Scotty Thomas and Brandon Helms sat down last week at a local tattoo shop to get matching tattoos of a cowboy hat resting on a pair of boots with music notes floating beside them.
It's a permanent reminder of the loss of Jesse Wayne Blackwelder, an 18-year-old from Harrisburg who died recently after a car accident in Myrtle Beach.
"I don't want to ever stop thinking about him," said Thomas, Blackwelder's uncle. "There's a hole the size of Midland in everybody's heart right now."
Blackwelder went to Myrtle Beach to watch a friend's cheerleading competition. He was a passenger in a car with three other Cabarrus teens March 27; their families say the driver ran a stop sign and hit another vehicle. Blackwelder wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the car.
After surgeries, Blackwelder's condition improved, but he began to experience brain swelling. He died April 3.
Blackwelder's family has established a fund to help pay for medical bills and funeral costs and will also host a barbecue fundraiser April 24.
Blackwelder will be remembered by those who love him.
He'll be remembered as a protective big brother. He'll be remembered for wearing a white cowboy hat his girlfriend gave him for his 18th birthday in January. He'll be remembered as an avid bow fisher and hunter who loved to farm.
His grandmother Brenda Norris of Harrisburg will remember his eyes.
"Blue as the sky," she said.
Nearly everyone who knew him remembers him as a big-hearted boy who was always willing to help family and friends.
"I can't even look at the fence," Thomas said, nodding in the direction of a fence at his Midland home that Blackwelder put up when Thomas was recovering from open heart surgery.
More than 1,200 people had joined a Facebook page for Blackwelder by the time of his viewing and funeral, which hundreds of people attended last week.
Blackwelder went to Jay M. Robinson High School but transferred to Hickory Ridge High School after the county adjusted district lines for the new school. He would have graduated this year, but he quit when he was about 16, family members said.
He was bored with school, Thomas said, and he dreamed of becoming a country music singer. He wanted to go to Tennessee and perform at karaoke joints "just to see what happened," Thomas said.
Blackwelder and his friends were regulars at karaoke nights at local restaurants. Sometimes he tried to get his mother to sing, too.
"I told him I'm not singing," said his mother, Cari Lambert of Concord. "I said we'd sing in the car. That's it."
Helms, 25, said he and Blackwelder had been friends for about 13 years. He laughed as he told stories of their antics together, including the time he and Blackwelder decided to put Christmas lights on a house at 3 a.m. When they finished hours later, they flipped the switch only to find that the lights didn't work.
"He went through them one by one until he got them working," Helms said, shaking his head.
Blackwelder's aunt Trina Thomas said her nephew always got people smiling.
"We had him too short of a time, but we have some amazing memories of Jesse," she said.
She laughed as she described watching Blackwelder from a hotel balcony during a beach trip. He was walking by the pool, and then he disappeared. He had flipped over a lounge chair as he turned back to look at some girls in a hot tub, she said. She recalled the grin on his face.
"I know he's my sister's son, and he was technically only my nephew, but to me, he was my child," she said. "He belonged to all of us."