Third Letter to Libby

Hey Libby,

Well, I guess you know by now that your mom is no longer down here on earth, she was ready to leave but she is really going to be missed.  I am assuming that death looks completely different from your perspective than it does from here; you guys were probably eating and rejoicing at a banquet while were crying at a funeral.

Meanwhile, back here on earth (more specifically Flintstone) one of our cats (Gato) ran away and so now I’m down to just one cat (Ring). You know that I never really wanted a cat anyway and its obvious that Ring doesn’t really like me either, but our two granddaughters are fascinated by “Kitty Kitty” so I keep buying cat food and putting up with the dead critters that she and brings up on the porch.

Speaking of things that smell, how old is that cereal in the bottom of the pantry?

As you can see by the picture (unless photos get blocked up there) we had some fun with your car, actually it was Jerod’s idea to lift it, put on big tires, a winch, a luggage rack and some cool pink graphics so we could raffle it off to help build the playground that we had talked about.


Between raffling your car, donations, chili suppers, bracelet sales and corporate sponsors we raised over $80,000 for the playground. Maybe you’ve seen it just south of the church? Wait, I forgot, you never liked for me to give you directions that involved North, South, East or West…… just look between the gym and ball field where the gravel parking lot used to be, you can’t miss it.

Although many of the children who play on the Libby’s Living Legacy playground never met you and can’t fully comprehend the amount of work involved, they do know two things,  it’s Miss Libby’s Playground and it is there because “Miss Libby loved children”.

I told you in my last letter about our 40th reunion of Chattanooga Valley High School (GO Eagles) coming up soon. The organizing committee for our reunion will hold a silent auction and donate the proceeds to your playground but its been a struggle getting everything together especially since you were the one that organized all of the reunions in the past.  Do you have a file somewhere with all of that stuff in it?

As I mentioned above Nathan and Bethany have given us two two gorgeous granddaughters, Elizabeth Joy and Lydia Grace.  I often daydream about you interacting with them and how many kisses you would have given them by now. The problem is, I’m loosing my ability to imagine your reactions when I see the girls do something new and different.  That could be good, I guess, if it means that I am progressing further through the grieving process or it could be bad if it’s just old age.

Elizabeth was two years old in June and her mom and dad have been showing her your picture and telling her about her grandmother “Gibby” (That’s my name for you, again from one of my blog posts, maybe you saw it?).  The girls will know what their grandmother Gibby looks like from all of the pictures and when they are old enough to read some of these stories, they will learn about their grandmother’s character, beliefs and love of others.

Lydia and Elizabeth in wagon

You would be very proud of our boys, they are doing great and both have been very supportive as I have struggled to regain my equilibrium for the past two and a half years. Jerod took over a lot of responsibility in the company which helped to keep me out of the mental hospital (so far). Nathan has started his residency in Murfreesboro and for the first time since kindergarten at CCS there is no more TUITION!

Did you ever write down your beef stroganoff recipe?  Not that I would cook it because except for some fried bologna for a sandwich and scrambled eggs for Elizabeth, I haven’t used the stove. Don’t even ask about the oven, it’s as clean as it was the last time you saw it.

Everyone here misses you terribly, although they don’t come right out and say it to me. I’m sure its because they are concerned that if they bring your name up it will upset me or maybe “set me back”. Who knows, maybe they are right, besides no one wants to see a grown man cry.

Speaking of crying, are there really, “no more tears” in heaven and are the streets really made of gold or is that just a metaphor?

I guess my dad has had time to  fill you in on the recent happenings in our little circle of friends and family. But then, again, you should know that dad had Alzheimer’s during his last two years here on earth so you may want to double check his facts since he was known to say some outrageous things just before he left here and most of them only happened in his head.

I’ll say bye for now.

Love you more….



Letter Two

Second letter to Libby:


Dear Libby,

Its confession time; now it may come as a surprise to you but during our marriage when we were sitting around the house and you were talking to me, I wasn’t always listening intently to every single word that you were saying especially if there was a football game on TV.

Shocking, I know.

Case in point; I vaguely remember remarks about colors – whites- bleach – temperature and other things about laundry that you thought  I should know. Well shortly after you left, although its not really my fault (blame it on ESPN) I somehow ended up with pink underwear, tie-dyed dress slacks and a very large iron shaped logo melted into the lapel of my synthetic, wicking “no iron” shirt.

