A Centenarian—Most of the Time

headstone-312540_640I don’t remember ever coming across the ubiquitous Rayburn Stoddard’s name until five years ago last April, but a lot has happened to him since. Although as far as I know I have never met the man, I would certainly like to and have read or heard about him at intervals during the last half-decade in various cities I have visited on business, and now I feel familiar enough with him to call him by his Christian name. Rayburn has witnessed the cavalcade of American history, and in fact, as you’ll see, has been an active and significant part of it. The following is a record of what I currently know about the man. I’m hoping you can add to it.

I have made every effort to assemble as much pertinent information as I am aware of about this extraordinary man and to paint as complete picture of him as I am able. Although I have tried to eliminate any information of a dubious nature, unfortunately I cannot vouch for the veracity of my sources, their being newspaper features and television broadcasts which as you know tend to have a rather cavalier attitude toward factual truth and accuracy and are prone to pilfering stories from one another and then trying to top each other by puffing them up with embellishments so they have a more sensational ring to them. On average, a Rayburn Stoddard story in itself can be counted on to boost ratings or readership by four per cent.

Early that stormy spring evening five years ago, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport browsing through the Chicago Tribune when I saw the following obituary:

Rayburn Stoddard–died peacefully in his sleep in his home in Skokie at the young age of 104. In perfect health at his untimely demise, Mr. Stoddard was seen racing a half block in just three and a half hours the day before on his way to a 7-Eleven for a pack of cigarettes. A bugle prodigy, Mr. Stoddard played that instrument at the inauguration of Warren G. Harding at the age of ten. He fought in many battles and distinguished himself as a tank commander under George S. Patton in World War II and found great enjoyment listening to Jack Benny on the radio some years ago. An amateur historian of note, Mr. Stoddard was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for what is universally considered the definitive biography of George Armstrong Custer called Wake Me Up In Time For The Attack. He is the same man who last winter at a youthful 103 was sighted in his yard tossing a snowball at his shadow.

Why this obituary struck me as remarkable I don’t know. But I had a hunch there was more to this story than meets the eye so I tore the clipping out, put it in my wallet, and boarded a flight to St. Louis. It seemed odd to me at the time that the following day as described in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rayburn–now a resident of Missouri–was alive again and had aged three years overnight.

 OLD MAN LAUGHS IT UP

Prize winning author Rayburn Stoddard, formerly of Skokie, Illinois, now a resident of University City in perfect health, celebrated his 107th birthday last night at a party given for him at the Improvisational Comedy Club in downtown St. Louis where he played “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” on the bugle and had an audience of well-wishers in stitches with his hilarious “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine. Asked to what he attributed his longevity, he replied, “I like throwing snowballs a lot.” Mr. Stoddard fought in many famous WW I battles, and was present at the swearing in of President William McKinley. He fancied listening to The Shadow, a popular radio show some years ago.

Being an experienced business traveler who reads as many newspapers as menus, I was certainly not surprised by the obvious discrepancies between the two reports, although it seemed apparent to me that the man was either alive or dead, and was probably not 104 and 107 both.

In the days to follow those news features would ring a bell, for some months later while lying in bed in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio I watched a human interest story on the ten o’clock news about this same Rayburn Stoddard–although his name was given as Stoddard Rayburn. He was still alive, but was now a long-time resident of Dayton. More youthful now at 99, he was in robust health, vividly recalled attending the inaugurations of Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, and Herbert Hoover, had helped out his Dayton buddies the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, was a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and a literary prize, had commanded General George S. Patton in World War II, and spent countless hours running down streets, practicing his bugle, and tossing snowballs. For years he had worked with his friend Jack Benny on the radio and in vaudeville, and was the originator of the role of Lamont Cranston on The Shadow, a popular radio show some years ago, but now held a job at a 7-Eleven where he sold cigarettes.

