My Friend Jay

NOTE: I originally set this post to “private” so I could get feedback from friends and family. I apologize for the multiple notifications subscribers may have received as I revised it. I’m sure there are still some errors and lapses but I think I’ve done a fair job of describing what makes Jay special. If you know Jay please leave a comment on the blog post with your memories or reactions.

Meeting Jay

My dad had a very dry sense of humor and never – I mean never – explained his jokes. He had a standard question when someone said they were going to take a bath or take a shower. I didn’t get it until I was in college studying English. In the same vein, once in a while at night he would get up and head to the bedroom saying “I’m off to change the tires on the car.” That one I understood early on. He was going to re-tire.

I loved that joke and waited about 4 decades before I could put it to good use. I kind of knew Jay, mostly as a neighbor but not a friend. When I learned he was going to retire I went out and bought a lug wrench – one of those big things shaped like an “X” with different sizes of sockets on the four ends. I waited until he was heading out the door on his last day of work, walked over and handed him the wrench which I had tied a bow on. I told him “I understand you are going to re-tire today. Everyone else I know goes to a tire store to have the pros do it. But if you are doing it yourself, you might like this.” Jay laughed; a smidge more than the polite laugh I was expecting. That ice breaker lead to talking more often and before long we were fast friends.

Jay was a great friend, but I can’t say best friends; one can only have one best friend and it has to be reciprocal. Jay and John were best friends; they’d known each other about 40 years and did everything together. Carla and I are so lucky that we were able to be part of that neighborhood group with Jay, Mary Ann, John, and Karen.

John and Jay – Best Buds

When I was getting to know them, they were immersed in a project to build matching one-person sailboats. They had purchased templates and supplies such as marine grade plywood. They spent weeks – maybe months – working on those boats and took them up sailing on Hood Canal in Washington.

Life at Hood Canal

Jay and Mary Ann have a vacation home on Hood Canal – in the Puget Sound area – just south of Belfair. We were delighted to be asked to join them on occasion. One time we were joking about it being Sleep Away Camp. When we arrived, Jay had made name tags for us. Jay and Mary Ann were the camp counselors. Eating was so much better then at the overnight camps I attended growing up. Their place on Hood Canal is on the water and the tide ebbs and flows – as it does. When the tides go out, large oyster beds are exposed and we become hunter gatherers picking up our dinner appetizers.

Jay as Camp Counselor, Ace, preparing oysters on the half shell for the campers at Hood Canal

Life at the canal is beautiful.

View from Jay and Mary Ann’s deck on Hood Canal

I grew up in the desert so haven’t had much if any experience sailing. Jay was an expert and we would go out on his sailboat The Equanimity. He taught dozens of kids and those kids’ kids how to sail. Not me; I can’t get my head around how one uses a sail go into the wind.

Captain Jay of The Equanimity
Jay, John, Karen, Carla, Me. Mary Ann is behind the camera.

Often there was a much bigger gathering

Clockwise from front: Carla, Paula(?), John, Mary Ann, Jay, Karen, Melissa, Tom, Norm.

Jay and Mary Ann’s birthdays are 4 days apart in August. Each year they have a big family celebration; and in 2013 we got to go as well. They’re two grandsons, “Ace” and “O” adore Jay and Mary Ann. I love this picture. The kids were sooo young. Ace is now in high school and O is in college back in Minnesota.

Ace and O giving Mary Ann and Jay their birthday presents in 2013

My favorite picture of Jay.

Jay at the canal

The Burger Project

In 2012 Jay, John, and I all read an article in The Oregonian rating the best hamburgers in the Portland metro area. What a great idea for an adventure. With my IT background and Jay’s scientific one we made it a project. You can read about all the places we went here on my blog. After a few initial visits we cajoled Ray and Norm to join us.

We rated six categories on a 1-5 scale. I created a Google Docs sheet and on-line form that allowed us to all give our ratings and comments. I had a running good-natured argument with Jay about the approach. Ray’s artistic wife Terry created fun business cards. Now, I was in this project to get the best burger possible and advocated dropping the card off when we arrived, telling the folks there we were kind of a big deal (which we definitely were not), hoping to get the extra special touch in the burgers. No way, Jay was a scientist and would argue we want an unbiased test. We had a blast. Here are some photos from our visits

John and Jay on our inaugural run: Dea’s In and Out in Gresham

The full crew after our first couple of outings.

Ray, Jay, John, Norm, and me – The Burger Bunch
Norm, Jay, John, Me, some dude and, Ray ready to order our next meal for the Burger Project

We normally had a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and milkshakes. Good living. This picture captures our general mood. Somber and serious – NOT

Jay digging into the fries of one our our Burger Project outings

We have to have some objective criteria. Jay tested the thickness of the milk shakes.

Jay testing milkshake thickness

Another approach to milkshake testing

Another milkshake thickness test.

After the Burger Project was done the three of us would still get together a couple of times a month for breakfast – usually at Fat City – and dinner – usually pizza at Giovanni’s. Once a young woman bought our dinner for us at Giovannis leaving us a note that said our banter reminded her of her grandfather.

Out and About

Jay was a biologist and worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Outdoors is in his blood. In college student he spent summers counting salmon in Alaska in a very remote site. He loved it (all I can think about is the mosquitos). As a postman’s holiday he spent free time mapping the Fanno Creek watershed which meanders for 15 miles through residential, commercial and industrial lands. He walked every yard of the 20,259 acre drainage. He kept records and mapped it all.

