PHOTO BY JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
A table of photographs and cards made by schoolmates was on display at the memorial for Solon and Liam Bailey at Spaulding High School on Saturday.
BARRE - It looked like graduation at crowded Spaulding High School on Saturday, and in a spiritual sense perhaps it was. But that would be cold comfort to nearly 800 people who filled the school's gymnasium to remember two Barre Town brothers - Solon Bailey, 12, and William, 10, known to everyone as Liam - who died in a Christmas Day fire that destroyed their grandparents' home in Kentucky.
Barely two weeks after losing both of their young sons in a house fire that they were able to escape, Chris and Deanna Bailey publicly reflected on the tragedy that has rocked them and forever altered their family.
"We love the boys. We want them back. This sucks," Chris Bailey said matter-of-factly, explaining that those were the thoughts that popped into his head when he was first confronted with the daunting prospect of speaking at his sons' memorial service.
After consulting with his wife, Bailey said, he decided to run with it.
"We knew that Solon and Liam would appreciate the brevity and the near-profanity," he said, displaying a touch of the sense of humor that both boys were said to have inherited.
As part of a ceremony that lasted nearly two hours, Bailey expressed his personal gratitude for the countless people who have rallied around his family in ways too many to mention.
"It's been a wonderfully overwhelming outpouring of support and it's made this nightmare easier to bear," he said. "We thank you."
Her cracking voice barely audible at first, Deanna Bailey echoed the sentiments expressed moments earlier by her husband.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you very much for wrapping your arms around us in these difficult days."
Though she was attending her second memorial service for the boys - the first was held late last month in Kentucky - Deanna Bailey said the family is still traumatized.
"This entire tragedy feels remarkably unfair, and it's difficult for us to understand," she said. "Perhaps this terrible fate was meant to be, but it seems incomprehensible to all of us who cared for and loved Solon and Liam."
Deanna Bailey said "joy, sensitivity, passion, exuberance, energy, spunk and warmth" were among the words that came to mind when reflecting on the lives of her sons.
"We will forever cherish the memories we made with them throughout their short time with us, and we will always hold the boys close to our hearts as we move through life," she vowed.
"We take heart in the fact that Solon and Liam led such amazingly full lives," she added. "They committed themselves wholeheartedly to their passion and they lived each day as if it were important."
That much was evident based on observations from a parade of speakers that included family members and friends.
These weren't your average boys, according to those who knew them best.
"In some instances it might seem presumptuous to refer to boys 10 and 12 as 'renaissance lads,' but in this case they truly were," said Jonathan Yarnell, of Shelburne, the boys' step-grandfather.
"Their tastes ranged from SpongeBob SquarePants to literary classics. Their achievements ranged from scaling New Hampshire's Presidential mountains to a celebration of academic excellence," he added.
Irving Bailey II and his wife, Cathy, were among the out-of-state relatives who attended the service. It was their home that burned while the boys and their parents visited for the holidays. Authorities have not determined the cause of the fire and may never, according to family friend and spokesman Scott Jennings.
Irving Bailey credited Chris and Deanna Bailey for raising such remarkable children.
"'My boys were the product of parents who gave them morals and values, demanded excellence, and at the same time allowed them to be boys and follow their own paths," he said.
"What a world it would be if all parents were like Chris and Deanna," he added.
Others who spoke during the ceremony included one of Solon's best friends, Eric Tucker, Tucker's father, Jeffrey, and Michelle Bailey Thomas - who said she'll sorely miss her nephews.
"They had so much fun together," she said. "I will forever treasure their smiles and our time together."
Though the service started at 1 p.m., most of the 600 seats were filled by 12:30 when mourners - including several members of two local Boy Scout troops - started filling the bleachers as well. Solon Bailey was a member of Troop 714.
The ceremony was co-officiated by the Rev. Carl Hilton VanOsdall, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Barre, and the Rev. Tim Sargent, pastor of the East Barre Congregational Church. It featured a slide show of photographs of the boys. Several musical pieces - including one composed by Solon Bailey - were performed.
Immediately after the ceremony there was a reception in the other half of the gym, where photographs of Solon and Liam and a collection of arts and crafts condolences produced by classmates at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School were on display.
Some students, like Keegan Ferry and Colin Aylward, used modeling clay to create a testament to the Bailey brothers, while others, like Zachary Bullock, used poster board.
"You're a great friend Liam. I'll miss you very much," Bullock wrote.
A card produced by Kayla Crowningshield spoke for an entire community.
"We all miss Liam and Solon very much and wish they could come back," she wrote.
VanOsdall acknowledged as much at the outset of the service.
"This is the last place we want to be and the last thing we want to be doing," he said. "No one here wants to be remembering the two short lives of the much-loved boys, Liam and Solon Bailey. We want them to be here with us so we can touch their hands, so we can watch their smiles and so we can hear their laugh."
However, VanOsdall said Saturday's ceremony served an important function.
"This is the place that we most need to be," he said. "Remembering the much-loved boys, celebrating their spirited lives, grieving their passing and entrusting them into God's eternal care."
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