Business was going well, and frankly, although my curiosity about Rayburn had been piqued, I was too busy to have much time for the media. I temporarily lost track of the man, but could only assume that he was alive and well in twenty-five or thirty other cities my travels would eventually take me to, and that as he approached 110 or 120 or stayed in his nineties or went back to his seventies or eighties I would have the great pleasure of coming across him again, unless, that is, he had passed from this earth again–and it turns out he had–at least temporarily.

I was on the west coast to attend a Laugh-A-Minute-Funny-Business-Sales-Seminar when I saw a feature on the morning Los Angeles news that caught my attention. It began, “Legendary movie producer, historian, musician, aviator, and former vaudevillian Rayburn Stoddard, one-time resident of Dayton, Ohio, died in Hollywood yesterday afternoon at the young age of one hundred and thirteen, and the film industry is in deep mourning. His companion, super-model Cinderella Baudelaire, was at his bedside.” It continued, “This close adviser to many presidents, and the producer of such gems as Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, and Zombies on Broadway was in perfect health at the time of his untimely passing.” The report was quite complete, referring to Rayburn’s renown as a snowball marksman, his having been present at the Little Big Horn with General George Armstrong Custer where he had died valiantly fighting off the Indians with his bugle, his other past deaths, and his famous, “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine that he had performed for President Chester A. Arthur and all the crowned heads of Europe.

I was not saddened by the report since I had the feeling Rayburn would spring to life again in the foreseeable future. I was not, however, prepared for his next death which occurred in Virginia approximately a year later and was reported in all the major news services:

 WITNESS TO HISTORY LAID TO REST

Died peacefully in his home in Williamsburg, Virginia on Tuesday last, a youthful 427, Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Stoddard Rayburn (nee Rayburn Stoddard), the lone survivor of the Mayflower crossing. Dr. Rayburn was in perfect health at the time of his unfortunate demise. His mind, a rich storehouse of historical reminiscences, was sharp and clear to the end. After serving as governor of the Bay Colony, Dr. Rayburn next appeared as a delegate to the Continental Congress. As a personal favor to his boyhood chum, Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Rayburn provided leadership to the Lewis and Clark westward expedition. He was particularly handy with the tomahawk, which he invented, and taught that skill along with playing the bugle to the plains Indians. It was while on the Missouri River–which he nicknamed “Big Mo”–that Rayburn developed his side-splitting, “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine that was a particular favorite of the Shoshone tribe. Following a stint as a Civil War cavalry major with his West Point roommate George Armstrong Custer,  Rayburn passed away at The Little Big Horn and then emigrated to New York City with his literary mentor Mark Twain at the turn of the twentieth century where he invented the movie projector, refined his proficiency with snowballs, authored the Encyclopedia Britannica, teamed with W.C. Fields in vaudeville’s Ziegfeld Follies, and like millions before and since disappeared into oblivion. When it was pointed out to him that he had lived a remarkably long life, Dr. Rayburn replied, “Methuselah was older.”

I was surprised that Rayburn had aged from 113 to 427 in a matter of months, and at first had doubts that such a feat was possible. 427 years old! How could a person possibly live to 427? But then it struck me that he would have to have been approximately 400 or he could not have arrived on the Mayflower, so I concluded that here was one newspaper report that was accurate.

Months of hard work passed and I lost track of Rayburn. Then while stopping for a cup of coffee at a diner in Cambridge, Massachusetts I saw in a Boston Globe article entitled “Celebrated Patriot Returns,” that this “well-traveled former super model, famed movie producer, historian, comedian, airplane pilot, and one-time resident of Skokie, Illinois, University City, Missouri, Dayton, Ohio, Beverly Hills, California, and the Bay Colony” had sprung to life again. He was in perfect health, this existence residing in a boarding house in East Patchogue, New York, but had been in town the day before to commemorate the Boston Tea Party which he had engineered and led. He was now a robust and more reasonable 275, having decreased in age by 150 years since his untimely Jamestown death. At the Boston commemorative ceremony he reportedly talked about his experiences with drunken plumbers and sang “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” with the Righteous Brothers. He carried a tomahawk for the event and was dressed in the authentic Indian garb which he had worn in the raid of the colonists on the British tea ship, and which had hung in his closet in mothballs for more than two centuries.

