Billie "Elaine" May, 88, of Wilson, passed away on July 15, 2019.
One of the perks of growing old is the opportunity to
write the things you want said at your own funeral. Elaine
knew that this day would be approaching and so I would first
like to share what she thought her obituary or life sketch
“I was born in Ogden, Utah. We moved around a lot. I didn't
like to hunt or fish.”
I'm sure we would all agree that there might be a few more
sentences needed to celebrate this life of 88 years, 6 months
and 22 days. Elaine would most likely just want us to enjoy
My mom was many things to many people.
She was a daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, and
cousin in a large and loving extended family. She was the
second child out of four, born on December 24, 1930 to Adolph
Leroy Graviet and Myrl Thompson Graviet. Brothers Donnie
and Leon and sister Lois and the large extended families of
Graviets and Thompsons were always around and supportive.
Elaine's best friend, Joyce, was actually an aunt of about the
same age. Family was nearby whether they lived in Utah,
Idaho or California. The Thompson family reunions that they
held each year were legendary for their skits and songs. Mom
loved her family.
And they were dirt poor. My parents would often talk about
who came from the poorest background. Dad would bring up
that all he had to eat for lunch was elk meat wrapped in a
leftover pancake. Mom would always win when she pointed out
that she didn't even have the elk meat for her leftover
pancake. My mom is the only person I've ever known who
lived in a dugout with a dirt floor and a train car.
Elaine was a student.
Smart as a whip, she was able to skip a few grades. She
probably could've skipped a few more if she hadn't spent so
much time sitting in the cloak room for talking too much in
class. Elaine graduated high school in Ogden and started
college. She would've loved to have gone to college longer,
but she sacrificed so that the family could send her brothers to
school. She was so proud of the music degrees that both
Donnie and Leon earned.
She was a voracious reader and somehow always had at least
3 books going at one time. In her later years, Elaine did
crossword and sudoku puzzles to keep her mind sharp.
Elaine was an actor, singer and dancer.
She performed in community musicals in California and here in
Jackson. Her portrayal of “Agnes Gooch” in the musical Mame
was infamous. She played “Aunt Eller” in the summer stock
production of Oklahoma at the Pink Garter Theater. She
auditioned and won a role in a Hollywood film that had some
scenes filmed at the Heart 6 Ranch. This job gave her a
coveted Screen Actors Guild card and even though all of the
Wyoming scenes were cut from the film, she still received
several residual checks for the hefty sum of 2 to 3 dollars. She
loved to dance and told stories of church and community
dances where everyone would dance with each other, no
matter what their age. She was a good dancer. My favorite
memories are of watching my parents dance with each other in
Elaine loved to sing. In high school she sang on the radio with
a quartet. She sang with a Wyoming choral group at Carnegie
Hall. She had a long career as a funeral singer here in Jackson
and sang “In the Garden” at at least a hundred funerals. Mom
promised to return and haunt us if we sang “In the Garden” at
her funeral. Her latest singing gig was singing to entertain
grandkids, and I think it was her favorite.
Elaine was a wife, a single mother, a wife again and a
She married Floyd Baker at the age of 22 and had her “girls”
Michele, Lori and Robin. She found herself in the difficult role
of single mother and for 8 years she supported her girls. She
so loved and appreciated her parents constant support and
help during this time. In 1965, she and the girls came to
Jackson “just for the summer.” The story goes that my parents
met at, what we will call, an establishment that provided
refreshments and dancing. Dad insisted that this pretty
woman needed “saving from a bunch of cowboys.” Local
women thought it a bit scandalous that Dick May, a prime
bachelor was swooped up by an older divorcee with 3 kids.
Some might say that Elaine was a cougar ahead of her time.
They married on October 16th and a year later in September,
my brother Dean was born. I finally showed up 4 years later.
It is already very clear that Elaine was a hard worker.
Her complexion today proves that she picked potatoes out in
the fields when she was young. She worked in offices, a
jewelry store and a diner where she thought she would run the
cash register on her first day and ended up manning the
counter, with no experience, when a busload of hungry
customers came in. In California, she was a key punch
operator at Aero-Jet at a time when a single computer would
fill up a large room. Later, she enjoyed working at her friend's
upholstery shop in Wilson. After winters spent in a small travel
trailer with kids following road construction jobs, she and Dad
started a welding shop in their garage and eked out a living
until it became a success. Mom was never afraid of hard work
and missed it as her health declined.
Elaine was a good cook.
She was famous for her pies. She could feed a crowd at the
drop of a hat. She made amazing bread and cinnamon rolls.
Little known fact...she was the world's worst baker of
brownies. Many times we pleaded “Mom, please don't make
Elaine was a swimmer.
