Hundreds celebrate teen who fell somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Gerri Fellows, Cody's mother, is comforted by longtime friend Teresa Bell (center) while Dennis Fellows tells stories about their only child. In Cody's brief time on earth, Dennis said, 'he did quite a bit of living.'Nearly 300 people made their way to Cody Fellows’ church Saturday afternoon to celebrate the life of the Forest Grove High School senior, who died suddenly March 4 of cardiomyopathy, a long-ticking cardiac time bomb that finally went off.

Cody’s church had a dirt floor and hay-bale pews. The hymns were country-music classics. The congregation sported more cowboy hats and FFA jackets than ties and suits, and included a restless border collie and a lonely horse with an empty saddle.

Light filtered in not through color-stained glass, but through dirt-stained plastic siding and several wide-open doors, illuminating the arched, high-roofed riding arena Cody’s father built for his rodeo-loving son at their Fern Hill Road home.

The service included a few profanities and no prayers, other than silent ones sent heavenward by tearful friends or the sentiments of the country songs specially chosen by Cody’s parents because the lyrics remind them of their beloved only child.

Sunny days seem to hurt the most.

I wear the pain like a heavy coat.

I feel you everywhere I go.

I see your smile, I see your face,

I hear you laughin’ in the rain.

I still can’t believe you’re gone.

It ain’t fair: you died too young,

Like the story that had just begun,

But death tore the pages all away.

God knows how I miss you,

All the hell that I’ve been through,

Just knowin’ no one could take your place.

An’ sometimes I wonder,

Who you’d be today.”

Kenny Chesney’s “Who You’d Be Today” was one of several songs introduced by Dennis Fellows, Cody’s father, as he sat with his wife, Gerri, at the front of the arena and thanked everyone for coming.

“It’s been overwhelming the last week and a half. A lot of people stopped living their life just to be with us,” said Dennis, who proceeded to share a wealth of stories, starting with his son’s birth.

Dennis was there for the birth, but was participating in an out-of-state rodeo soon afterward, when doctors discovered Cody’s heart problem. Dennis dropped everything and rushed to the hospital as soon as he heard.

“I demanded to see him,” Dennis recalled. “The doctor looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got to knock the cow shit off your boots.’”

Another time, a strange noise awakened Cody’s parents in the middle of the night and drew them to the kitchen, where the 3-year-old had pulled out a couple of drawers to make a “ladder,” climbed onto the counter, crawled to the microwave and used it to climb onto the top of the refrigerator. There Cody sat, eating a package of Oreos.

That tale seemed to capture Cody’s spirit, “somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace,” according to a Big and Rich song his parents NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - In a moving cowboy tradition known as 'the last ride,' Dennis Fellows, on Rascal, leads his son's riderless horse, Iggy, through and out of the riding arena where hundreds of friends and family gathered to say goodbye to the youth they can still barely believe is gone.

Messages scribbled on a giant banner brought to the celebration from the high school reflected that sentiment:

“When I was always late you’d sneak out of class to open the back doors for me. Without you helping me with my math work I would have never passed!”

“Cody, you were the first kid I met to cuss a teacher out.”

“Hope you have all the chew and Mt. Dew you want up there.”

“Fellows is ‘Murica.”

“Thanks for helping me with my goat.”

“I will never forget our parties on the bus.”

“Hope you have fun up there tearin up heaven in that Duramax.”

“You were always so kind to me.”

Marisa Bell, a freshman at FGHS, said students are slowly recovering from the shock of Cody’s death. “For the first two days it was really sad,” she said. “You could see people crying in the hallways.”

It helped when someone put an “R.I.P. Cody” sign on his locker, said Bell, whose family has close ties to Cody’s.

Dennis Fellows acknowledged his son sometimes struggled in school, bringing home a 1.7 grade point average one semester. But he brought up his grades when necessary. And he was such a hard worker around the farm, his father rewarded him with his own pickup when he was a high school freshman.

He spent the next three years taking it apart and putting it back together, added Dennis.

Sometimes the farm work didn’t go quite as planned. After the ceremony, neighbor Hally Haworth privately recalled driving past the Fellows home one day when he spotted Cody running wildly after a tractor, which had apparently rolled down the hill from their home, across Fern Hill Road, through the fence on the other side and into a field.

“He was running after it, trying to jump on it and stop it,” Haworth said.

Cody’s cowboy heart shone through the ceremony, from the FFA paraphernalia arranged around the arena to songs such as Chris Ledoux’s “The Ride.”

Well I know some day farther down the road

I’ll come to the edge of the great unknown

There’ll stand a black horse riderless

And I’ll wonder if I’m ready for this

So I’ll saddle him up and he’ll switch his tail

And I’ll tip my hat and bid farewell

And lift my song into the air

That I learned at that dusty fair:

Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high

Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky

And live like you ain’t afraid to die

And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride.

Teresa Bell, who helped organize and manage the celebration, said Cody’s ashes are contained in a Pendleton whiskey bottle, a reflection of Pendleton’s rodeo associations and of a close rodeo friend who represents the company.

Saturday’s ceremony closed with a cowboy tradition known as “the last ride,” featuring Dennis on horseback, leading Cody’s riderless horse, Iggy, past the hundreds of onlookers to the front of the arena and then down, out of sight, to the stables below, while a George Strait song followed them:

And my heart is sinking like a setting sun,

Setting on the things I wish I’d done.

Oh, the last goodbye’s the hardest one to say,

And this is where the cowboy rides away.

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