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Local man recounts family ties with Bonnie and Clyde

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OVILLA – Sit back and read a tale of just one of many regarding the remarkable people who make up the Meals-on-Wheels family of Johnson and Ellis Counties.

At the tender age of 12, Ray Cavender ambled out of the woods and into a clearing grinning from ear-to-ear.

It was the early 1930s in Ovilla, Texas, and the farm boy was proud to emerge from the under bush with a veritable feast for his family – two large swamp rabbits that he landed with his shotgun. But from his peripheral vision on a hill to his right he saw a familiar sight to some of his family members in his small community, though no one talked publicly about it.

A Ford V-8 idled from its vantage point as the occupant eyed the boy wielding the weapon.

Ray knew who it was immediately. He put down the rabbits, held out the gun for the driver to see and removed the shell from the gun’s barrel. He held up the shell and then deposited it in his shirt pocket. The car ventured near and the female driver offered salutations to the boy as her passenger slept. "You reckon you and Clyde would like one of these swamp rabbits?" Ray asked.

"Why we sure would appreciate that," the lady answered.

"Let me get it skinned and gutted for you," Ray offered.

"Honey," Bonnie Parker replied. "If Clyde can’t skin it, gut it and take it to the creek and wash it, why he don’t need the rabbit no how."

So is the stuff legends are made of and at 88 years of age, Ray Cavender recalls his boyhood adventures with incredible candor — the days when Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker secreted away from the long arm of the law in the community where Clyde grew up.

Ray’s father Bliss, his Uncle Bob and Uncle Jessie were raised riding horses along side the Barrow family and Clyde was – well, Clyde to the Cavender clan. An outlaw? Yeah. A renegade? The country seemed to think so, but the Cavenders overlooked the obvious. Whenever Uncle Bob said the familiar Ford idling beside his pasture, he would wordlessly walk to the gate, open it and allow the car to enter. He then padded back to the house to inform his wife Johnnie, who whipped up an impromptu meal of red beans, potatoes, cornbread and a gallon of fresh brewed tea with ice. Ray then ferried the undercover sustenance into the barn.

Or aiding and abetting as the term is now known was also accomplished by providing petro at the filling station where Ray worked pumping gas. Ray’s first encounter with the notorious couple took place at his step-father’s filling station in Cedar Hill.

"A little Ford come a wheelin’ in there and sliding on all four wheels and he said, ‘Fill ‘er up, boy. I’m in a hurry – I gotta go,’" Ray recalled. "He said, ‘I’ll be back by in a day or two’ and (Bonnie) was sitting there with that Tommy gun of hers and he lit out of there like the hounds were coming after them."

Sometimes they were able to pay for the gas and sometimes they didn’t have the funds, but they always reimbursed any outstanding balance to the gas station when they came back into town again, Ray explained.

True to his word, Clyde returned a few days later and presented Ray with a 20 dollar bill. Clyde told Ray to "keep the change."

"He said, ‘Put it in your pocket, enjoy it, but keep your nose clean,’" Ray remarked, his eyes sparkling as he remembered the encounter.

"I really do think that a whole lot was blamed on them – that if something would go wrong and they didn’t know who to blame, they’d say, ‘Blame it on Bonnie and Clyde,’" Ray’s wife, Georgia, interjected.

"They seem like just ordinary people," said Ray. "I had nothing against ‘em"

Ray and Georgia Cavender still live in the community where this legend is still alive thanks to their incredible recall. Ray and Georgia are part of the intricate tapestry –rich in color and character – that Meals-on-Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties is proud to serve. Will you help us to continue this tradition and in turn touch the lives of those Meals-on-Wheels’ services including this man and his wife who just celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary?

You can help in a variety of ways. This month Meals-on-Wheels along with other meal programs throughout the country, participate in the "March for Meals" Campaign. This year’s slogan is "So No Senior Goes Hungry." The Campaign has three primary goals: (1) raise awareness of senior hunger, (2) recruit new volunteers to help address the issue, and (3) raise needed funds to be used at the local level. Meals-on-Wheels is promoting the local program through media outlets, "Mayors for Meals", and a special event: "Night Under the Stars" Campaign Kickoff & Celebration.

"Mayors for Meals" is scheduled for March 18 with local mayors, delivering meals in their prospective communities.

The Campaign Kickoff for the new kitchen facility will be held on March 28 at the new site of the kitchen at TXI Railport with a reception and BBQ dinner to follow, live entertainment, dancing, and chances to win prizes. Congressman Joe Barton, the honorary Kitchen Campaign chair, will be the special guest. The Joe Barton Family Foundation has made the lead gift for the building of the kitchen.

"We encourage anyone who would like to help or be involved anyway that you can; whether that be through volunteering, donating, coming to our event, or just telling others about our services," commented Amy Jackson, director of development.

For more information about the Kickoff event, volunteering, or services, please contact the Meals-on-Wheels offices at 817-558-2840, 972-351-9943, or on the web at www.servingthechildrenofyesterday.org. Meals-on-Wheels is a community-based, non-profit organization serving the homebound elderly and disabled residents throughout Johnson and Ellis Counties for 32 years.

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