Jimmy Ray Bayles was born on December 18, 1937, in Tribbey, Oklahoma, the second son of Dudley and Pearl Bayles. He was so tiny and frail that they put him in a shoebox and set him on the open door of the oven to keep him warm. Jim and his big brother Jack, who was only thirteen months older than him, were always on the lookout for an adventure. Dad loved to tell stories about his childhood. As children listening to stories of Trixie the horse, camping out in the woods in a hammock and being nudged awake by the family cow, and playing tricks on neighbors that made The Little Rascals look like amateurs, we didn’t know that Dad was Grapes of Wrath poor. In his stories, wartime, backwoods Oklahoma was a place of adventure limited only by your imagination and ingenuity, both of which Dad had a lot of.
In high school, Dad spent a year and a half on crutches because of a bad hip. During this time, he built up biceps that lasted a lifetime. In his fifties, his college age daughter mischievously challenged her boyfriend to arm-wrestle her Dad. The boyfriend reluctantly agreed and won. But later, he sheepishly confessed that he was pretty sure her Dad had let him win to save him from humiliation.
Dad was proud that his wife was valedictorian of her class of 80. And he would boast, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was salutatorian in his high school class…of four.
After high school, Dad went to Junior College where he did ROTC. The Korean War was raging and to avoid being drafted into a job he didn’t like, Dad joined the Army. With the assurance of the recruiter that he could get him sent to Germany, he took an aptitude test. The little backwoods boy scored so high that the Army decided his skills were needed to fight the North Koreans, and they sent him to the DMZ. He took a boat to Korea and stopped in Hawaii on the way. When asked if he’d ever want to go on a cruise, he said he’d been on a cruise and once was enough. He worked at intercepting and interpreting coded messages, and to his delight, his job was high-security enough that he was restricted from visiting many foreign countries for years after the war. Once he was home, he didn’t want to leave.
In 1964, he met his future wife in a mental hospital. The punch line was that they both worked there. Mom was an RN, Dad was an aide. They were both working their way through OU. On the night my parents met, my mom had to walk through the dark and fell into a ditch along the way. When she finally breezed in, annoyed and hair full of leaves, she complained that someone really needed to fix that light. Standing under another light, at ease in his starched white uniform, stood a handsome, muscular young man. For Mom, it was love at first sight. Dad didn’t think that she would ever notice him and thought she liked the six-foot-two guy standing next to him. But what he lacked in height, Dad made up for in stature. Two years later, over a dinner of his favorite meal of chicken fried steak, Dad commented that he could have Mom cook for him forever. She took it as a proposal and they were married on Christmas Eve, 1966.
In 1968, they had their first house built on 656 Reed Avenue. It had a big garage for all Dad’s stuff, and a big driveway for their future kids to play in. It backed up on a park, because they both loved the country, and that was as close as they could get in town. In 1971, they welcomed their first daughter, Shelly Renee. By 1974, they were expecting their second child, and wanted to get out of the city. They found the farm. In February, 1974, during an ice storm, they moved into a new trailer house on their 30 acres. On March 25, they welcomed their second daughter, Alisa Jean. They loved the farm, but the trailer presented some special challenges. Country critters loved the warm, homey space under the trailer house. One particular family of skunks presented unique challenges. One night, the odor of our neighbors was finally too much. Someone had to relocate. In the darkness, my Mom held the flashlight while they waited for the skunk to come to the light. As the beady eyes crept closer, my Mom whispered, “Jim, shoot.” No response. The skunk inched closer. More urgently but not wanting to startle the skunk, my Mom urged, “Jim, shoot!” Still, Dad remained stoically silent, gun trained on the advancing rodent. “Jim, shoot!” Mom stage-whispered desperately. Finally, as my Mother prepared to drop the flashlight and run, Dad shot. “Bang!” The skunk dropped dead. “Why did you wait so long? What were you waiting for?” “I didn’t want to have to crawl under there and drag that thing out, I waited for it to come to me.” “But what if you’d missed?” Mom asked. Matter-of-factly he replied, “I wasn’t going to miss.”
