Remembering Ray

by Barbara Spilken

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by my aunt, Barbara Spilken. It is about my grandmother, Nana. I have written many blog posts about her. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your tribute to her. The photos come from the Spilken family collection.

I woke up in tears this morning. April 18, 2021 marks 50 years since my mother-in-law’s death. Not many people are fortunate enough to find inspiration to last that many years from anyone much less their mother-in-law. Most in-law relationships, if we are to believe Hollywood, are strained at best. I was blessed with a different reality.

Though I only knew Ray (Rachel Spilken) for three years before her untimely death, she shaped how I live my life and the values I strive to uphold. I was 18 years old when I first met her.

Ray was the sun to family and friends that orbited her. She welcomed people to her home, regardless of their station in life or if they had a disability or lived on the margins of society. My family of origin did not offer such a generous and loving atmosphere. I drank in this alternative and vowed to try to live her values.

Whether I have accomplished that is for others to say. I believe Ray’s legacy is going strong in our family. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are caring human beings, loving their families, involved in philanthropy, each trying to make the world a better place in their own way.

Everyday I wake up to see Ray’s large, beautiful mahogany dining room table in my house. It is a reminder to gather those we love, to share our burdens and our celebrations, to break bread as often as we can  –  to stay connected to each other.

I was welcomed by my husband, Terry, into his world. His mother extended to me every kindness and taught me these values. I hope I have done and continue to do them honor.

Terry and Ray in 1969

This year in which we have sustained many losses has inevitably led me to think about the meaning of life, I am comforted by my reflections on Ray. Her legacy of love and care continues to ripple through the generations that have followed. What more can one hope for?

At my wedding – January 10, 1971

7 thoughts on “Remembering Ray

  1. I am very fortunate to have married a woman who has learned all the amazing traits of my mother. She was an incredible woman who I lost way too early. Her values and qualities have made me the man I am today.

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  2. Thank you Aunt Barbara for your loving tribute to Nana. My memories of Nana are just as you described. You have embodied her qualities of warmth, generosity, kindness, and inclusivity for as long as I have known you, though I suspect you were born with those traits. You are the matriarch now setting the example for those in the family who follow. I’m grateful to you for carrying on her legacy and for being a wonderful person in your own right. Years ago, I remember reading that the Kennedy family considered Ethel to be “more Kennedy than the Kennedys”. I have since thought of you as being more Spilken than the Spilkens. You are a valuable and much loved member of our family. We are lucky to know you.

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  3. The love and warmth my nana bestowed on not jut me, but everyone I could observe (during my 14 years with her) was probably the most important part of my formative years.

    And Aunt Barbata- your tribute was beautiful and accurate. I see many of nanas values in the person I chose as my wife (with a gentle assist from you) and in my children.

    When my 3 year old grandson ( her great great grandson) refers to himself “as the family helper” I I always smile and often recall my nana and think of nanas legacy which you have so aptly described.

    …and yes…. I am certain nana would indeed be proud of how your home (and your children) have emulated the values of this most special person.

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  4. In our 50 years of friendship I have heard Rays name mentioned often with much love. She was an incredible teacher. In three years she truly accomplished teaching amazing values, insights and life skills. You and Terry work hard to keep the family close and loving. You have done the same with your friends. You have managed to make your friends extended family as well .This was a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Barbara, thank you for your beautifully written love letter to Ray. While I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I can see how she lives on in name and in values through her family and through the generations. I think she would be so pleased.
    The tribute you bestowed upon her is matched by the goodness with which you live your life.

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  6. Mom, what a beautiful tribute to your mother in law, my Nana! I have always known that I have a very special namesake, and I have always held that honor close to my heart. We even have the same nickname, as the name Ray has always felt to me a reference of endearment and closeness.

    Your writing style is amazing… filled with strong images and descriptive language that creates so much emotion. It is clear that her legacy lives on with you and Dad, my sisters, and family members… especially in the value of trying to make the world a better place!

    I know Nana would be so proud of you, creating a loving home that is always welcome to a party, celebration, and family gathering. You and Dad embody and live the family values that Nana possessed. Love you!

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