Recently my friend Dominique and I motored to Evansville to say good-bye to Ray Vescovi who died at age 91. I never met Ray, but I knew Ray’s daughter. I say I didn’t know Ray, but I’ve known so many like Ray.
Upon Ray’s graduation in 1951, I learned from his obit that he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Ray was quite an athlete, one of the boys of summer, who played for the love of the game. The Korean War interrupted his early life and like so many of the “greatest generation,” he simply went to serve his nation for two years as a First Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne.
Before media giants, baseball businesses and the big bucks, Ray retired from baseball after three years of play and settled in Evansville, Indiana. He married his beautiful Mary Suzann, raised 5 children, four girls and one son. Ray and his bride lived to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
I suspected without knowing that I would appreciate being in the mourner’s ranks for Ray Vescovi, because I appreciate this self-sacrificing generation. Not all of them were givers, but, overall, there was a quiet acceptance of the patterns of living that are unalterable in any time and age. At 72, I now keenly understand the foibles of human nature and the finite nature of time. Today mourning Ray serves to clarify reflections on my own life.
When Ray’s accomplished eldest daughter rose to bravely deliver her eulogy, I was happy to learn more as she recalled her father’s life for all of us. In Ray’s 41 years as a teacher, he touched many lives accounting for the great number of student comments on the funeral home’s obit page. The 2020 pandemic has changed so many things, including how we say goodbye to our family and friends. Former students clicked their remembrances of Mr. Vescovi expressing their digital thanks to him. Teachers, who are called to the profession like Ray would have so valued the students’ comments because he obviously wasn’t teaching for the money.
Then, his daughter said something that made the trip for me. She thought it important to mention that her father always ate the chicken neck. Like my family and so many other families of that time, we all sat down together at the table for dinner and there was one chicken no matter how many there were to feed. Ray’s wife Mary Suzann no doubt prepared the chicken for her family along with vegetable side dishes which probably included mashed potatoes, but Ray always ate the neck. The children spent years thinking the neck was his favorite piece of chicken.
I thought back through Ray’s history. He was the child of Depression-era parents and certainly learned from them about want. Then during his growing up years WWII rationing surely taught him frugality. His military training taught him that his men ate first and, if there wasn’t enough, officers went without or with what was left. It follows that Ray’s family got the best pieces of the chicken and never suspected anything other than he really liked the chicken’s neck. As the eldest of 7, I became a connoisseur of the chicken’s gizzard, back and neck. Trust me, a neck is no wing so popular now. The truth is much more likely that Ray chose the neck because he preferred a life of duty marked by sacrifice, and certainly not because he liked the neck.
Dominique and I left Evansville as Ray’s family motored off in the slow processional to the cemetery for their father’s burial with full military honors. I found myself reassured with a peaceful satisfaction in now being acquainted with Ray Vescovi. I am part of the Vescovis’ collective memory of a time when families were led by a sacrificing father, who had honorably served his nation, married one woman, raised his children while working to support them, and for Ray that meant teaching and pouring into others his entire life.
Ray represents an American era I will always cherish. Good-bye Ray and thank you for your last lesson to me this day as your life’s impact continues to ripple out beyond time into eternity.