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Letters to Mildred
Illustrated by Bobby Ray Hall
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA 15238
The contents of this work including, but not limited to, the accuracy of events, people, and places depicted; opinions expressed; permission to use previously published materials included; and any advice given or actions advocated are solely the responsibility of the author, who assumes all liability for said work and indemnifies the publisher against any claims stemming from publication of the work.
This book was based on a true story
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2017 by Sandra Eason
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, downloaded, distributed, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, including photocopying and recording, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without permission in writing from the publisher.
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To my mother, who taught me well and raised me right. I want to dedicate this novel to Dylan, Caleb, and Macy.
First of all, I thank God for all His blessings and for allowing me to write this book. Thanks also to my family and friends who have helped me and supported me along the way, and especially my close friend and author, Carol Watson, who put me on the right path with this novel. I also want to thank my Pastor, Danny Dillard, for teaching me and giving me so much insight. I appreciate each and every one of you!
I wish Mildred could talk. She scares me when she looks at me the way she does sometimes. She has love in her eyes and a calm look on her face, some of the time, and at other times, she looks like she gets possessed by the devil! Her eyes just glare! At those times, she actually growls like an animal and then, she will laugh like she’s crazy; maybe she is. She communicated to me one time that she lost her hearing when she was on a phone call during a storm and lightning came through the phone and deafened her. All the staff at the Lutheran Home said that I was the only one that she would let come close to her. I only stay with her four hours a day. That’s enough time for her to get a bath, go to the chapel, go to the beauty salon on the designated days and eat lunch. While we’re in the cafeteria, and after I have her all set up for her meal, I usually check to see if someone else in there also needs my help. Mildred stares at my every move. She watches me help everyone. I have to make sure I don’t take too much attention away from Mildred because I can see the reaction in her eyes. I’m also listening to all of their conversations going on while they’re eating. Most of the residence doesn’t even think they’re in a nursing home. They are making remarks to each other like, “It’s so hard to get good help these days.” They actually believe they’re back home in their mansions surrounded by their maids. You do have to be quite wealthy to stay in this place. I listen and realize what a different life I have. I also realize I didn’t want to be like that either. I am completely happy to go home to my simple little life with my little girl. Miranda is ten years old and she would still be in school when I get home. That’s one reason I like this job so much. It is so flexible. Plus, it pays well.
I had decided to wait until my kids were all in school until I finished my education and then I’d pursue my career. My two sons, Scott, and Robert are grown and married now, but I started college when Miranda started kindergarten and the boys were in middle and high school. It was a challenge too! I was on welfare and determined to get off and make my own way. I had to do volunteer work in exchange for my program for college. It was a struggle going to two different football games at different times and picking up three different kids at different hours. I began having migraines with such a heavy schedule and taking so many classes of accounting, so I changed my major from computer programming to general office procedures. After graduating with an associate degree in science, I realized there was no money to be made sitting behind a desk and it really wasn’t what I wanted to do anyway. I learned through a friend of mind that the community college was offering a one month course for nurse assistants if I could just get the money up for the class. As it turned out, I did get the money for the class. During all this education, we moved into three different houses. They were all in the same county. By this time, Scott had moved to another town with his dad and Robert had graduated. I earned my certified nurse assistant license in that rushed course and lucked out on a very high paying job for that time and area. I was paid over double of what I made in an office. This home health agency sent me all over the county to go in and take vital signs, help the patient with a bath, help with a little personal care and just some tender love and care. That was what I was best at, the tender love and care. I always got too attached and it was sad to lose a patient. I was only supposed to spend an hour with my clients, but I found myself spending more and more time with each one. Then, I decided to move to a town east of us so that I would be close to my family. Luckily, the home health agency I worked for had a sister agency in that town also and they were looking forward to having me work for them. They had already heard of me. In our company, we had caregivers of the month, and I had been elected before. It didn’t take long to find a house that Miranda and I both loved and I could afford. So, we moved and got settled in and started our life in our new town, just the two of us. Miranda started school in the neighborhood and had a best friend that was very funny and cute. Her friend had a head full of red hair and an imagination that was very vivid. I made my own schedule for work so that I would be home with Miranda. This is where I lived when I met my third husband, Rob.