Although my laundering skills might be suspect, on the bright side I have lots of new clothes and more grease rags than I will ever use. Now, obviously there is no reason to cry over “spilt” milk, besides if  I used these letters to try and make amends for all of the foolish things I have done there wouldn’t be room for me to write about the things that have been happening.

Speaking of current events,  do you remember what we were doing at this time four years ago?  (Of course, you probably posses total recall) but in case you don’t, we were watching the 2012 London Summer Olympics. I can’t help but think of those times when we sat on the couch with a bowl of popcorn between us watching gymnastics, swimming and track and field.  Spoiler alert, the US girls gymnastic team is stronger than ever and Micheal Phelps has more gold than the Aztecs.

In the normal letter writing process this is where I would say, “Well, I’m sure you already read my first letter” but the truth is I have no clue if you even received my first letter.  It gives me a headache when I try to understand the relationship between heaven and earth. For all I know, you may have seen this letter as I typed it and maybe you witnessed the Olympics and my laundry debacle? Hey, can you see the winning lottery numbers?

Speaking of writing letters, I now have blog! Again, shocking news I know. Of course, being the author of a blog isn’t exactly a great accomplishment because if you have the ability to launch Windows Explorer, you can start a blog.  But can you believe it? Me, the guy who hated English Composition class in college is now writing without being forced to do so.

I mentioned the blog because I often look back through old pictures and letters to reminisce about our life together and sometimes  post stories about you. OK, that’s not totally true, because every story I post in my blog is about you.

A few months ago I told the story about the rainy Sunday afternoon during that time when we were remodeling the master bath. I told my blog readers how we sat together on our couch and you began crying.  If you remember, I asked why you were crying and you said, “I’m afraid the last scan is going to show that the cancer is back and I’m never going to get to sit in my new tub!”  I tried consoling but you recoiled from my hug, shook your finger in my face and said, “…and if you think that SOME WOMAN is going to sit in MY TUB, you’ve got another think coming mister”.

Well, since its confession time, some “woman” has been in your tub several times:


In other news, we are planning our 40th high school reunion, can you believe it? We have been passing around yearbooks and old photos at our planning sessions and telling stories about dances, homecoming and our favorite teachers. I really feel old when the conversation turns to kids, grand kids and even great grand kids. That got me to thinking, are you getting older in heaven or will you be 56 when I get there? Again, I am struggling with the whole dynamic of time and space between heaven and earth.

But wait, what if you are not aging and what if I don’t die until I’m 95?

How do you feel about older men?

Love, Barry


The Beginning of a Dream



Libby’s love for children has never been disputed and that love caused her to constantly look for ways to engage all children, ensuring that none were ever overlooked, which is why she commented on more than one occasion that our church needed a playground.  After visiting area playgrounds during the summer of 2013 and doing additional research, Libby’s vision of a playground soon faded when we learned that the costs were far more than either of us expected with even the smallest playgrounds costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Fast forward six months and Libby was still struggling to recover her health while doctors tried to determine the exact cause of her horrible headaches and the loss of a third of her body weight. Because of Libby’s precarious health I had to limit the number of visitors which created a sense of helplessness among our friends and family and left many of them wondering how they could help.  Suggestions were made to hold bake sales, road blocks and even a 5 K run, all to raise money for Libby.

My initial impulse was to graciously decline any fund raising efforts for Libby since we had good insurance and money for the deductibles.  What I finally came to realize was that it was never about the money, the fundraising effort gave our friends and our community a purpose and and a feeling that they were helping contribute to Libby’s recovery. That’s when I remembered the discussions about the playground during the summer and so without asking for Libby’s permission, I made a few phone calls, launched a fund raiser webpage and formed a non profit called “Libby’s Living Legacy” to begin collecting money to build a playground to honor Libby’s love of children.

After the proverbial reins were released people began calling or texting with ideas on how they wanted to help and with little more than an, “Okay by me”, Libby’s Living Legacy fundraisers began springing up throughout the community of Chattanooga Valley. It was an amazing outpouring of love for someone who had touched so many people in our community.

An incident happened one day as some of the students from Libby’s children’s program lined up to each hand over a dollar of their allowance to help build a playground for Miss Libby. I hugged each little girl in turn thanking them for their gift but the youngest stood off from the others and nervously looked down at her feet shuffling back and forth.  I looked over and asked, “Can I get a hug?”  She shook her head “No”. So I asked, “Why not?” and she answered shyly, “Because I don’t have any dollar”.  (She got the biggest hug ever until she said, “You are squeezing me too hard, I can’t breathe”).

