Roy Wilson Jasper, 1930-2001

My Uncle Roy passed away in the early morning hours of Monday, October 8, 2001. He was 71 years old and he had been married to my Aunt Betty for 51 of those 71 years. Their only son is my first cousin, Jeff, who is 9 months older than I am and who lives (for now) in El Paso, Texas.

It doesn't get any easier, y'know?

Roy was the fourth of the five children of my paternal grandparents, William Godbey Jasper and Grace Ewell Baker Jasper. Only two are left, my aunts Joyce and Joan. My Aunt Doris passed away in 1986, at age 63. My dad, Paul, the youngest of the brood, died in 1989, at age 57.

I have a pretty good idea that my dad as a kid and as a young man adored his older brother. Roy was outgoing and happy and athletic, everything my dad always wanted to be. For reasons I'll never know, my dad never felt like he measured up, probably because Roy's attributes were ones my grandfather cherished and praised, whereas Papa only had criticism and exasperation for my dad (to hear my dad tell it.)

Roy, Dad, and the girls all grew up in West Monroe, Louisiana (only the boys were born there, the girls all in various towns in Texas), where my grandfather was a reporter and later an editor for the local newspaper, the Monroe Morning World and Evening News-Star. When I was a kid all of dad's siblings and their offspring still lived in Louisiana -- we were the odd ducks, living in Pensacola. We usually saw them every year or so but our visits were usually brief and compared to my mother's family, who we visited in Alabama much more frequently, I never felt I knew them as well.

As for Roy...

Well, what wasn't to adore? He was a lineman for Louisiana Power & Light, back in the days when you literally *climbed* up the telephone polls to repair the lines. He seemed like a giant to me when I was little, impossibly broad shoulders, thick chest, powerful arms. (I was pleased to find out as I grew up that I was physically more like my uncle Roy than I was any of my other relatives.) I remember him endlessly tossing my brother Steve into the air, Steve giggling happily the whole time. It was the same thing at their house, a lovely brick ranch on nine shady acres that my Aunt Betty's father had given them. Roy had installed a zipline from a telephone poll to a tree way down in front, and Steve and Pete and the neighborhood kids spent hours ZOOMing down it, the tell-tale TWHACK whipping them over the street at the end. Me, I never got on it -- yet another clue that I wasn't really one of the gang.

Years passed. When Janet and I were first married we started out, rather improbably, in Monroe. I'd written for my school newspapers in high school and college and I was pretty good at it. The editor of the Monroe paper, from which my grandfather had retired a decade previously, was a good friend and former colleague of my dad's at the News-Journal in Pensacola. Against the wishes of his staff (and probably against his better judgment) he gave me a job and Janet found one teaching in the Monroe city schools.

We spent a fair amount of time with Roy and Betty, who by that time had been married for more than 30 years. I think we envied them, knowing somehow that that was never really going to be our life, even if we'd wanted it, which we didn't really. Janet was never going to be a full-time hausfrau, although at times it certainly appealed. And I was never going to be Mr. Fix-It, the man who spent his summer vacations for years and years building a "shop" out back that was as big as the house. But who could resist a couple of 50 somethings who still coo'd and purred at each other as if they were still high school sweethearts from the Forties?

We left Monroe in August 1984, just a few weeks after my grandfather died. Except for my dad's funeral in 1989, we didn't see Roy and Betty again. You see them if you show up in West Monroe and we didn't have any reason, aside from them to go back, and it wasn't on the way to anywhere that we were going. A couple of years ago Jeremy and the kids and I drove through on our way back to Atlanta from Oklahoma -- but I made the mistake of calling to fish for an invitation, which I didn't get, instead of just driving over. We went home and a couple of days later Roy called wanting to know where we were -- they were still expecting us to come up that drive any minute.

I went up that drive the day after Roy died. The idea that he wasn't going to be there to answer the door was hard.

My heart goes out to Jeff and Betty. It's not going to be easy.

RPJ


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