My first husband is the father of all my children and we were married for ten years. He was my true love and only real love. My second husband, Todd, was a very good man and we had a good marriage, but it was more of a friendship. He was impotent and we didn’t have a sex life, but we remained together for eight years and parted as friends. I met Rob at the hospital where he worked and he just swept me off my feet. I had been needing romance for a long time and when he started singing “There She Is, Miss America” to me in the elevator in front of everyone, I guess that’s all it took to lure me in. Not to mention the fact that he was head of the Respiratory Department. I was really more infatuated than anything. After a few short months, I married Rob. We really came from different sides of the track. He came from a Brady Bunch type of family where they tell Christmas stories on Christmas Eve and have gatherings and stuff like that. I came from a shack on a little road down by a railroad track with an outhouse out back. We didn’t even have a Christmas tree. Anyway, I married him. I remembered Miranda asking him if she could call him daddy after we were married and he told her, “We’ll see.” The look on her face after that… she was only ten years old! I should have known right then it wasn’t going to work out. I learned later that his ex-wife had told him that he better not let my little girl start calling him daddy. He had a little girl also. She was five years old and lived with her mom in Charlotte. They all came from money. Rob had to give her almost all of his paycheck just for one child. It was unbelievable!
Dec. 2, 92
My dear Mildred,
Here we are in the Chapel—you reading your newspaper, and me pouring my thoughts out on paper. Where do I begin? First of all, I want you to know how much I’ve grown to love you. At first, I was so afraid of you. They told me that you would hit, bite, kick, and spit on me.
I guess those nurses that were lined up outside her door had made bets on how long I’d stay. I’m sure I was only one of a long list before me. Mildred’s rap sheet wasn’t very impressive. She had run off almost every health care worker from every agency. The Lutheran Home was at its wits end and Mildred’s family was very wealthy, so they were still trying to appease the family. Mildred’s son hired me as a private nurse from a home health agency to sit with Mildred. My duties were to provide Mildred with whatever was needed. I was to stay with her four hours a day. The first day was when Mildred always ran everybody off. I was in the small bathroom with her and ready for anything to happen. She could probably feel the tension in my touch. I lathered the washcloth up to begin her bath and started up her arm, when all of a sudden, she screamed to the top of her lungs! I flew back against the wall, both arms stretched wide and started screaming myself even louder than her! Then, she just died laughing. That’s when I got mad! I yelled, “Don’t you ever do that to me again! You scared me to death! Why did you do that?” From that point on, we got along just fine. After that first day, I wasn’t afraid anymore. Not after I saw that glimmer of kindness in her eyes. Sometimes she would still hurt my feelings, but I could live with that.
Now Mildred, I guess I’ll tell you a little about myself. Even though we came from different sides of the track, I believe we have one thing in common—a complete understanding of one another.
Well, we’re in the dining room now, so I won’t have much longer to write. I’ll just stop here today and start page two tomorrow.
