Memories of Damon Rarey
I first met Damon Rarey when he moved into the house across the street from mine in Westerville, Ohio. (As an aside, my brother owns and lives in that house and his son had the same attic room penthouse that Damon did). Not sure of the year of their arrival but I think we were still in elementary school and I was one grade ahead of Damon. He made friends easily, with me and another good buddy John Deamer. It seems like they were there hardly a year when Berry Lou's second husband and Courtney's father, Bill Flavin, was killed in an aircraft accident during the testing of one of North American's fighter aircraft. From then on Damon seemed and felt more like a brother than just a friend.
My memories of Damon and his family are, of course, limited to our youth. Once out of high school I don't think we ever met again except by email. None-the-less, Damon, John Deamer and I raised enough hell as kids to fill more than a few storybooks and put a few gray ones on Betty Lou's head. Westerville had, during the summer months, free movies each week at the City Park complete with an intermission drawing of prizes donated by the Westerville businesses. Tickets for the drawing were normally given out by the various stores when one made purchases. However, with superior skill and cunning, one -- especially one as innocent looking as any of the three of us -- could convince the store owner or clerk to give us a few extra tickets for the package of gum we just bought. A few extra tickets here and a few there and we ended up winning one of the prizes at the next movie drawing, a certificate for $15 or $25 from the Cellar Lumber Company.
Someone was watching out for us as far back as then because that prize was exactly the one we needed to finish up the construction of our Clubhouse in my back yard. We bought the siding and roofing materials with the prize money and finished the Clubhouse with the help of my father, complete with the "No Girls Allowed" sign on the padlocked door. The Clubhouse was well equipped for the three or four of us including another buddy Terry Cray. It was big enough for all four to stay overnight. It had a stove -- burned corn cobs in it -- that provided more than enough heat in the winter even though I don't think any of our parents allowed us to stay overnight in the winter for fear of carbon monoxide poisoning. It had electricity -- well it had an extension cord that ran from my garage out to the Clubhouse -- a light or two and a radio but no television. Damn! How did we survive without a TV?
One of our better achievements in those days was our holding of a Circus in Damon's yard to raise money for a charity -- can't remember which one but it made the local paper: the Westerville Public Opinion. We built a maze from cardboard boxes that ran half way around Damon's back yard complete with plenty of wrong way dead ends. To go through it you had to be a kid and literally crawl or slide on your stomach through most of it with barely enough room to turn around at a dead end. I was the magician, and to do those magic tricks like pulling a stuffed rabbit out of a hat, we had to cut a hole in someone's card table...and another hole in someone's hat! There were many other games and events as part of the Circus and I think it might have cost a whole dime to attend.
We built a cowboy town in Deamer's back yard from cardboard boxes and refrigerator cartons -- it nearly covered their whole back yard. Within the walls of that cardboard town were some of the most ferocious gunfights the old west -- West Broadway -- ever witnessed. These were not the usual, run-of-the-mill cowboy gunfights where, after a few minutes of reckless but aimed shots, someone lost and someone won. Quite the contrary , these gunfights could last for days with the only breaks injected by an irate parent desiring to see his or her kid at the dinner table and, of course, school attendance. But, as with real life, payback is hell and the whole thing eventually went to hell in a handbasket when it poured down rain for a couple of days. Ever try picking up large quantities of sopping wet cardboard? Then, once you have it picked up, what do you do with it? The attached photo shows John Deamer on the left, Damon in the center and me on the right, playing cowboys. What a bunch of bad asses we were.
From the very first time I met Damon he displayed an intense interest in art. We soon knew of the RareyBird, way long before "Laughter and Tears" was even conceived. He was encouraged by his Grandmother Rarey, an incredibly loving and caring grandmother whom I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions when she would visit Westerville. Damon would pour over the Sunday comics -- the ones that were in color only on Sundays -- reading them to his Grandmother Rarey or whoever else would listen. He was intense about the comics, reading and explaining each activity displayed by the artist. Damon's creativity, documented in other more recent accounts in this site, was well established clear back in the early 1950's as a kid growing up on West Broadway. Damon was always "thinking outside the box": extending himself well beyond the limits the rest of us took for granted. What a pleasure it was growing up with Damon!
Through it all: the sledding at Alckire's Hill, the Cardboard Circus, the building of the Clubhouse, rainy days coloring or drawing on Damon's side porch off his bedroom, the hell kids of that age could raise, after school snacks at Damon's, the deep sadness over the loss of Bill Flavin...through all of it there was this guiding light, this guiding hand, this never ending source of love and devotion for Damon, this someone who somehow was able to keep Damon focused -- this lady known to Damon as Mother and to the rest of us as Betty Lou. The world is a better place because of Damon and Damon was what he was because of Betty Lou. God Bless them both.
Bill Shackson Colonel, United States Air Force (Retired)
A boyhood friend
20 April 2003