Being outdoors people, they’d periodically organize a group trip for a hike; or we three guys would head out someplace on our own – like the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge to watch birds and/or trains. If a larger group was going, Jay, John, and I would fill one car and the women another. Don’t tell Carla, Karen or Mary Ann, but we guys would stop for donuts and coffee as we left Beaverton.

Jay and John (and me) out in nature. The donuts are gone, but not the coffee

Up in the Columbia Gorge (on the Oregon side) the little town of Mosier holds annual feed to support the local volunteer fire department. One year we made a stop at a little hiking area. Ever the botanist he would catalog the various plants.

Jay – The botanist at work

Here we have Jay and Mary Ann up in Sunriver, Oregon.

Jay and Mary Ann during a January stay at Sun River

Carla and I hit the mother lode goldmine when we moved in next door to Jay and Mary Ann. Along with John and Karen, who live just a couple of doors down we spent days and hours of good times – dinners together, drinks on the deck (or during COVID “Libations on the Lawn”)

Jay the Person

Of course I’m talking mostly about Jay in this post, but really it was the Jay and Mary Ann partnership. There was no space between them. When I write “Jay” I mean “Jay and Mary Ann”.

I am a complainer – and worrier – by nature. Now I’m not saying I’m Olympic level, but if complaining was a sport, I’d definitely compete at Nationals. Not Jay. I can honestly say I never heard Jay complain – ever. His mantra was “No stress”. The most he would let out would be the occasional “Who knew?” or “Yikes!” He has been a huge influence on me. Over the past 2 decades I’ve striven – to various levels of success – to let things go.

Jay was so outgoing and helpful. He created bird nest box kits and would help kids put them together to hang up at their homes. He cataloged all the trees and bushes at Hiteon Park and built a workbook to share as a unit at the the nearby elementary school.

Jay and Mary Ann lived in Beaverton going back to the 1970s where they formed a relationship with Elaine’s family. They had a place on Hood Canal which is how Jay and Mary Ann fell in love with the place. I’ve been struggling for a few days now trying to convey the essence of Jay. I’m going to give the virtual floor to Elaine who wrote this moving tribute when I asked her for some input on their relationship (I changed a bit of punctuation to make it fit here).

My parents were a large part of all our lives, so much so that Courtenay and Kelley called them grandma and grandpa. So much so that when Kelley was drawing a family tree In Sunday School she asked the teacher where to put Grandma and Grandpa Morris! When my mom died unexpectedly in surgery Jay left work and drove the kids to Bremerton to be with me; the night before, Mary Ann spent the night with them, something my kids and I treasure to this day. That’s the epitome of their love for us all these years, and all of us for them, They are truly family for which I am so grateful and thankful. Jay helped the kids (mine and the grandkids!) build birdhouses, taught them about marine life, my kids learned how to sail from Jay but most of all to be good humans.

Elaine, on Jay and Mary Ann

Elaine said it best. Jay taught us all how to be better humans.

Jay and the Perpetual Wink

Jay has shown up in my blog over the years and a couple of times people have asked “Why is Jay winking all the time?” That’s not a wink. A couple of years before we moved in next door he started having emotional swings; he got teary watching Hallmark card commercials. That led to a doctor visit, which led to the discovery of a brain tumor. The surgery was a success but left him with severed nerves to his right eye and ear. If it slowed him down, I would never have been able to keep up with him before.

Unfortunately, years later the tumor grew back. I love to cook for people – it’s the main way I share my love for them. Jay’s favorite dish was spaghetti and meatballs. I cooked some the day before he and Mary Ann headed up to Washington to start another round of surgeries.

Jay and Mary Ann at our house enjoying spaghetti and meatballs.

That damn tumor slowly took Jay away but he fought it every step of the way. We still got to spend many good years with him but it was hard to watch. Still, never a complaint and never a worry. He said worrying wouldn’t fix things; he told John and me on many occasions he let his doctors worry about that stuff. He concentrated on what he could do about it – maintain his core strength and work on his balance.

Mary Ann is the most determined and fierce person I know and took such good care of Jay that he was able to live at home through it all. The biggest testament to the impact Jay made on so many lives is the response of family and friends to his illness and Mary Ann’s efforts. A tribe of friends and family did what we could to lend a hand over the past year – meals, home improvements to make his life easier, and physical help.

When people came to visit he’d invariably ask if you’d like a beer or glass of wine. That is Jay in a nutshell: always wanting to take care of others. On my last conversation with Jay we talked about my dad; as sick as Jay was he was still interested in others’ lives. Diane was perhaps the last non-family member to have a talk with Jay. She told him she loved him and he responded he loved her too. This man continues to be a role model for so many.

Jay leaves behind his wife Mary Ann, two daughters Courtenay and Kelley, two grandsons Asa and Owen, and a brother, Jim. And they’re friends! John and Karen, Elaine and her family, The list goes on. Steve and Steven, another Diane, Sheryl, Joyce and more.

Jay was a wonderful person and a great friend. Carla and I consider ourselves lucky we moved in next door back in 2000. I never imagined the perfect payoff for that retirement joke so many years ago.

One thought on “My Friend Jay

  1. Ahh , you brought MORE tears by sharing memories of Jay! We met the Watsons when we moved to Oregon and bought our home in Greenway! Karen and Kelley became almost inseparable! And Norm and I were fortunate to share MANY, MANY good times with all the Watsons. Many times with friends who were caring, sharing, exploring and loving Oregon with us! All the Watson hold a very special place in our hearts.

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