Dec. 3, 92
Okay Mildred, let’s begin again. We’re in the chapel and you have your paper. I have my memories and I’ll share them with you. My mother had seven children; three boys and four girls: Richard, Lee, Jean, Sherry, myself, Ray, and Ann the baby, who is twenty-eight now. Sherry is dead now, but I’ll tell you about her later. We were very poor when we were growing up and mother had to raise us mostly by herself. The reason being, my daddy was a drunk. He used to make my oldest sister, Jean, go to bootleggers with him. Then, when I got old enough, he made me go with him. When I was six years old, daddy was sent to prison for trying to molest an adolescent family member. She was about fourteen or fifteen. I remember when Daddy would come home drunk, Mother would take us kids out walking to give him time to go to sleep. It was always late at night. After she started working at the B&B Laundry pressing clothes, she told us that if Daddy ever came home while she was gone, we should leave the house and go somewhere until she came home. I had to do that once. The older ones were grown and married by this time. The only ones home were Sherry, me, Ray, and Ann. Mother and Daddy were separated by then. They divorced later. Sherry was fifteen, I was ten, Ray was six, and Ann was one year old. That’s when Sherry had her first epileptic seizure. She tried to save a little girl from falling into the creek behind our house. Sherry fell onto the road and started having a seizure. No medicines could control Sherry’s seizures and she would have about twenty a day. She would fall down, jerk, slobber, and her eyes would roll back in her head. The principal made her quit school because of the danger of her falling down the stairs. That was bad because she liked school so much and besides the fact that at least at school we had one good meal a day. Since at home we mostly had water gravy, if we had beans for a meal, it was just beans. If it was gravy, it was only gravy. Meat was a rare thing. (I’ll continue tomorrow)
Dec 7, 92
Well, Mildred, where did I stop my last letter? Oh yeah! About going to school and getting one good meal. One morning, when I was ten years old, I wanted to wear a ribbon in my hair. I didn’t have one, so Mother tore me a rag from a ragged sheet. I thought it was so pretty in my hair. I found out something different when I got to school. During recess that morning, I was sitting behind a boy named Mike. He always brought a banana every day. I was glad when it was time for recess because he would finally eat it and I wouldn’t have to smell it and want it any longer. Vicky brought an apple. She was a nurse’s daughter and she had long fingernails. She was also fat, and she was nice, but her friend, Tina, was very mean. Tina brought an orange for recess. Tina and Vicky were standing over the trash can at the door eating their fruit. I was sitting at my desk behind Mike. I didn’t mean to stare, but it was like I was hypnotized as I watched Vicky and Tina share their fruit with each other. I was watching the juice drip from Tina’s orange into the tin garbage can. I can still remember the sound as the juice hit the bottom. I was sitting there imagining that if I could open my mouth under her orange, the juice would not be wasted in the garbage can. At about that time, Tina noticed me staring. She started yelling at me, asking what I was staring at. She knew that I was too shy and too embarrassed to say much back. Then, she made a remark about me wearing a rag in my hair. I thought I would die! When I got home that evening, I took it all out on Mother. I told Mother it was all her fault for giving me the rag to put in my hair. Oh well, enough about that. (We’re in the dining room now, so that means I’ll be leaving in a few minutes), but anyway, during that period of time, Sherry started having those seizures real bad. I had to go with her everywhere she went. Mother told me that if Sherry had a seizure somewhere, that I had better make sure the ambulance didn’t take her because we didn’t have the twenty dollars it took for an ambulance. That was always my worse fear... the ambulance getting there before I could get Sherry out of the seizure and away from the scene. We had to walk everywhere we went. Mother didn’t have a license and we never had a car. One day, Sherry and I had to go to town. Sherry was fifteen and I was ten. I was small for my age and Sherry was quite a bit bigger than me, and when she had a seizure, that was dead weight! We were walking down Third Avenue toward Main Street. We had to go to town for something and Sherry had a seizure and fell off the sidewalk and onto the road. I grabbed Sherry’s arm and pulled and tugged until I finally had her up against the curb. There was a service station to my right. The guys that worked there saw what was happening and asked if there was something they could do. I told them no! That she was Okay—she just fainted. They were satisfied with that and they didn’t call an ambulance. I was so glad. I had to hold onto Sherry as we walked for a while because after a seizure she wasn’t in her right mind. As we got closer to the drug store, I was kind of walking ahead of Sherry. I walked on into the drug store hinking Sherry was following right behind me.
Sorry, I’ve got to go—I’ll continue tomorrow.