It was the gifts of pennies and dollars from children and the $9.67 earned by selling lemonade during a Saturday afternoon that I remember more than the corporate sponsors and large donors as this fundraiser started to pick up some serious momentum.

Within days of starting Libby’s Living Legacy the dream of creating a community playground began to develop a life of its own, meanwhile, still in the hospital, Libby was still fighting for hers.


“Every Day Is A Holiday And Every Meal Is A Banquet”


The quote in the title of this blog was used by my dad to describe Libby Willis shortly after meeting her when he said to me, “I love her enthusiam and positive attitude, because with Libby everyday is holiday and every meal is a banquet.”.  My dad also reminds me often that after making the above comment he said to me, “If you don’t marry that girl, it will be the biggest mistake of your life.”

That enthusiasm and love of life was one of the first things that attracted me to the young, bubbly, Libby when we both were still teenagers.  Throughout her life Libby could seemingly find good in everyone she met, so much so, that our son Jerod once told his mom that he thought she could probably find something good to say about Adolf Hitler, to which Libby said, “I’m sure he had some good traits but he was a man who made some very bad decisions, but God loved him so much that he sent his son to die for him as well as each one of us”.  I rest my case.

As much fun as Libby had living life and looking for the good in others, at her core she was an introvert, she was never comfortable being the center of attention, preferring to do most of the work and not get any of the credit.  But if Libby saw a project at the church that needed completing or if she saw a child in need of help, she was very bold and seem to possess endless energy to complete projects and care for children.

On many occasions over the years I begrudgingly met Libby in the front yard with a head lamp and a shovel in my hand after she phoned me from the car asking if I could get a hole ready in the yard so the we could plant something just as soon as she got home.  The story was nearly the same every time; Libby would explain with her hands waving in the air and using short bursts of sentences, ” I was just driving down the road… you know after I dropped Helen off…we had been buying stuff for the church dinner next Sunday…don’t forget to set up the tables… and I passed this house with the most gorgeous _________ ” (tree, flower or bush, you can fill in the blank here) “that I have ever seen, so I stopped and asked the little man where they bought such a gorgeous ________ ” (tree, flower or bush ) “and , well, we got to talking… and he was such a nice little man… he and his wife have been married nearly 40 years and they have 3 children and 4 grandchildren… I taught his son in the 3rd grade… now he was a rounder…always having stay in from recess…  and anyway, I kept talking to the nice little man …then before I left… I told him how pretty the  _________ (tree, flower or bush ) was and then…he just dug it up and gave it to me!”

Whew, sometimes it could be more exhausting to try and follow the animated explanation of how Libby wound up with the tree, flower or bush than actually digging a hole and planting it.

People were drawn to the open, honest and caring attitude that Libby possessed, in addition, Libby had this naive belief that everyone else in this world was as trusting and giving as she was and in spite of that innocence, or more likely, because of it, people would do things for her that most of us would never even think to ask. The one story that illustrates that personality trait better than most happened when my youngest brother Rodney was a freshman at the University of Georgia and our family had gone to Athens on a Fall Saturday to watch a football game.

Throughout the game we all watched in awe as a talented freshman running back named Herschel dominated the day; everyone, that is, except for Libby who was enamored with Uga the Georgia Bulldog mascot on the sideline in front us, After the game, we all went down on the field to see a friend of Rodney’s who was on the team (and possibly meet this Walker kid) but as we started down the long rows of bleachers onto the field Libby said, “You all go ahead, I’m going to go pet the dog”.  I said, “Libby, don’t be silly, they are not going to let you pet the dog, they will not let you near that dog”.  “I will just ask”, she said as she walked away.

Later after visiting with Rodney and his friends (but not Hershel) we were ready to start back home but we couldn’t find Libby.  Bear in mind this was BC (Before Cellphones) so my mom, my dad and Rodney spread out as we walked the field searching for Libby. By now most of the fans had cleared the stands and only a few remained scattered about the field, that was, except for a crowd of people standing close together at the “G” in the center of the field, which is exactly where I found Libby sitting cross-legged on the ground surrounded by children with the Georgia mascot UGA III lying in her lap, his leash in her left hand.

As I approached the group, I could hear Libby’s “teacher voice” telling some children, “No, James is next in line to pet Uga so you will need to wait your turn” then adding, “OK Jenny, don’t pet him too hard he’s had a long day and he’s getting tired.”  It was truly one of those “Only Libby” moments that we would see repeated thousands of times more in her life a she seemed to always surprise her family and friends with light-hearted moments

Libby could have literally and figuratively rubbed my nose it that day in Athens by giving me a knowing look with the subtle raising of her eyebrows or by simply saying, “See I told you so” but those thoughts never entered her mind as she sat beaming from ear to ear, simply enjoying her afternoon of college football, surrounded by kids saying, “Hey lady, can we pet your dog?”