The last I heard of Rayburn was a feature on Topeka, Kansas TV where it was stated that “a young 122 and in perfect health, this founder of the 7-Eleven convenience store empire” had left this life in a suburb of Kansas City, where he had long resided after relocating there from Skokie, Illinois where he worked as a plumber. He had also passed away three months earlier in Waco, Texas at a youthful 97 while in perfect health and on location producing a documentary film about the Lewis and Clark westward expedition. But judging from his history I am confident that Rayburn has not left this life permanently and irrevocably, but will reappear between the ages of 90 and 500 in some American city in the near future. All that we can say for certain is that we have seen the last of Mr. Rayburn Stoddard–Stoddard Rayburn–until he turns up again.

If you or a family member or acquaintance have news of other lives and deaths of this elusive man I would appreciate you contacting me care of this blog. I’m hopeful that in that way, working together, with contributors from across the globe, eventually we will be able to piece together a satisfying and complete biography of the man. I am particularly interested in learning about Rayburn’s first nine years on earth, about which at present I know zilch. And frankly I have my doubts that throwing snowballs increases longevity, although that’s what the man said. And who should know better than Rayburn?

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Humor

6 responses to “A Centenarian—Most of the Time

  1. Roslyn Kushner

    i certainly enjoyed this humorous blog entry!

    Like

  2. Rayburn Stoddard

    Luckily, I decided late in life, 68, to start a writing career. Otherwise, I would not have seen your blog which mentions my grandson Rayburn Stoddard. He is now 10 years old, born in 2004 to my daughter Laura Victoria Albert and my sun-in-law James Stoddard, both authors. Possibly you know him or her. Both have very overactive imaginations.

    Rayburn, although only 10, is a gifted historian. None of us can figure out how he knows what he knows, other than possibly this is not his first life. Who knows, maybe re-incarnation is possible!

    Rayburn, has spent hours on his iPad perusing the Internet since the age of 5 when he could read well beyond his years. He is now, officially, in high school preparing for college which will be funded by multiple scholarships, not the least of which is an baseball scholarship. Rayburn can pitch at speeds over 90 mph with incredible accuracy. He practices by destroying his friends shadows as they run hither, tither, and yon, during sunny winter afternoons in our home town of Watertown, NY. You would not believe what happens to a shadow when hit by one of his ice ball pitches. My wife is crossing her fingures that he ends up pitching for Boston someday. But, much will happen before that, if ever.

    As I said before, he is officially in high school and pitches for the Watertown High School Cyclones. Matt Covey, his coach, says he has never seen anything like it. “When Ray is on, none of the opposing team is on base!”

    Ray’s knowledge of WWII is incredible, especially with regards to General Patton. He is comfortable talking about the Wright Brothers and singing like the third Righteous Brother!

    His accomplishments are just to far advanced for 10 year old.
    As you might expect, we are trying to protect his formative years by controlling his access to the media and others. Nothing can ruin a growing child than to be famous too soon! I’m sure you agree. In fact, the only reason I’m contacting you is that your connection to stories about Rayburn have peaked my interest. There are enough events in common with the obituaries you have documented and Rayburn’s knowledge that you are a major resource for understanding my grandson’s background. Once we develop an understanding, maybe we can publish his story. I can only hope that readers of your blog will respect Rayburn’s privacy.

    So, if you wish to interview him, please forward questions to me, raalbert1945@gmail.com or on your blog. I’ll pose the questions to Rayburn and return his comments to you. You can then post them on you blog if you wish using the exact text I return to you.

    By the way, anyone who attempts to contact officials in Watertown, NY will come up dry. I have used a fictitious home town for Rayburn to protect him from unwanted and premature attention.

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    • davidjrogersftw

      Dear Sir,
      I’m elated to hear from you and to learn that I am not alone in my search for the complete story of Rayburn Stoddard, hero of the Little Big Horn, and author of the Encyclopedia Britannica. You’ve discovered a new perspective in his saga–his ability to regress in age many years, something that I find very impressive. It’s a compliment to you, his grandfather. I do have certain questions I would like to ask the lad, particularly what size shoe he wears and if tossing snowballs at various shadows in fact helped him develop his fastball. Keep me posted on the boy’s development and memories of past lives that a blog reader, perhaps in a foreign country, might be interested in, even without being familiar with American History.