Dec. 8, 92
Here we are, in the chapel again and it’s five minutes until 11:00. Boy, Mildred... you sure have been in a bad mood today! I wish I knew what causes these mood swings. But never the less, let’s begin again.
As I was saying yesterday, I thought Sherry was right behind me as we entered Mann Drug Store. But all of a sudden, I heard a loud noise. Then, I saw about one hundred balls rolling on the floor all around me. I knew it was Sherry. I turned around and saw her lying on the floor jerking, saliva running from her mouth, and her eyes rolling back in her head. The people just gathered around and stared. I wanted to hide her... hide her from everyone. The people just didn’t understand. They didn’t know what was going on. They looked at her like she was a freak. I had on a dress that came to about my knees in length. I knelt down by Sherry’s face. Then, I looked around at everyone staring and I looked out at the people that had gathered on the sidewalk. It looked like thousands to me. Then, I lifted my dress and put it over Sherry’s face and head. The girl behind the counter asked if there was something she could do. I told her that I needed a cold wet wash rag. She got me one and I rubbed Sherry’s face with it. Sherry started coming out of the seizure then and I told the girl that she had only fainted—that she’d be alright now. But it was too late. She had already called an ambulance. I had to get Sherry up and out of there before the ambulance got there! We didn’t have the money for her to go in the ambulance and that was my main concern right then. So I got Sherry up and even though she was still not in her right mind, I led her out of the store and down the sidewalk. The ambulance arrived just then. The men ran toward me down the sidewalk. I was so afraid! They asked me if she was the girl who had fainted and I said yes, but she’s alright now. They were satisfied with that and left. What a relief that was! But that’s the way it was when I was little—Sherry having seizures right and left and me having to go everywhere with her. One time when we were at home, Sherry had a seizure and almost got burned very bad.
The Christmas season was always depressing for Katie. She didn’t know why because she couldn’t even remember any of her past Christmases, except for one. That one Christmas was just stuck in her mind forever, maybe to replace all the others. She was ten years old. It seemed like that was when so many things happened. Katie remembered her mother getting a tree from the woods and helping to decorate it with popcorn and paper decorations. She thought it was pretty. She didn’t remember anything being under the tree but they might have wrapped up things they already had to give to one another. One thing Katie did remember very vividly was waking up Christmas morning and opening the front door, and a great big brown box was sitting right in front of her! She couldn’t believe her eyes! She thought, What could it have been? Who could have left it? Katie tried to pick it up, but it was too heavy! She went to get her mother. Katie’s mother was a big, built woman with huge hands. She was six feet tall. She reached down to pick that box up while Katie was still trying to get it open. “Help me get it in the house first!” Katie’s Mother’s yelled. Katie was so anxious! Once inside, they all picked through the box and pulled out oranges, apples, tangerines, grapefruits, candy and all sorts of good smelling stuff. There was not a note or name saying who left it, but Katie and her family sure were grateful. This was also the age that Katie first communicated with God. At the tender age of eight, Katie’s older sister, Jean, began explaining to Katie how to say her prayer before going to sleep at night. That prayer was simple for Katie; she thanked God for all her brothers, sisters, mother, daddy, and everybody, and then said amen. So, Katie was very anxious to go to bed that night just so she could say that prayer. They lived in another town at that time, about twenty minutes away. It was still early, but dark enough to have your lights on. She went to bed and shut the door behind her, leaving everyone else in the house up and about. Katie still remembered... She was lying on her left side with her eyes closed. Lying in the fetal position, small for her age, she was always called ‘the runt’. She began her very first prayer.
