In January of 1902, my father, Russel Rayl, was born. And in July of 1903, a second son was born, Kenneth Wasson.
Kenneth attended Southeast Oklahoma State for one year, then transferred to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he majored in "having a 1920s good time," jazz-age parties, bootlegged booze, and the works, including a Model-T Ford.
He finished a B.S. degree in 1925 and entered the School of Dentistry at Baylor University in Dallas, where he received his DOS in 1928. He began the practice of dentistry in Wewoka, Oklahoma, that year. The following year he married a young lady from Wewoka named Maxine Cutlip. She was of the Cherokee Tribe, and her father was a prominent attorney and banker in Wewoka. The marriage lasted only two years and was the first of four marriages for Kenneth, one marriage lasting one week and another six months. Throughout much of his life Kenneth would be adventurer, romantic, iconoclast, womanizer, off-and-on alcoholic, traveler, celebrator, chaser of culture, and bon vivant. As a Jimmy Stewart type, he would have a world of friends, a man easy to be with, highly intelligent, well-read, witty and articulate, and nonjudgmental, but also a man who dreaded responsibilities, who loved freedom more than anything else in life. "Don't Fence Me In" became his favorite popular tune, because it so closely reflected the feelings of his inner self.
Holidays were, of course, memorable occasions during the 1930s and early 1940s. Uncle Kenneth always played a dominant role. For the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, he always showed up, bearing gifts, including the best gift of all, himself. Dr. Kenneth Windes was the "life of the party." He was a delightful story teller, a wonderful listener, an interesting and complex personality with a sharp and well read mind, and a great schmoozer. He was also highly unpredictable. He might arrive by train, by new Packard automobile with rumble seat, or by plane, and we never knew until an hour before he arrived. He might come alone, or bring one of his girlfriends. I recall one July 3d night traveling all over northwest Arkansas trying to find the airport where his plane had landed earlier in the evening. And I recall the joy of sitting in that wonderful Packard rumble seat while he and Mona Whozits drove Peggy and me around town one night. Kenneth was singing "Whistling in the Dark, I see the lights all over town." He and Marcus Bernhart were my role models in those days.
On the Fourth, Ken would bring boxes of fireworks with him, which fireworks he ignited for our pleasure after dark, the most "Wow!" display in town. At Thanksgiving he would bring a carload of food and gifts from Oklahoma City where he practiced dentistry after leaving Wewoka, from 1930 to 1939. The day after Thanksgiving was always "teeth examination" time. Dr. Kenneth would borrow one of Dr. Blankenship's chairs in the morning and take care of any cavities Peggy and I might have.
At Christmas Uncle Ken embarrassed us all with expensive presents for everyone. The man was generous, good natured and loving; generous, in part, I learned later, because Granny Margaret was more than generous herself about covering checks he wrote on the Windes Store account at the First National Bank of Cassville; good natured and loving beyond belief because, in part, he was never more than a few feet from his very own bottle of scotch and his pack of Chesterfields. Nonetheless, Kenneth always made a great contribution to our holiday happiness, and I couldn't have cared less about his finances, his drinking, his smoking, or his womanizing. The only times I ever parted company with him, in those days, were times he took me fishing or hunting.
There was a heavenly valley northeast of Cassville, where a fish hatchery and a few farms nestled on the banks of Flat Creek and Sugar Creek. It was such a beautiful and peaceful place. I would walk there alone, sit on the little cement bridge that crossed one of the creeks closest to the hatchery, let my feet dangle into the cool water, and read a book or write something on my tablet, and just enjoy the world as only a child can. One Holiday Kenneth wanted to fish at my own little heaven, and I rebelled and ran back home, and nobody could understand why.
Once, to the east of Rogers, I went hunting with Ken, just to please the family, and when he shot a rabbit I became very sick, and once again left him to go home. That was the day I discovered on my way home a lovely and exciting miniature railroad someone had built on the hillside, and then abandoned it. Someone said it was the economic rebel, Coin Harvey, who had done it when he was in political exile in the 1890s and wandered across the hills of Northwest Arkansas. I played with the old train the rest of that autumn afternoon and arrived home during a brilliant autumn twilight. Kenneth was there waiting for me and told me how sorry he was I had gotten so upset. And when I told him about the miniature railroad I had found, he asked me take him to see it the next afternoon, and we both loved it. I'm sure dear Kenneth forgave my inability to share his love for fishing and hunting.