      Like

      • Rayburn, my grandson, spent yesterday with my while his parents attended a writer’s conference nearby. I was able to chat with him while taking copious notes. I’ve condensed the conversation below.

        I asked him because of your query, “Rayburn, what size shoe do you wear?”

        “Gramps, I’m up to a size 10 now. But, my shoe size changes depending on my age, as you might expect. When I was 7 it was smaller, and when I was 400, it was also smaller. The largest it has been was 12 when I was around 250 years old.”

        You can imagine my surprise at this disclosure! But, it was somewhat consistent with the history you have developed thus far. Immediately, I was prompted to continue, “Ray, how can you have been all of those ages? In the past it has been my experience that people increase in age from their date of birth in a straight line function dependent on the number of revolutions of the earth around the sun!”

        Rayburn and I have developed a very close relationship, so he is very candid and honest with me. At least that is my perception, at the moment. He replied, “Well, that is true for the people born on this planet which revolves around the your sun. Your sun is only one of many in this particular universe. “
        “Ray, what are you telling me. Are you an extraterrestrial? If so, I imagine that your parents must know something that they have never shared with me. And, even if you use a different sun to determine your age, how can your age go up and down like a yo-yo?”

        Rayburn, obviously, has experiences well beyond his current age of 10 years. He replied, “I was adopted by you daughter and James (Dad), her husband. At the time of the adoption, I was only a year old based on my physical state. That is the other thing I must explain. You know what the appendix internal organ is, right?”

        “Yes”

        “Well, from where I come from, this organ is not without function as it is for the humans of this planet. It secrets two age controlling hormones. Somatotropin is secreted to increase age and anti-somatotropin is secreted to reduce age. My body has the receptors to react to these secretions and change the age of my tissue. Via a complex thought process, I can control the secretions. Does that make sense?”

        “Yes”, by now I was dumfounded into a state of perpetual agreement with my extra-terrestrial grandson, who was obviously my intellectual superior and his life experiences put him far ahead of my short 68 years! I could only think of one question to ask next, “What planet were you born on and how did you get here?”

        “Gramps, does it matter? My story is somewhat analogous to your world’s very popular Superman’s story. My planet and population are gone. I was the last ditch effort to continue our species. The vehicle that took me here is quite technically beyond anything you have developed here on earth. My first parents were members of the Shoshone tribe. While with the Shoshone’s, I developed sort of a weapon that they could fabricate using their current technology. It became known as a tomahawk. On my planet, before the end, I was taught how to hurl a projectile with incredible speed and accuracy. We practiced by using our friends shadows. This way, we never hurt each other, but were able to realistically attack a target that moved like one of us.”

        After digesting all of this extraordinary information I asked, “Ray, I have some indication that your historical activities have been extensive in this country. Have you also had time to participate at strategic events in other countries?”

        “Yes, I was at the French revolution, moved back and forth during WWII working to overthrow Hitler and his henchmen, did my best to help resolve the Russian revolution, and many others. For example, I worked closely with, Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg, of Sweden, helping to rescue thousands of Jews destined to perish at the hands of Germany’s Hungarian Fascists during the later stages of World War II. My “job”, so to speak, is to help stabilize this world until I can find one of my female friends who was also sent away from our failing planet. All of these things I must do to help insure the perpetuation of my species.”

        OK, now I have a multitude of questions, but feel that I should allow you to digest the information that Rayburn has revealed to me thus far. He should be with me for a week or so and is willing to talk more about himself and his history. I think he may be hoping to reveal, to some of us, his history and mission on earth.

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        • davidjrogersftw

          Thank you for contributing to the saga of Rayburn Stoddard. I have enjoyed reading your writing and the way you got right into the ridiculous mood of the story.

          Like

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