She had always been afraid of swimming and decided as an
adult to do something about it. She learned to love swimming
and became a Red Cross certified swim instructor. In the mid
90's, my parents served as advisers to a young adult church
group. One summer night, while recreating at String Lake, a
young woman mentioned that my mom was too old to jump
off of the big rock in the middle of the lake. Mom got a certain
look in her eye. Dad panicked. Fully clothed and with no dry
clothes or a towel as back up, she jumped off the rock. Did I
mention that mom was not one to be told what she could or
could not do? Swimming was something that she really missed
when she got so sick and had to be on oxygen full time.
Elaine was a fashion icon.
She was a lover of shoes and spread the message of “If the
shoe fits, buy it in every color.” She was the Imelda Marcos of
Wilson, Wyoming. Mom always dressed well and knew how to
shop a sale or score at a thrift shop or garage sale. One winter
night, she was wearing a new robe and standing on the hearth
in front of the fireplace. When her robe caught on fire, Dad's
first response was “how much did that cost?”... and then he
put out the fire. Mom also like to sew and was a wise enough
woman to understand that buying fabric and using it were two
Elaine was a traveler.
She would always be the first one in the car when a trip was in
the works. One time, when she and her girls lived in California
next door to her parents, everyone in the family got sick. They
were so sick that they decided that they might as well pile into
the VW bug and drive to Santa Cruz and be sick there. One
summer, mom and her sister found a Greyhound bus
promotion of “99 days for 99 dollars” and headed back East to
see if they could find jobs and housing to give their respective
kids a new experience. They soon found out that, of course,
the promotion included some fine print and Mom and Lois had
to haggle at every bus depot to get on the next bus to where
they wanted to go. I need to mention that they traveled with
several large pieces of luggage, pillows, blankets and a full
size hair dryer (You know, the old kind that went over your
entire head.) Eventually, they found that if one sister could
distract the bus driver, the other could load all of their gear
and then the driver would rather let them ride the bus than
have to remove them and all of their stuff. It was a trip that
should be made into a movie.
Later in life, when Mom finally convinced Dad that the world
would continue to revolve, even if they went on vacation, my
parents traveled to exotic destinations like Russia, Iceland, a
good portion of Europe, South America, Antarctica, South
Africa, New Zealand and Australia. They loved it. They also
loved a simple weekend of driving through some small town
and discussing just exactly what the residents did to survive
there. No matter where they went, I think they just really
enjoyed being together.
Elaine was a friend.
Mom was a great listener. She was loyal, trustworthy and a lot
of fun to be around. She and her friends, like Carolyn Mellor
and Ondrea McKee, just to name a few, would laugh and cry
together and buy enormous quantities of whatever was on
sale. One outing to Utah ended with more than 2 dozen full
size pillows being purchased and somehow stuffed into their
Mom made friends everywhere and especially loved coming to
church and hugging and visiting with everyone, no matter how
long it took to hug and visit everyone. One Sunday, Dad had
finally reached his breaking point and drove us kids home,
leaving Mom to fend for herself. She was not amused; but had
an easy time finding a ride simply because she had so many
friends. But her best friend was definitely her husband.
Elaine was a grandmother.
I think this is the role that she loved most. She had 17
grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. And she loved each
and every one of them. She liked to tell the story about when
she and Dad first babysat Michele's oldest daughter, Heather,
for a weekend. The baby showed up with a two page-detailed
instruction manual on how to take care of this particular baby.
Mom and Dad had a good laugh and tossed out the
instructions. Mom enjoyed any time that she was able to be
with her grand kids. Dean and I were especially blessed to
have had our kids be around their grandma full time.
And finally, Elaine was a child of God.
Mom knew who she was, where she came from and where she
was going. She lived a life that had joys and disappointments,
deep love and great heartaches. But she always knew that she
had the love of her Heavenly Father and the Gospel of Jesus
Christ to sustain her. Just like the rest of us, she wasn't
perfect. She was stubborn and she had a temper. But she
wasn't afraid to admit when she was wrong and ask for
forgiveness. She forgave others quickly and freely. She loved
giving service to those around her.
I know that my mom is so happy to be reunited with her loved
ones that have been patiently waiting for her to pass through
the veil and leave the suffering of years of sickness behind
her. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband Dick
May, brother Leon Graviet, grandson Christopher Standage,
granddaughters Joslin Aldrich and Serafina Byington. I know
that she is with her best friend and husband. She was many
things to many people and I'm thankful that she was my mom
and my friend.
Visitation will be on July 20, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. at the Jackson Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Her funeral will follow the visitation at 11:00 a.m. A full obituary will be published at a later date.