It was the summer of 1994 or 1995 and Will, me, and Brian Byars (it was one other person, and I think it was BB) were all coming home from summer basketball workouts. Brian was driving and they dropped me off first. As I got out of car and bid my teammates farewell, several children from my mother’s summer day-camp ran to me, yelling my name and giving hugs. The kids were happy to see me. Will looked in amazement at this and told Brian he was going with me instead, and would catch a ride home with my parents later in the evening. You could see Will’s mind going into overdrive when he walked in and saw a few kids playing Playstation (yeah, the first one), others reading books, a couple watching TV, and even one in timeout (or “TIME UP,” as Will and I would later put it).
As the day progressed, Will began to interview my mother and me about Funland Day-camp and learned that it was the brainchild of my mother. She saw the need for children to have something to do in the summer — especially for those who didn’t play on any sports teams or whose parents worked busy schedules that didn’t allow for summer travel. Funland provided these children summer days filled with trips to parks, the city swimming pool, the skating rink, the bowling alley, and other field trips each week. Kids were fed breakfast, lunch, and a snack before going home. Everyone who was involved benefited. Will saw this, and by the end of the conversation / interrogation (ha!) he decided he would help out the following summer.
Mom paid Will and me $30 (tax free) a week for ten weeks. For us — who still lived with our families and didn’t need anything — this was BANK. We entertained the kids with jokes, sporting events, and by just listening to them talk about their “problems” that they had at their tender ages of 5-12. It was a blast.
On Friday, Mom would usually go to the bank before they closed for the weekend and would pay us cash before the last kid left. On this Friday, however, mom was tied up talking with a family, and I was tending to the rest of the kids, and Will decided he needed to get his $30 (probably for brake fluid or antifreeze for the “Brown Hornet”) and he went to the bank.
Will returned from the bank with a serious look on his face. He informed mom and I that after mom’s assistant and the last kid left he needed to have a conference with us. We had no clue what was going on, but for the rest of the evening Will continued to clean up the place and entertain kids. As the last kid left, Will locked the door behind them and a huge smile came over his face. He said: “Mrs. Cowan, why are me and Harry Lee (my basketball nickname) only making $30 a week? I put the deposit in the bank and there was a whooole lot of money left over after we took out our cut.” Mom and I laughed so hard and long we started crying. He kept counting his three $10 bills while shaking his head… it was awesome. Will then went on to say: “If this is how much we make with 10 kids, guess how much we could make with 20 kids or 50 kids??” He and mom went back and forth talking about his proposal to grow the business. She told Will she didn’t want to make this her primary occupation but to just keep it fun, simple, interesting, and in the summertime only. As he looked to me for assistance in the matter, I told him I agreed with his outlook, but that I wouldn’t be a factor as I would be going to school to pursue a career in forensics. Will was happy to hear this, as he thought he would have to “go through me” to get a “top spot” in the “company!” Ha! (He actually told me that a few times). All throughout dinner Will continued to mess with mom about only paying us $30 a week, and late that evening we finally parted ways.
Early Monday morning, guess who came in all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for work…? Yep, my boy Will Gray. But on this particular Monday, he didn’t come alone. With him was a well-thought-out business plan for how we could together expand the summer day-camp business into a full-time money making machine that would allow Will and me to retire by the age of 40. He had everything thought out and written out. He had plans to open a day-camp facility in each side of the county and to promote the business to out-of-county residents as well. (We did have a few out-of-county residents that brought their kids to our day-camp while they worked in Paris, TN.) Sadly, Will and I soon moved on from the day-camp business to pursue careers in music and forensic science respectively — however not before Will moved all the way up to “Assistant Director” and bumped his earnings to almost $100 a week, while increasing attendance of the camp to 20-25 kids plus some kids that came on a part-time basis.
Wise beyond his years and such an awesome person to be around.
Will, I miss and love you terribly. We had some great times bro. Always lots of laughing and having a good time when we got together. I still pray for you and your family daily and can’t wait to see you in Heaven someday. God speed.