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"Talkin' About Ray"

We hope you enjoy this page containing a collection of letters as well as news about the ongoing efforts to preserve Ray's legacy and to support the Hicks family.

Ray said, "Hearing the music, I couldn't help but hit the floor." (left to right) Ray, his mom Rena, Frank Proffitt, Ted Hicks, Phyllis Proffitt and Aunt Buena Hicks in 1959


Rosa with dahlias from her flower garden,
Ted and Ray

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“Fixing to Tell About Jack”, a benefit storytelling performance for the Hicks Family held in spring 2012, was a great success.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Click on image to see videos of Rosa and Ted telling at the benefit performance.

Because of health issues, Ted (Ray and Rosa’s youngest son) has been in a nursing home in Banner Elk for several years. He’s in a wheelchair and had not been able to visit their homeplace since it is down a steep hill which had no driveway. Rosa too was struggling getting up that same hill. Money raised from this benefit has provided the much needed driveway. The photos above are from the celebration and show the new driveway.

Thanks to
benefit storytellers
Gwenda Ledbetter
Joseph Sobol
Vixi Jil Glen
David Novak
Connie Regan-Blake.
Appreciation also goes to Asheville Wordfest, Asheville Storytelling Circle and "Stories on Asheville's Front Porch" for their help in this driveway project.

Donations are still welcome and we encourage other fundraising efforts. All money donated goes into ‘The Ray and Rosa Hicks Fund’ which also pays their utilities, oil, land taxes & other expenses.

Make checks payable to:
‘The Ray and Rosa Hicks Fund’
c/o Connie Regan-Blake
PO Box 2898
Asheville, NC 28802

Connie Regan-Blake telling Ray's Hicks stories at "Asheville's Front Porch" - raising funds for the driveway Gwenda (left), Vixie Jil (center) and Cybele relaxing at the driveway celebration. Storyteller Vixie Jil Glenn was the driving force behind the fundraising efforts.

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Several friends have shared their memories below of Ray and Rosa.
We hope you enjoy them.


To share your own memories of Ray, please email Connie

My connection to Ray came through reading his biography by Robert Isbel. The Jack Tales struck me in a particularly powerful way. In one tale, Ray's description of a storm in the deep forest brought me back to a thunderous moment during childhood canoe trip in the boundary waters. Ray's telling unfolded the power, strength and beauty of nature in a way that no photo could ever capture and brought me right back to a memory that had sunk deep as those woods.
Motti Pikelny
Oak Park, IL

I never met Ray Hicks personally, but I could relate. I had just begun my graduate degree at WVU in 2000, and was taking an Appalachian Literature course with Prof. JoAnn Dadisman. In addition to other great works, she played an audio recording of Ray for us one day. It is because of those like Hicks that I pursued a major in Appalachian Studies, even though there is none at WVU. I'm now finishing my MA in Sociology w/ an Appalachian focus. We have such a rich and vibrant culture, and I am glad to be able to say I can relate to those like Hicks who kept the memories alive for young'uns like me.
R. Jason Burns
Morgantown, West Virginia

May, 1964. I was sitting on my front porch on Clarkes Creek Road in Valle Crucis, playing my guitar, backing up my then wife Sally, one of the world's finest old time banjo pickers. We finished "Shady Grove" and Johnny Byrd, son of our landlords Claude and Edna Byrd stopped by to listen and chat.
"You ever hear one of those 'Jack Tales,' Johnny asked.
"No," I said.
He told us "Jack and the Varmints," and he told it well. "Of course," he added, "I can't tell it as well as Ray Hicks. You ever hear Ray tell stories?"
I shook my head.
"Shoot," Johnny said. "We'll go up there on the Beech tomorrow."
It was a beautiful day, small white clouds scudding across the sky, the view sharp and clear, tiers of mountains fading into Tennessee and Virginia. Ray and Rosa took us in. Rosa bustled in and out of the living room, busy as always.
Ted and Leonard, Jean and Juanita little children sitting on the couch, their feet hanging halfway down to the fllor, listened as their father rolled a cigarette, shut his eyes and started and afternoon and evening of talk, stories, reminiscences, reflections on the practicalities of life and the mysteries of existence, jokes, ghosts and outrageous lies.
Two years later I was teaching at Lees-McRae College, and started "The Beech Mountain Program of Folk Arts," a spring festival of songs, stories and crafts put on for the benefit of the Banner Elk Volunteer Fire Department. Ray would come down and tell stories to my classes and he was a featured performer at the festival.
Early in my first year at LMC, I bought land up on the Beech, just around the corner from Ray and Rosa. We were neighbors and saw much of each other. Ray became my mentor as I worked at building a house there, learning stories and discovering the secrets of the land.
By 1970, as a result of changing times, I ended up at in cultural exile at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts. I maintained my contacts with Ray and Rosa. A favorite memory is of a trip my current wife Diane and I made to the land in the mid-Seventies. We were camping there and Ray came over, laughing at our ineptness. He spent the day improving our skills, took us back to the house for dinner and told stories until three the following morning, patiently letting me video tape them on the primitive reel to reel black and white set the college had provided me. I still have the tapes, poor images, great sound.
Since then I have returned to see Ray, Rosa and their family as often as possible. The house is different with Ray gone, but his legacy lives on in the storytelling talents both Ted and Leonard possess. I hope everyone will encourage them to explore, expand snd share those skills.
And Rosa is still there, as positive and wonderful as ever. May she live many many many more years.

