Day of regret

Miller “Ray” Childress, 1924-1992

It was probably Thanksgiving of 1991. Maybe a year earlier, but most likely that year. While my grandmother Opal (Robertson) Cottrell was alive, I tried to get down to visit the Virginia farm where she lived at least once a year and often when the whole family gathered at one of the halls for Thanksgiving.

RayIt might have been the year the Pyrex gravy dish broke from being put on the stovetop.

It might have been the year one of the formerly little boys topped six feet for the first time.

It might have been the year we started razzing my mother about changing her lasagna recipe — and it turned out to be a better recipe that is now the family stock-in-trade.

What I know for certain is that it wasn’t all that long before 1992.

Because it was on 30 January 1992 that we lost him. And today would have been his 89th birthday.

Miller Hamilton “Ray” Childress was born 5 October 1924 in Lynchburg, Virginia,1 the fifth child and third son of Thomas Henry Childress and Dora Bell Moore.2 He lived there throughout his childhood,3 and until he joined the U.S. Navy on 31 August 1942, just before his 18th birthday.4 And he returned there when he was discharged 9 November 1945.5

There was a marriage that didn’t last after he came home from the war… and then he met my aunt Carol. Exactly when… I don’t know. Exactly where … I don’t know. But on 21 March 1953, in the City of Richmond, Virginia, Ray officially became what we in my family called the outlaws.6 No in-laws for us, you see — we had outlaws instead.

I can’t remember a time in my growing-up years when Ray wasn’t part of all of our lives. Ray and Carol always lived either in Virginia or in North Carolina — easy driving distance from my grandparents’ Virginia farm — and he and Carol and my cousins Barbara and Philip are always there in all the photos taken as I was growing up.

Thinking back, I don’t remember the details of specific events involving Ray. There are no long deep conversations that I recall. There are no memories of times when he was especially kind to me. No memories of times when I thought he was especially mean to me, either.

It’s just that he was there. Always there.

And then came that day, probably Thanksgiving of 1991. Maybe a year earlier, but most likely that year.

And that day, I remember.

And I remember Ray most of all.

I remember thinking, afterwards, that he looked a little thinner that year.

I remember thinking, afterwards, that he moved perhaps a little slower than I recalled him moving in the past.

But what I remember more than anything else is how he hugged me as I was leaving.

I remember that he hugged me like he never had before — like he didn’t want to let go — like he knew something he wasn’t saying.

I remember thinking, afterwards, that his goodbye didn’t sound like “I’ll see you next time.” It sounded like “goodbye.” Period. Full stop.

And that’s what it was.

I never saw Ray alive again. He died 30 January 1992; he and Carol are buried together at Byrd Memorial Chapel Cemetery in Kents Store, Virginia.

For nearly 40 years, we’d been part of each other’s lives. For nearly 40 years, he was there. Always there.

Until, all of a sudden, he wasn’t.

I have spent time thinking, afterwards, that I will never have the chance I wished I’d taken that day… to spend a little more time with him.

And I can only hope I never make that mistake again.


  1. See Social Security Death Index, entry for Miller H. Childress; ( : accessed 4 Oct 2013).
  2. See 1930 U.S. census, Lynchburg City, state, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 18, page 160(A) (stamped), sheet 14(A), dwelling 231, family 258, Miller H Childress; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Oct 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2468; imaged from FHL microfilm 2342202.
  3. See ibid. Also 1940 U.S. census, Lynchburg City, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 111-35, sheet 4(B), household 70, Miller H Childress; digital image, ( : accessed 4 Oct 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4309.
  4. “U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010,” database, ( : accessed 4 Oct 2013).
  5. As to the discharge, ibid. As to his residence, see e.g. Hill’s Lynchburg City Directory 1950 (Richmond, Va. : Hill’s Directory Co., 1950), 35, entry for Miller H Childress; digital images, ( : accessed 4 Oct 2013).
  6. Interview of Carol (Cottrell) Childress (Kents Store, VA), by the author, 28 Mar 2004; notes privately held by the author. Original posting said May; that was an error.
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8 Responses to Day of regret

  1. So many of us will read this today and immediately have our own “Ray” bring tears to our eyes. It is exactly these regrets which bring many of into the field in the first place, trying to learn more about the person we could have known but didn’t. They are our wake up call and our blessing, for we are on this side of heaven with still a chance to do better.

  2. Dave says:

    While the day may be tinged with regret, Let me suggest that “regret” should only be reserved for those whom we did not know or love in this life. While you may feel it, better to remember the constancy of the many years in-between his coming and departing. Just a thought.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No doubt that you’re right, Dave — it’s the years that he was there that truly are important. But I still wish I’d taken just a few more moments on that one day…

  3. Bobbi Britt says:

    Hey Cuz – it’s hard to believe that dad would’ve been 89 today. I was actually talking about him and that today was his birthday earlier with a friend.
    Being a daddy’s girl, his leaving us all those many years ago still hurts. I remember a man that loved to laugh and never knew a stranger.
    I do have a question for you though – where did you get the marriage date to mom as May 21? I grew up celebrating March 21 with them.
    Thank you for writing this today – it was very touching.
    Love and hugs to you!
    Bobbi (aka Barbara)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s hard to believe we’re old enough that he could have been 89 today! And the May date came from a set of fumble fingers. You’re absolutely right that it was March, not May (post now fixed!). Love ya!

  4. Rondina says:

    This reminds me of when my Uncle Doug passed away. He was my dad’s brother and very much like a father to me. In fact, he was kind of a co-conspirator with the family history. He told me all the inside dope and took me to all the best cemeteries. Those backwoods, where towns had disappeared way before I was born. As long as I can remember,every time we parted he would say, “It was good for you to see me,” with a gleam in his eyes. I always got a kick out of that. When my dad said we needed to fly down to see him, he didn’t have to tell me why. I knew it would be the last time. When it came time to leave, Doug and I hugged and hugged again. As I walked away I turned around and said, “It was good for you to see me.” I wanted to see him smile. Doug was my best friend.

    It takes awhile for us to learn to tell people how we feel before it’s too late. I think expressing that core of true love we have for the few that are closest to us is one of the hardest things to do in life.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I guess in truth one of the reasons I write this blog — and particularly about my family every week — is that it’s my way of telling them all how much I love them, Rondina!

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