Remembering Rosa Hicks
by Sherrie Norris
Rosa and Ted both played a vital role through the years in the way that life was breathed into the legendary Jack Tales that their beloved Ray told, over and over again, on Old Mountain Road high above Banner Elk -- and beyond.
The elder Hicks was known as the "king of storytelling"; his family, and especially Rosa and Ted, were among his greatest fans and never seemed to mind shuffling into the background when company came to visit and Ray began spinning his yarns.
Ted Hicks inherited his father's love for Jack Tales. He honed his own storytelling skills in Ray's shadow and carried on the tradition until his own death on Jan. 17.
Never far from Ted, Rosa first followed him into the nursing home when their health failed, and then into death just days apart, on Jan. 31. She was buried a few steps from Ray and Ted in the Hicks family cemetery near their home.
The newspaper interviewed the Hicks family on numerous occasions through the years, following their stories through Ray's death and the subsequent illnesses of both Rosa and Ted that led them to a local nursing home where they lived out the remainder of their days.
It's the visit with Rosa, shortly after Ray's death, that stands out most vividly, perhaps, and in the old farmhouse below the road where they spent 55 years together and raised their five children.
Ray might've been gone, Rosa said, but his spirit never left. "He was laid to rest just over the hill," she told a reporter, "but I've heard him call my name. Once in a while, we'll hear a noise or a sound that only Ray himself could have made. Ted will say, 'There's Dad.' I knew he wouldn't give up and leave easy."
Rosa was a petite, soft-spoken woman, who said she never tired of Ray's endless narratives, for which he was internationally known. Rosa loved company, too, but she said she understood that most people came to hear Ray's tales.
Always blending into the background while Ray entertained, Rosa loved gardening, cooking and canning her harvest; she also loved being out-of-doors, especially in the summer while tending her lovely flower gardens.
Rosa was a treasure in her own right, possibly overlooked at times in the midst of the rousing Jack Tales that made her husband a celebrity.
She said the place was "awful lonesome" after Ray died, but Ted's presence helped, and his illness helped keep her mind off missing Ray too much. Ted lived with his parents and had been sick longer than they knew, Rosa said.
"He wouldn't let on, as long as his daddy was a livin'. He didn't want to be a burden to us," she said.
Ted experienced kidney failure and received dialysis treatment from the early days of his diagnosis. Rosa, too, had dealt with leukemia, "a bad heart and some skin cancer," she said, but she didn't give up easily or quickly.
Soon after Ray's death, family and friends made sure Rosa and Ted were not forgotten. Rosa saw her lifelong dream come true when she made her first trip to the ocean. She showed pictures of her wading in the "big water," as she called it, and of writing her name in the sand. The beach "wasn't all that much," she said. "It was the seashells I loved more than anything."
She took her first boat ride and tried oysters, the latter of which she detested. She also said she'd "just as soon go west to see the Indians," rather than return to the beach.
"Ray never cared much about going places like that," she said. "He always said if you went anywhere that you would be just the same when you got back, so why bother going?"
Following Ray's death, storytelling friend Connie-Regan Blake recognized unmet needs at the Hicks' home and gathered community support to make life easier for Rosa and Ted.
Through the local Three Forks Baptist Association and the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, funds were raised and volunteer laborers added a bathroom and a new kitchen "with runnin' water," to the old farmhouse built by Ray's grandfather. It meant the world to them, Rosa said, but it required adjustments.
"There's been times we've headed out to the outhouse without thinking," she said. "Here I am at 74, havin' to learn this stuff."
She was 82 when she died.
The Hicks home had electricity since 1949, although no television, and used only a battery-operated radio for entertainment. A telephone was installed before Ray died, suggested by hospice, to which he reluctantly agreed.
"Ray growled about it, but he let 'em put it in, anyway," Rosa said. "He didn't want anything modern in the house. He said if we had water, it would just freeze up in the winter and be more trouble than it was worth."
Rosa was grateful for the electric cook stove that was brought in, but said she could've done with out it. "It's too complicated and I'm used to my old cook stove, she said." The washer and dryer were helpful, she admitted, but said the monitor heater "doesn't do near the job the old wood stove does in the front room."
Ray wouldn't have liked having modern conveniences in the house, she said. "He was born here in August of '22 and lived here right up to near the time he died. He always thought this kind of stuff was unnecessary and caused people to be lazy," she said. That's why she declined the gift of a dishwasher.
Rosa spent a lot of time in her modern, sunny kitchen, working jigsaw puzzles on the new table, looking out the big window over the panoramic mountain scenery and watching the birds.
Rosa said they never did have many "material things."
"If we had sold off some of the land around here," she said, "there would've been a little money for things like a new room."
But the land had been in the family for generations, and Ray never wanted to part with it. "I don't want to get to heaven one day and have Ray tell me, 'You didn't do what I wanted you to do,'" Rosa said. "I couldn't stand something like that to happen."
She was sincerely grateful to those who helped make her world easier by adding on her new rooms. "The old ways weren't so bad, but now that I've had it easier, it would be hard to do without," she said.
Anyone wishing to help with burial expenses can send checks, made out to the Ray and Rosa Hicks Fund, to Connie Regan-Blake, P.O. Box 2898, Asheville, NC 28802 or to Lenard Hicks, 218 Old Mountain Road, Banner Elk, NC 28607.
Editor's Note: The article's quotes were taken from an original interview which appeared in The Mountain Times on June 23, 2005.