Meridian, MississippiJune 16, 1959
Callaway High School Jackson, Mississippi1974-1977
The USM years
by Dale Crowson
[written in 2011 after Jill's death, read at Dale's Memorial Service]
They called him “Blackjack” on The Emerald Isle,
for no man lived in all her land
could best great-great-great Grandsire’s hand.
Legend tells that with his skill,
he filled the bellies of the Raley clan.
But eighteen hundred and forty-five brought nature’s shroud; “potato blight”
‘round Dublin town. And soon the living, with mournful might,
buried the dead from dawn ‘til night.
And “Blackjack” Raley saw Hell on Earth.
Mother, daughter, cousin, too,
he dug their graves; and strangers, too.
O’er all of Ireland, “Blackjack” roamed,
but there were no gamblers left at home.
“Lumpers” were planted St. Patrick’s Day,
yet Fall left fields a fallow gray.
The shallow graves told tales of woe.
Grim Reaper’s spade replaced life’s hoe.
Rich landlords, English – where were they?
Rack-renters, they were called those days.
And to a man, they looked away.
‘Twas genocide, some men will say.
Their homes were huts of earthen mud,
their beds but straw they slept upon.
No beds nor blankets, no, not one.
English charity, There was none.
So “Blackjack” fell onto his knees.
“One hand with You, Dear Lord!” he cried.
“If I should win, you’ll have my life,
and save instead my son and wife.”
But God is not a gambling man,
and casts no lots for His children’s lives.
The legends tell that “Blackjack” died,
and never played another hand.
But the man John Raley did survive,
And with God’s help, new plans contrived.
No longer Lady Luck his guide,
God’s will alone kept John alive.
And so he sent for son and wife.
Mississippi called and offered life.
One million fled, two million died,
and on their journey, John lost his bride.
But Mississippi, he lived to see.
And watched his son give life to three.
And so his blood runs through my veins,
and many traits, my clan retains.
Gamblers, poets, writers all.
And still we hear our brethren call.
Our hearts and souls now ‘cross the sea,
Dear Ireland, we remember thee.
But then one day, not long ago,
‘twas plague again, but here, with me.
Like John, I saw that same death shroud,
beloved bride her soul set free.
And just as “Blackjack” years before,
great-great-great grandson’s knees hit floor.
“One hand with You, Dear Lord!” I cried.
“If I should win, you’ll spare my wife,
and in return, I’ll trade my life!”
But, still, God is no gambling man,
and casts no lots for his children’s lives.
The legends say that “Blackjack” died,
though years have passed, I cannot hide,
John Raley’s tears now fill my eyes.
As gamblers live, so gamblers die.
And now I mourn my Irish clan,
And struggle daily, just one man.
But someday soon, the whispers say,
Both John and I will see a day.
A day of joy and rebirth soon!
When the Sun shall rise o’er Irish moon.
Oh happy day! We weep for thee!
When John and I, our wives we’ll see!
-written by Paul Crowson, published June 7th, 2012, edited Jan 19, 2014
Dale apparently died of a heart attack, suddenly and quickly without lingering pain or consciousness. There was no evidence of any kind to suggest otherwise. Dale and I have family history of heart troubles on both sides, maternal and paternal.
The family was in communication with Dale daily, and concerned about him. He had not been feeling well for several days but we had no idea and no indication that he was near to the day of his death.
I thank all of Dale's friends and mine, and our extended family for their ongoing love and support for us as we continue to deal with our loss.
I also appreciate everyone urging me to get my heart checked out, which I did. I'm glad to report that my heart is in good shape according to extensive medical testing, though I intend to keep a close eye on it with the family history being what it is.