She did, however have one thing to say to me when she saw me looking down at her over the top of the children’s heads, she said, “Oh hi honey, will you check to see if you can get me a towel, Uga is slobbering all over my legs!”.  I said,” Yes Miss Libby” just before I shuffled off in my search.

Mistakes, Wisdom and HEDs

I enjoy reading the comments made by readers of this blog and some of the more generous ones have included things like, “you need to write a book”. In the unlikely event that a book ever happens it would most likely include a chapter entitled “What NOT to do for a successful marriage”. 

Dec. 92

Libby and I both made lots of mistakes in our marriage but after Libby’s miscarriage I feel like I became an expert on what not to do in a relationship.  Men (and women too) sometimes think they are helping the situation when we say things following a miscarriage including “You can always try again”, or ” You’re still young and you have plenty of time to get pregnant again” appearing to imply that what happened is just an inconvenience and the best thing for everyone is to forget about the past and to get back to “normal”. Hindsight can be a cruel teacher and it has taught many of us to treat a miscarriage the same way you would treat the death of any child.

If only our brains came standard with a USB port tucked in behind our right ear so we could easily transfer these lessons learned into the minds of young people because it is a lesson that, like so many others in life, is learned after the fact, usually when it is no longer needed.

I wasn’t much help later when Libby battled depression for over a year following the miscarriage because I didn’t really know how to handle the situation.  Now, I will admit that a depressed Libby was more upbeat than 90% of “regular” people, but her close friends and family knew it was struggle for her during that time after we lost Adalynn.  Added to everything else, Libby felt like she was a bad mother because the boys slipped out of the house without her knowledge and could have easily been hit on that busy road.

The new house and property presented lots of challenges and opportunities while it opened up a Swiss Family Robinson type world for two adventurous boys as we built go-cart trails, tree houses, bridges, zip lines, and forts. There were trees to climb, camp sites to build, creeks to dam up and plenty of mud to track in on mom’s new white berber carpet.  When the boys were in high school our house was used to hold birthday parties, host cross-country parties, build homecoming floats and set off HED’s (Homemade Explosive Devices).  Several times our back yard was turned into a Hollywood back lot where the boys and their friends filmed several movies including war movies which took advantage of the campsites, creeks, trails and HED’s simultaneously.

Libby and I had the goal from the beginning to provide a place where our boys and their friends wanted to play, instead of taking them to someone else’s house. One of the oddest conversations that I ever heard in our house was Libby innocently explaining to some parents that, yes, sometimes our boys built bombs, but they were only allowed to set off very small ones by themselves because we had a firm rule that all large concussion bombs and fireballs required at least one adult to be present.

Both the new property and house were a hit with our boys and, as it turns out, therapeutic for their mom.  With time and some wise counsel, Libby got through her time of depression and we “got our Libby back”. Although most people would never have guessed that her feelings of inadequacy were always hovering just below the surface, they would sometimes sneak up on her, overshadowing God’s promises, as she would make comments such as: “I feel so unworthy that I’m not sure that I am even going to go to heaven”, a comment that caused many of our friends to respond in unison with this proclamation: ” If Libby Gilley is not going to heaven then the rest of us might as well give up, because we have no chance.”  Still others made more crude responses, equating those chances to that of a snowball surviving in an extremely hot location.

Libby’s Love of Children

With our wedding, honeymoon and several arguments behind us, Libby would graduate from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the spring of 1980 having completed her student teaching at Howard Elementary School, an inner city school in downtown Chattanooga. Libby’s impact on the students, faculty and administration was immediate and obvious at Howard and every other place in which she taught.  Libby had been teaching children since she was fourteen years old in a Sunday School class at her dad’s church, but now she was getting paid to do the thing that she loved most and it was obvious to all who who knew her that she had found her true calling in life.

Libby's graduation

Now, with Libby working we had two incomes and no college tuition to pay so there was a huge weight lifted off of our financial shoulders.  With less financial strain on our relationship we had only minimal disagreements until we clashed over an idea that Libby had while teaching at Howard Elementary when she decided that way too many of her kindergarten students were from broken homes and they would benefit from a positive family experience.   Libby thought that the best way for many of her students to have that positive experience would be to bring two or three of her students to our house every weekend so we could take them hiking or fishing on Saturday and then take them to Sunday School and Church on Sunday. Libby had everything worked out in her mind, including the fact that she would simply bring them home on Friday and they would stay at our house until she took them back to school with with her on Monday morning,  Then as the year progressed we would be able to keep all of her students at least for a few days and give each of them a positive Christian influence.

