Records, Wrestling, And The Babysitter Hall Of Fame: Uncle Ray Taught Me To Show Love The Fun Way
Uncle Ray. He had only one niece — just me — but the name stuck. Everyone in our house called him Uncle Ray, from my mom to my grandma to my grandaunt, Tati.
I was lucky enough to have an uncle that was basically a third parent. He took care of me as my parents did, but he was also a friend, and the most fun babysitter I ever had. As a kid, I’d follow him around everywhere. In the mornings, I would climb the stairs to his room in the attic, chattering away about everything from wrestling to cartoons, and then down to the basement where he’d spin music on the turntables. I’d sit on the floor while he’d play and he handed me Prince, Janet Jackson, and Madonna records, one by one so that I’d learn to take care of them.
I’d follow him to his car to go to the grocery store and to Serenade, a small record shop that used to be on Hillside Ave., where he’d pick out music. The owners of the store knew that I liked to tag along, so they would give me a cassette single to try out on my walkman, and tell me to come back and let them know what I thought of the music. We ventured to Jamaica Ave., where he introduced me to the world of bootlegs. He taught me how to strike a deal. One time I got stuck with a blank cassette, and I was so upset. He laughed and tried to explain to me that when you buy bootlegs, sometimes this kind of thing happened. But he brought me back to the Ave. to complain to the man who sold me the blank SWV cassette, where I told the guy that I wouldn’t buy anything else for him unless he played it in his boombox before I bought it.
He was the best babysitter ever. He would cook fried baloney and let me watch Married With Children even though he knew my mom didn’t usually allow it.
Then we had our wrestling.
The WWF, then the WCW, and later the WWE, was our religion. Every Saturday morning was about Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and The Ultimate Warrior. When I’d go to school, the boys would tell me I didn’t know anything about wrestling because I was a girl and a girly girl at that. I’d pull out my WWF membership card and would shoot stats, putting them in their place. Uncle Ray would smile every time I told him that I silenced the boys in the schoolyard.
The last time we got to hang out, of course, it was at Nassau Coliseum for the first all-women’s wrestling Pay-Per-View event. Thanks to work, I scored tickets right behind the press box, and it felt good to treat my uncle to such a plum spot after he took me to wrestling matches for my whole life. He picked me up from the subway, with his house music booming. A couple minutes in the car, he played Level 42’s “Starchild,” a song I had in my head for months, but could not remember the name. When I told him he solved the mystery I had for months, he gave me that smile I hope to never forget. Thanks to pictures, it should remain in my mind forever. But I must admit that I’m afraid of forgetting his voice. It’s what scares me the most.
When it came to music, Uncle Ray was a full-on genius. He knew the best of every genre and loved all kinds of music. You name it, he played it. The very last song on his FB is MOP’s “Ante Up,” which will make me smile forever. Even though his knowledge of music spanned decades, he was always open to the music I liked, and celebrated the music of my generation right along with me. He loved Jay-Z, Notorious BIG, and even new artists like J. Balvin. He introduced me to dancehall, and I introduced him to reggaeton. He fully embraced who I am and what was important to me, and that’s why he was the best third parent I could ever have.
When Uncle Ray got sick, my mom stepped in and took care of him. I have always admire my mom, but she showed me kindness, and what it means to be completely selfless, putting her brother before herself. With Covid-19, which honestly made it so hard for all of us to be there to support Uncle Ray, I’d call and he’d ask me two questions: How’s work? And how’s the puppy? Even though the puppy is 10. We’d chat and at the end, I’d always say I love you. He never responded back, but I know, as he did in person, that he smiled.
I told my mom, “Uncle Ray never says, I love you!” And she said, you know he never says it, but we all know how much he loves you. And we both laughed, because we knew it was true. I told Uncle Ray I loved him my whole life, and he showed me how much he loved me every single day. That’s what I learned from him most. That when you truly love, and truly care, the memories and the actions are what you truly remember.
In the days after his death, and the reality of Uncle Ray being gone became too overwhelming, I would go to the basement, and pull out all of the records. I could feel his presence, smiling as I sat surrounded by his treasured collection. I could feel him laughing when I tried to find the Prince and Janet stashes that he would always keep out of my reach when I was a little kid. He had one card hanging up, one from me from Father’s Day. His love for me, the whole family, was all around us. He loved me more than words. And I am who I am because he did.
A Set For Uncle Ray The DJ