Wil Roberts
Greenfield, MA

I am 10 years old and I live in Chicago. I remember when Ted told a story on the phone to my second grade class. We put a speaker-telephone on the rocking chair and pretended that Ted was right with us. His story was about The Man in the Moon. Normally my class is noisy. But it seemed different that time. Everyone was listening. I love lots of stories. And Ted's story is one I love. I also liked listening to Ray's Jack Tales. We never met Ray or Rosa or Ted but we learned a lot about them.
Hana Hobscheid
Chicago, IL

People said I had to see the legendary Ray Hicks when I attended my first National Storytelling Festival about ten years ago. When I saw Ray on the stage, I thought I was looking at a tableau by Norman Rockwell with audio by Jackson Pollock. I came away asking questions of every storyteller who had seen him or spoken with him. Although I never met Ray or Rosa, I have the greatest admiration. Seasoned tellers have spoken from the heart about their treks to Beech Mountain, the Hicks generosity of time, hospitality and friendship. Through their eyes, I have come to know of their gifts and warmth. Through Joseph Sobol's class, I have ingested a sense of Ray s meandering stories. I understand he had an innate ability to tell the perfect story for the audience of the moment - like the little girl passing his room in the hospital. Ray...a moment in time. I would have cherished a walk up Beech Mountain to meet with Ray and Rosa.
Esther Jepson Doetsch
Scottsdale, AZ

During the 1984 Nation Festival Jean Smith asked if I would like to drive Ray and Rosa Home to Banner Elk. We loaded into the station wagon and took off, Ray talking the whole time. He was telling me stories of the Great Depression, stories of a witch who taught him how to not be shy, a story of a man who ate his own arm to keep from starving to death. Of course, all the narratives flowed out of him in that Elizabethan dialect until Rose said, Ray, you re going to get this young boy completely lost unless you stop talking for a few minutes. Rosa was right. I was so involved in Ray s imagery that I had no ideal at all as to where we were. But with help from Rosa we found ourselves climbing up Beech Mountain.
When we stopped in front of that hallowed farm house Ray asked me to dinner. We sat down to a meal of red beans over bread and washed it down with brandy. Ted sat on the bed, grinning right along with his Dad. Ray taught me the Swapping Song which I still sing to this day. I knew that I was in a rare and wonderful situation and thanked the storytelling muse for putting me there. Ray was a compulsive, traditional storyteller who did not stop spinning narratives for the two hours I was in his presence.
When his time came for resting, he went out to his spring house and brought me two cabbages from his garden. My head was spinning. We shook hands and I asked if I could take his picture. I snapped a shot right again the soft colors of the sky. We shook hands all around and I climbed into the station wagon and began my descent of Beech Mountain. I was elated. I knew that I had shared time that was rare and wonderful and being an apprentice storyteller, it was a true blessing.

Dennis Freeman
AZ

The last time I saw Ray, we talked about natural healing. He said they used to put honey in a wound or sometimes cobwebs. But Ray said when he was a boy, the best thing to put in an open cut was good clean dirt.
Then Ray said that today, there is no dirt in the whole world clean enough to heal.

David Holt
Fairview, NC

When I think of Ray and Rosa, images and memories come pouring in. I love seeing Rosa in her field of flowers next to the ripening corn and beans. There is a large expanse of dahlias in every color, shape and size, and Rosa practically skipping along, looking like a 16 year old, pointing out her favorite blossoms and cutting a bouquet for me to take home.
And I smile when I remember how tickled Ray got when he was telling a story. His whole face no his whole body! crinkling up with the fun of it all. He was like a magnet for many of us ... once I was with him, I never wanted to leave. He was a powerful teacher and a dear friend. I miss him.
Connie Regan-Blake
Asheville, NC

I remember my first 'conversation' with Ray Hicks. It was the Saturday afternoon of my first Festival. I went up to Ray and introduced myself, saying I was from Chicago. When Ray heard that he began telling about the Sears Roebuck Catalogue. Ray made that old catalogue seem like the most exciting book in the world - filled with adventure, wishes and fortune. Jack may actually have somehow been involved in that Sears Roebuck story. To this day, I am not really sure. But I did understand that I was in the presence of a man of great imagination and heart, who welcomed me - a stranger - as if I was an old friend.
Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny
Skokie, IL

 


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