Ray Loves… By Jim Murphy
Appeared in the News Record and Sentinel October 16 2013
As you drive up Route 208 toward Shelton Laurel, one of the barns you pass might look a little different from all the others. Just below the bleached bull’s skull hanging from the boards, you can make out some faded words painted on the big black sliding doors. They’re hard to read, but if you squint your eyes and look back about 20 years, you’ll decipher: “Ray loves” followed by a name that is blurred beyond recognition. A second line reads, “By John Deere Green.”
“Back about 1993, Ray and his wife split up,” Steven Tweed, Ray’s cousin, launches into the story of the writing on the doors. “Their two teenage daughters decided to stay with him. Well at that time there was a poplar country song by Joe Diffey called John Deere Green. It was about a boy who painted a love note to his girl, Charlene, on the town water tower in John Deere green paint.”
The whole town said
That he should have used red.
But it looked good to Charlene
In John Deere green.
“Well Ray’s daughters drew inspiration from that song.” Steven continues, shaking his head at the memory. “So When Ray started dating again they came down here and wrote Ray loves whoever. And every time he would date someone new they’d come down here and switch the name.”
The subject of the painted message was Ray Tweed, known as Rayboy for more than half a century now, ever since grade school. Again cousin Steve explains. “Back then, Ray Tweed was the principal of Laurel elementary and high school. So young Ray became Rayboy.” The name stuck, and now in his early 60s, Raymond is still — and forever — “Rayboy.”
The barn was built during the depression, perhaps the early 1930s, but it has been in the Tweed family since “Grandma and grandpa bought the property in 1941 — a 64-acre farm for $3600. They moved in on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.” Steve recalls that his grandparents, Ted and Lula Tweed, had 12 children and, much like the home of a growing family, the barn has been expanded twice. “Grandpa added the front shed in 1947 and then that side shed,” he says, pointing to an addition that shows the remnants of two horse stalls. “He added the sheds because tobacco was his livelihood,” and he needed more drying space. Steve nods toward the barn loft. “‘d like to have a dollar for every stick of tobacco I’ve hung in that barn,” he says.
Now, more than half a century later, Rayboy raises 35 acres of tobacco, but he recalls, “Grandpa raised just enough to keep us alive. Grandma always said, ˜ if I could just get one year ahead. She never did.”
The Tweed family is among the earliest settlers in Madison County, tracing their heritage back to 1830 when James Tweed “Traded taxed whiskey, clay pipes, four fatted hogs and $100 for this land.” Steve has researched the family history, and he enjoys retelling it. “I can just imagine when the kids might have asked James, “Where did you get the hundred dollars?” Remember, that was a lot of money back then. I guess he would have smiled and told them, ˜Untaxed whiskey.” Steve’s laugh fills the barn.
This year the barn sits idle, the rafters are bare. Rayboy’s tobacco crop hangs in other barns. But this one is far from empty. Like so many old barns, it has become a family storage space, holding no fewer than three riding lawn mowers, several gourds hanging out to dry, two standing metal clothes lockers in grey paint, a plastic child’s wading pool and whatever other items the family doesn’t need right now but can’t let go. Old barns sit quietly like dusty personal museums, telling stories about the life of a family dating back from a month to a generation. And this barn hard by the road on Route 208 announces one happy chapter of its family history in the fading paint signed, “John Deere Green.”