“Dear God, thank you for Ray, [Ann wasn’t born yet] Sherry, Jean, Lee, Richard, Mother, Daddy, and all my friends and thank you for everybody, amen!” And just then after the word “Amen” was said, a very big warm hand touched Katie on her right shoulder. It was so big that it covered most of her arm from her elbow all the way to over her shoulder. It was so warm and gentle. It felt like it went inside. It scared Katie. She didn’t understand what just happened. All she knew was that somebody touched her. After Katie got her nerve up, she jumped out of bed, ran into the living room yelling, “Somebody touched me!” She got her mother’s attention and explained to her that she felt a hand touch her. So, her mother turned the light on and checked under the bed, in the closet, and all through the room. Katie knew that her mother thought that she was just imagining it, but she knew it was real! She wanted the door open from then on and she was now afraid of the dark. Time passed and Katie’s dad was released from prison and moved them back to their small home town. Shortly after baby Ann was born, Katie’s mom was left to raise seven children alone. Three of the kids were already grown and gone. Richard was in the army. Jean married at sixteen. Lee was married also. Sherry was the oldest at home during this time, but Katie was the one responsible for taking care of all the siblings because of Sherry’s seizures. So, at ten years old, Katie was taking care of Ann, who was one, Ray, who was six, and Sherry, who was fifteen. Katie resented it a lot, even though she knew her mother had no other choice. She had to work. She had to walk from one end of town to the other to get to the B&B Laundry where she pressed clothes for a living. Sherry could go nowhere alone! Nowhere! Katie tried to sneak off from her a couple of times and that was a mistake. She just wanted to get away and be with her girlfriend by herself, so she started running away from Sherry through some backyards and Sherry was chasing her. Sherry’s neck hit a clothes line and she flipped across the line. Katie went running back to help her and started telling her how sorry she was. It was a lesson to be learned for Katie. She knew that no matter how hard it was, she could never abandon her sister, and never would. Around that time, Katie started going to church with a friend of hers. They rode the church bus there and back. It was a holiness church where they spoke in tongues. It was a small white church sitting right on the sidewalk with the narrow black asphalt road just inches from the church. Katie and her friend walked right down there to that alter one evening when the spirit was in the house and Katie started crying and praying to God like she had never done before. Some women came and knelt down beside her and started telling Katie what to pray and say. The next thing she knew, Katie was up with both arms in the air praising God and dancing down the aisle all the way out the open doors onto the sidewalk and into the street! She was one happy girl that felt like a heavy burden had been lifted from her. That’s when Katie became saved, a born again Christian at ten years old. This was during the summer. On a hot summer day, Katie was taking a nap on her couch. It was made of leather (fake leather) and she was sweating pretty badly. She started talking in her sleep, kicking her feet up and down, and throwing her head back and forth saying, “God touched me, it was God! God touched me. It was God!” Her mother woke her and told her what she was doing and saying. Katie already knew that God had told her that He was the one that had touched her shoulder when she was eight years old. He was waiting until she was old enough to understand before He told her, and then she knew, and she felt special. She touched her arm and kept her hand there for awhile. She whispered, “I love you, God!”
It was taking its toll on Katie to see Sherry have so many seizures and having to be responsible all the time. She started thinking that she was going to have seizures also. One morning, Katie was getting ready for school, and she was sitting in front of the coal stove; they sit chairs around the laundry heater to stay warm by in the mornings. It was the kind that makes your legs red and hot on one side and you have to turn around to warm your back side. Katie was sitting there getting warm, with the dog on the floor close to the hearth, and Sherry was across the room. Sherry had a seizure and fell and hit her eye on a chair and it was bleeding. When Sherry’s mother pulled her up, Katie noticed that the blood was running down her face and mixing with the saliva that was draining from her mouth. Katie tried to look away because it was making her sick, but couldn’t. It was like she was in a trance. After that, all she saw were green and black streaks and heard ringing in her ears before she fainted. Her mother helped her up and got her on the bed. She still made Katie go to school. That was one thing that Katie just didn’t understand—why her mother would make her go to school after she just fainted! Later, she did understand. It was because that would at least provide one good meal for them that day. While Katie was at school, she started thinking she was going to have a seizure every time she got in line for lunch. Now, that was bad! Now, she had to miss lunch—the only meal she would get—just because she was losing her mind and thinking she was going to have a seizure. So one day, the principal came in the office while Katie was lying on the cot and she talked with Katie explaining that she can’t faint while lying down, “So you must feel better now!” exclaimed Mrs. Mayberry. Katie had told them that she felt like she was going to faint. She was too embarrassed to say the word ‘seizure’.