In January, 1976, my Mom’s brother, Terry, a quadriplegic, was nearly burned to death in a house fire. My parents gave Terry and Freda their house on Reed Street to live in while Terry recovered. My Dad put a patio door in the master bedroom so that if there were ever a fire, the firemen could get Terry out quickly. My Dad was always kind to Terry, and my Mom said she would have loved him for that kindness alone. But that was who my Dad was. He was kind and practical. He didn’t brag about doing good things. He just did them. In October, 1976, Mom and Dad welcomed their third daughter, Karen Alaine. She was the best thing that happened that difficult year.
In 1977, Jean, Shelly, and Alisa, came home to find a robbery in progress. My Mom told us to get down in the back seat while she engaged in a high speed chase of the robbers. She got their tag number, but they never could prove that the newly released felon was the burglar. It was time to move back to town, to Mom and Dad’s first home on Reed. It was a great place to grow up. Dad was a deacon and the church treasurer at First Southern Assembly of God. We were at church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. The over-sized garage was for my Dad’s tools, not cars. And it quickly filled up. My parents upgraded from their home-made, plywood camper for a real pick-up camper and we took vacations every summer. You can estimate where we are in our itinerary by the expression on my Father’s face. First resigned, then stoic, and finally—like Trixie headed for the barn—cheerful as the journey turned homeward. One time, we drove straight through from Atlanta to Oklahoma because my Dad couldn’t wait to get home.
In October 1982, my parents finally welcomed Todd Isaac. They’d had the name Todd picked out for years. Isaac was in recognition that he was the child of their relative old-age, 41 and 44. Todd was the light of Dad’s world. We girls weren’t jealous. Finally, Dad could explain to someone who was interested how things worked: how to change a tire, fix a toilet, and the intricacies of Algebra. We knew that Todd was special and the one time Dad was going to spank him, all the girls united to prevent his punishment. Miraculously, he didn’t turn out to be a spoiled brat. All the sports genes skipped the first two kids, but Karen and Todd provided Mom and Dad with the opportunity to finally root for the home team. Dad loved to cheer at Karen’s softball and Todd’s soccer games.
In 1994, Dad had a close call with colon cancer. Mom and Dad delayed building their dream home on the farm while they fought and won the cancer battle. Memorial Day weekend of 1995, a week after Alisa’s and Brad’s wedding, they finally moved back to the farm. Dad loved living on the farm. Once he got a riding lawn mower, mowing the two and half acres around the house was a favorite hobby. In 2002, Dad got his dream barn. All the “treasures” of lifetime eventually found a home in the barn. Dad could find a use for anything, no matter how useless it seemed. Later, when the kids and grandkids would come home for visits, the barn proved to be the ultimate “man-cave.” Not for useless mindless entertainment, but for fixing things: bikes, toys, tools, appliances. Dad could fix anything.
Dad and Mom were there for each of their fourteen grandchildren’s births. Not in the birth room, but taking care of the house, the older grandkids, and especially their kids. But no matter how much our Dad loved us, we knew he really wanted to get home. The day before a trip ended, there was a spring in his step and a lilt in his voice as he said, “I think I’ll go gas up the car to get ready to leave in the morning. We want to get an early start.” Dinner would be a cheerful meal as dad knew the finish line was in sight. On June 13, 2019, Jesus woke Dad up early. “Jim, wake up, it’s time to come home.”
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Henrietta Jean Bayles; four children and their spouses, Shelly Wahl (Tony), Alisa Smith (Bradley), Karen Skoch (Jason), and Todd Bayles (Logan); two brothers, Dr. Jack Bayles and Thomas Bayles; and fourteen grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 1:00-8:00 pm, with the family receiving friends from 5:00-8:00 pm on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at Havenbrook Funeral Home in Norman. Funeral services will be held at 10:00 am on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, at Franklin Baptist Church, 7327 E. Franklin Road, Norman. Interment will follow at Blackburn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation for Cystic Fibrosis research at www.omrf.org.
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF)