Ed & Marilyn 'The Happy Wanderers' travel blog

Kelly's 8th grade picture

Kelly helping Jen to celebrate a birthday

Kelly at High School age

A better shot

Kelly grown up

Today, December 26th, 2008, would have been the 44th birthday of our daughter, Kelly. Unfortunately, she is 25 years old forever.

Kelly was killed in 1990, when her car was hit by a train.

There is much I could write about Kelly and the impact her death had on our entire family. However, on this day I choose to simply share with you, some of the simple truth of Kelly’s life.

I believe that Kelly Rene Dray was the most beautiful baby I ever saw. Of course I thought the same thing when I first saw Jennifer and I have to admit that our grandson, Colby, is right up there with his mother and his aunt. :)

But I am writing now about Kelly.

Kelly was beautiful as a teenager and as an adult.

I remember watching her sleep one night and thinking to myself that I loved her so much I thought my heart might burst.

I recall Kelly as a little girl when we lived in Bowie, MD. I remember her riding a tricycle down the street when I was working at Goddard Space Flight Center. She would simply stop to visit people who were outside.

One day she disappeared and Marilyn was frantic when she discovered Kelly's tricycle sitting abandoned on the sidewalk about a block from home. Marilyn finally found Kelly, very happy and comfortable, visiting with a neighbor in her house.

I loved this little daughter of ours with all my heart. I remember how she used to squeal with delight when I tossed her into the air and would then catch her on the way down. I vividly recall her riding on my shoulders and how she used to put her hands over my eyes. When I told her that she was blinding me and I might run into a wall or something she would move her hands but as soon as I started moving she would laugh and cover my eyes again. As she grew a little older we used to dance together with her feet on top of mine, and holding hands.

I did these same things with Jennifer when she was very young, too, but this entry is about Kelly. I will write about Jennifer one day and tell you how special she is, but I don't wish to embarrass her.

We had a wonderful time just going for a ride in the car with Kelly. Down a blacktop country road we would go with Kelly in the back standing right behind me. No seat belt laws back then.

I would spy a bird sitting on the road and begin my routine, hunched over the steering wheel with both hands gripping it, saying "Here birdie....Here birdie......heh heh heh".

Of course the birds would fly away as I pretended to be trying to run them down and Kelly would laugh until she got the hiccups.

Kelly learned to play the piano at an early age. Marilyn took her into music stores when Kelly was quite little, and while Marilyn looked at sheet music, Kelly would go up to a piano and begin playing. She amazed people with "Turkey in the straw", which she skillfully played with much gusto. She later learned to play the clarinet, and took dancing and acting lessons as part of her college experience.

Kelly was the type who never seemed to meet a stranger. She was a beautiful, happy girl who loved music, poetry, animals and nature. As she grew into an adult, she was very compassionate and cared deeply about people.

Her happiest days were spent working at Eaton’s Ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming during the summers between college semesters. Hollywood came to the ranch when they filmed the movie, "Wild Horses" there. She met Kenny Rogers, Pam Dawber, and all of the stars in that movie. Many of the kids who worked on the ranch were in the movie but Kelly said all of her "scenes" ended up on the cutting room floor. Marilyn, Jennifer and I visited her at Eaton's Ranch when I had a flight to Billings, Montana, and then a year later Marilyn and I visited Kelly again at Eaton's, staying in a KOA campground in Sheridan, WY.

At the ranch they held a Rodeo and Kelly and I bid together on a team. If I remember correctly this was called a "Calcutta". The team we bought won money and Kelly and I won $40.00 each.

Kelly also arranged for Marilyn and I to go on a trail ride with her. She had arranged everything for us and we began one morning, riding up through the Bighorn Mountains, through some absolutely beautiful scenery. Kelly had packed lunches for all of us and had them in saddlebags on each of our horses. Around noon we reached a high mountain meadow where we could see through a notch in the mountain, the city of Sheridan far below. The sun was shining and it was a warm day. The horses, western trained, stayed nearby grazing on the grass as we began to have our lunch. Kelly then announced that she had a surprise for me. She had soda for her and Marilyn, and a cold beer for me, packed on ice in a plastic bag, in one of the saddlebags. That day remains one of my favorite memories of Kelly and our time together.

In High School at Knox County (Edina, MO) she was a cheerleader for all 4 years, she choreographed nearly all of the routines for the cheerleaders.

I remember many times coming home from work to find the house filled with pretty young girls practicing a new routine Kelly had come up with.

She was an outstanding student, played the clarinet and the piano, and still found time to offer her shoulder to a friend who needed help. In High School she was one of the top students in the Drama-Speech class and while attending Northeast Missouri State University she appeared in a lead role for the Kirksville community theater. She was so beautiful and so talented. I remember how proud I was of her and the fine person she was.

Kelly wrote beautiful, uplifting poetry and then, after a friend committed suicide, tore it up and didn't write much for a long time. Finally she began to write again, but this time her poetry had a darker, sadder, more insightful quality to it.

You can almost see how her life was changing for the better and her faith in a loving God was returning if you read her writing in the chronological order in which it was written. Her poems have been recorded in a book called "A Rose for Eternity", put together by Kelly’s friend, Martha.

I have not written much about Kelly's death and the impact of our loss, simply because it is too painful. Even now, more than 18 years after her accident, I get tears in my eyes just trying to write these few words. Marilyn and I choose to celebrate the wonderful person Kelly was, and the time we had with her, rather than to dwell on the sorrow and tears of losing her. Only another parent who has lost a child could imagine or understand the life long agony and deep sadness that is now and forever a part of our lives.

This world is a poorer place because Kelly died so young, yet it is a richer place because she lived here.

I am including a few pictures of Kelly, but we had to take a picture of a picture and they aren’t very good. The originals are back home in boxes, stored for Jennifer.

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