One day after lunch, Katie actually did faint. She had eaten two pieces of pineapple upside down cake and her little body was not used to eating that much sugar. Someone had given her their cake. After lunch, the class went into the auditorium to practice singing when Katie fainted and landed on a girl below her. Of course, her dress flew over her head for all to see and when she woke up, she was sitting in a pull down chair with her head between her knees, not quite sure of where she was. Once she got back to the classroom and the only other girl as poor as she was told her what had happened, she wanted to put her head back between her knees, forever! Katie and Peggy were probably the two poorest kids in school. They were supposed to pay a $1.25 a week for lunch, but they only had to pay twenty-five cents a week at a reduced rate. So Katie and Peggy got at the end of the line on Monday mornings so nobody could see how much money they were paying for their lunch. Mrs. Mayberry always brought clothes for both girls to school. They were used, but they were like brand new to Katie! Katie used to go to the store for a neighbor and got paid fifty cents for going. That was a lot of money in 1965. This was when Katie was sure she was going to start having seizures. Mrs. Daisy had sent Katie to the store for her and it was all wet outside from an earlier rain. Katie got to the store and started back with all Mrs. Daisy’s groceries, when she felt this overwhelming feeling come over her. She felt strange. Was she going to faint, have a seizure, or a panic attack? Then she heard God’s voice, “Rub your face in those wet bushes and you’ll be okay.” Katie looked at the bushes beside her. The droplets of water were still on the leaves. She took her face and rubbed it all in those bushes until her hair was completely wet. She felt refreshed and well. She raised her face up and thanked God from the bottom of her heart. She didn’t have any more bad feelings like that again, feelings like she was going to have a seizure or faint. She called on God for everything on a daily basis. He became her best friend and at times, her only friend. God has always stood by Katie, and Katie has never stopped trusting her God.
Dec. 28, 92
It’s been so long since I’ve had the opportunity to write you. Since my letter, Christmas has come and gone. Well, I guess I’ll continue where I stopped. I was telling you about Sherry having a bad seizure when I was ten and she was fifteen. Mother was at work at the B&B Laundry. I was home taking care of Ann, who was one year old and Ray, who was six years old. You might as well say I was watching Sherry too. Anyway, we had a cast iron coal stove to heat by. Sherry had a frying pan on the stove and she was frying herself an egg. All of a sudden, she had a seizure and she started to fall. I grabbed her to keep her from falling on the stove. As I was trying to hold her, while at the same time, kick a chair under her, I realized the spatula was still in her hand. She was holding it up high, and the grease was getting ready to run down her arm. I managed to wrestle the spatula free from her grip before the hot grease ran on her. Anyway, it was like that until she died when she was twenty-three. Later on, we moved from that house to a community called Hyatt Town. It’s in Lexington, but it was just a shabby, poor neighborhood. That house didn’t have a bathroom. We had an outhouse outside. Mother wanted to move there because the rent was only twenty-five dollars a month. Well, that’s where we were living when Sherry and I both met our future husbands. Sherry was afraid she’d end up an old maid. She didn’t have very many dates because of the seizures. She ended up marrying a man she’d only known for two months. He was crazy and later on, he ended up in the crazy house. Sherry went through a lot of hell first, though. He tried to kill her more than once. After he was sent to prison, Sherry was able to get her divorce. But she was pregnant already and had a son by him. Her son’s name is Dean and he is twenty-two years old now. He’s my nephew. I’ll tell you about him later. Well, after that, I met David Hill, the father of my three children. We married when I was seventeen. He was eighteen. It was a dreadful mistake and I went through a lot of pain and abuse for the next ten years. After David and I had been married for a little over a year, I had an infant son and was pregnant with another one. Sherry’s baby, Dean, was about two and a half years old. Sherry had always lived with Mother because of having those seizures so bad. I moved away when I got married but moved back home when my husband was sent to prison. I’ll continue this tomorrow. It’s time to go now.
