. She, next to Jim; you remember him from Longfellow School; you, his principal. How those kids loved you!
Jim is standing in on a dresser next to Debbie; he’s playing his guitar, singing “Brown Eyed Girl” – for my birthday – two years ago. Though, seems like yesterday; never forgotten – Halloween night.
You know Ernie, we still do not know the reason why Jim left us; no date or time of death on the certificate; only a mention by a coroner who said, “possibly arrhythmia.”
How I wish Jim and I could have known Debbie; a gracious “Thank You” for sharing her with us. Most, your eloquent way of sharing life; it feeds the soul.


Bernard Ashcraft April 13, 2020 at 2:53 pm

So real, so painful, so beautiful


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