Even after Ken was married for the third or fourth time (Who was counting?) in 1937 to Inez Carter, and they began their own family (Joe Rayl, Patti, Vina), he still came bearing gifts and good humor and love. And even after he became an officer in the U.S. Navy in late 1939, and rose to the rank of Captain during World War II, he still showered the family with gifts.
Ken and I shared a certain je ne sais quoi as
long as he lived. We spent a wonderful few days together in New York during the
War, Rhapsody in Blue," Oscar Levant at the piano, which I greatly enjoyed.
Commander Windes and I spent four days together
in New York City, and what incredible days they were for a fourteen year old boy
who was there for the first time. Servicemen could pick up tickets to plays,
concerts, films, live radio broadcasts, nightclubs, and sports events. Officers
could not only get tickets but obtain priority seating at events and
complimentary dinners at many New York restaurants and grills.
I stayed at a YMCA in Brooklyn, near the Naval
Base. The Brooklyn Y was an experience I will never forget. Rarely before or
since have I witnessed so much sexual activity, and I was, "sexually harassed"
each of my four nights there, each time by a horny serviceman who could not
resist the appeal of a fourteen year old red-headed stud from Missouri.
I hugged Ken very long and very hard before he left the train, and both of us
shed a salty tear. He had entertained me lovingly and generously, and had
introduced me to the city that would, twenty years later, become my home
When the train for Philadelphia emerged from the tunnel in New Jersey, I discovered that my large envelope of New York souvenirs, which contained menus, programs, scorecards, autographs, postcards, photographs, and so on, was missing. Uncle Ken was carrying the packet and had either lost it or simply forgotten to give it to me. Sadly, I never did recover those precious reminders of a young man's great trip.
I spent a few more days in Philadelphia with Peg and Helen and Kirby, and Kirby's dog, Major, a big shepherd who has asthma and wheezed at the foot of our bed every night. I told them countless stories of my four days in New York, and I played the records for them that Ken had given me. Peggy and I sang together the songs from Oklahoma, and we particularly liked "Everything's Up To Date in Kansas City," and "People Will Say We're In Love." She didn't care much for Guy Lombardo, of course, since she was devoted to swing and the music of Dorsey and Miller and Goodman and Woody Herman.
IMy first night back at Peggy and Helen's, I
persuaded Kirby to take off his pajamas, and the two of us slept naked together,
and I think I had my dick in his crack pushing hard most of the night. I
certainly didn't hide my erection from him. I even persuaded him to play with me
until I came, a pleasant if shocking event for him.
I arrived in St. Louis the next early evening, and at about eleven boarded the Frisco for Neosho. I sat next to a soldier named Jack who was on his way back to Camp Crowder from the east coast. We talked and had sandwiches together, and I liked him very much.
The conductor brought us one blanket at sleep time, and we put it over both of us. Some time during the night I woke up and felt Jack's hand on my zipper. I pulled it down for him, and slipped down my shorts. And he jacked me off on the Frisco somewhere between Rolla and Springfield. And then I did the same for him. I gave him my phone number in Neosho, but I never heard from him again.
Back in Neosho I had dozens of stories to tell
all my family and friends, stories ranging from the "brownouts" in New York City
to the "air raid drills" in Philadelphia and the "victory gardens" every family
with a yard planted. Most popular, of course, was what New York City was like,
and I was very good at that set of tales.
I spent another week with him at his cabin on the shores of Grand Lake in Northeast Oklahoma in 1949. On that occasion we talked a long time about my being gay. He was not at all upset, and he recalled the gay friends he knew at Vanderbilt in the 1920s, and the gays he had known in the Navy during World War II. He confided to a few gay experiences in the 1920s when he was in college, and he believed gays in the Navy were generally accepted during the war, whereas gays in the Army had a more difficult time of it.
During the summer of 1953, Uncle Kenneth's last summer, he was very ill, dying from a blood disorder that had begun during the Battle of Sicily in 1943. He called me to see if I could meet him up in Tulsa, where he was visiting, and drive him to his boyhood homes in Missouri and Arkansas for one last visit. My dear friend, Paul Hunter, and I drove to Tulsa, met Ken, drove him back to Missouri, and spent three days with him while he saw old friends and toured the playing fields of his youth.
On a lovely August afternoon, the three of us sat on that valley bridge over Flat Creek, where Ken liked to fish and I loved to relax, and talked about life and love and fishing. And in Rogers the three of us tried to find the old miniature railroad indeed built by Coin Harvey, but a giant lake now stood where trains used to run. The three of us sat in the Arkansas twilight and talked about the day Ken shot the rabbit, and "Bud," his name for me, "saw his first but not his last violent act in life."