Libby’s heart was in the right place but she and I had to have a serious discussion about a few of the practical details that she had failed to consider in her zealous approach to changing her kindergartner’s circumstances such as liability insurance coverage, crossing state lines with minor children, and class action lawsuits.  Libby thought everyone looked at the world the same way she did, and although it would be nice if that were so, I had to continually introduce a cynical realism into her pure, idealist world.

In the end, we never kept any children at our home but in spite of that, Libby’s love impacted nearly all of the children that she taught and many times their parents as well. As a compromise for not keeping children in our home, Libby and I spent several weekends in the inner city projects visiting the homes of her students to try and convince their moms that they needed to take an active role in their child’s education, praying with them and giving them books to read to their children.

Libby had some unusual teaching challenges as she taught at Howard Elementary,  Graysville Elementary and Chattanooga Valley Elementary; a rule follower by nature, Libby found it completely amazing that people who knew the rules would choose to break one or more of those rules. One memorable challenge involved an unruly, spoiled little kindergarten boy (whom I will call Jonathan).  Jonathan was constantly getting into trouble, he was the type of boy that had never been disciplined at home and he found out early in life that a good old fashioned temper tantrum was the key to getting anything he wanted.  Now, besides being a rule follower, Libby was confident in her decisions (some may say stubborn) and it was nearly impossible to change her mind once she made it up, and she had made up her mind that Jonathan had a scared, loving, insecure little boy trapped inside a short-tempered bully who needed some discipline and direction in his life, and if his parents wouldn’t provide it then she would.

I was regaled nearly every night at the dinner table with stories of Jonathan being involved in fights, kicking a teacher and bullying other children in their kindergarten class.  One day when Libby was trying to correct some errant behavior, Jonathan kicked her in the shin and tried to bite her arm.  Libby calmly picked Jonathan up and wrapped her arms around him holding him tight.  She had her teaching assistant take the other children out to the playground and Libby continued to restrain Jonathan throughout recess and for most of the remainder of the day.  She would talk softly to him saying, “Miss Libby loves you and I only want you to listen to me and be obedient”.  When Miss Libby finally released her lovingly firm grip, Jonathan was sullen and quite until he got on the bus to go home, then he told his mom about “that mean old lady teacher” that had picked on him and caused him to miss recess.

The following day Jonathan’s mother stormed into the principal’s office and demanded that the principal withdraw her son from the school and insisted that Mrs. Gilley be disciplined for being so hard on her son.  She informed the principal that she would be moving him to a better school with better teachers.  That evening when Libby arrived home she cried, saying that she had failed Jonathan and began to question her effectiveness as a teacher.  My comforting words for Libby went something like this, “He’s a spoiled brat with an overindulgent mom and you should be happy she transferred him.  I would call his new teacher and, as a professional courtesy, warn her of the impending doom!”

Not one to wallow very long in self pity, Libby soon got up from the couch and got busy, she found out where Jonathan was being transferred and the name of his new teacher, then she called Jonathan’s new teacher at home.  I thought Libby was going to take my advice and warn the teacher about Jonathan’s behavior problems and tell this new teacher what to expect from the entire psychotic family but no; the whole conversation between Libby and this other teacher involved Libby trying to get Jonathan back into her classroom.  (This was one of many examples why, as parents, you would much rather have Libby teach your children than me).  Libby told the new teacher that Jonathan was beginning to respond to her, but by changing teachers and schools now it would be the worst possible thing for him reinforcing his manipulative behavior.   Libby wanted the teacher’s help in convincing Jonathan’s mother that they should return Jonathan to Libby’s classroom and allow her to continue working with him. Libby’s plea to the teacher and later to her principal fell on deaf ears.  The saddest part of this story is that Libby never saw Jonathan again, she did keep up with his progress, or lack thereof, until several years later when she learned that he was in juvenile detention and once more Libby felt like she had let Jonathan down.

The conflict with “Jonathan” epitomizes the commitment and desire Libby had for each child entrusted into her care and I marveled how quickly and completely she could fall in love with the children of strangers throughout our first seven year of marriage, but then we had our own children and things really changed at our house.