Dec. 29, 92
We’re in the dining room. You are eating, and I am writing. As I was saying yesterday, I was living with Mother when what I’m about to tell you happened. Sherry was still having her seizures several times a day, but she was the closest thing to a Saint as you can get. She was such a good girl. She went to church every Sunday. She didn’t smoke, drink, cuss or anything! She was so loving and compassionate too. She knew that none of us wanted to eat or drink after her. We were afraid we’d catch those seizures. I knew she must of felt bad about that. At this time, Sherry was twenty-three and I was nineteen. I had left something of Sherry’s down at the pond down the road from where we lived. Sherry asked me if I’d go back and get it. I told her to come with me. So, we started out walking. It was hot that day and we were bare-footed. Sherry brought Dean (her toddler son) along. We walked and talked all the way to the pond and everything was normal. Then we started back. On one side of the road there were briars. Since we were bare-footed, I crossed the street, assuming Sherry was following right behind me. When I got across the street, I looked over and saw Sherry holding Dean’s hand and walking through all those briars. She was kind of gazing up at the sky and acting as though she couldn’t even feel those briars under her feet. So I yelled at her, “Sherry! What are you doing, walking through all those briars? Come over here with me!” She didn’t answer. She just kept gazing up at the sky. I thought she was ignoring me and I got mad. I walked across the street toward her, screaming, “Sherry, answer me!” Then, I walked right up to her and yelled, “Sherry, you big dummy you, answer me!” She dropped her gaze from the sky and looked into my eyes. Mildred, she not only looked into my eyes, she looked right into my soul! It felt like she bathed me with love, just with her eyes! Her eyes were saying, “I love you so much!” I’ve never felt like that before. I was dumbfounded and couldn’t speak. I just stood there staring at the radiant glow around her and let her wash me with the love that was pouring from her eyes. Then, she smiled and said, “I’m going to Heaven in twenty minutes.” Well, needless to say, I was at a loss for words. I just took off running and when I got home, Mother was on the porch nailing a screen on the window. I told Mother about what had happened and she said that she would talk to Sherry when Sherry got home. When Sherry arrived, she was very happy. She had a smile on her face and a glow about her. She also told Mother she was going to Heaven in twenty minutes. So Mother just said that we’d wait and see what happens in twenty minutes. We couldn’t figure out why Sherry was talking like that. I have to stop here, Mildred, it’s time to go. I’ll continue tomorrow.
Jan. 1, 93
My dearest Mildred,
It’s 12:54, Friday night and I can’t get you off my mind so I might as well finish my letter to you. I’ve just taken my bath and crawled into bed with my pen and paper, so let’s begin again. I was telling you about Sherry saying that she was going to Heaven in twenty minutes. Well, we waited that twenty minutes and nothing happened. So we thought she was talking out of her head. We thought maybe the damage the seizures had caused finally took its toll on her brain. Then, she decided to take Dean and walk down the road to the store. We found out from the people that worked in the store that Sherry had told everyone in there that she was going to Heaven. She was so happy about it. She was like a kid with a bag a candy. When Sherry was returning home, our neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, was out on her front porch. Mrs. Nelson waved and asked Sherry how she was doing. Sherry replied, “I feel like I have to hold on Dean’s hand real tight because I feel like I’m going to fly up into Heaven.” Our neighbor knew it was strange for Sherry to talk like that, so she called us on the phone right away. My daddy had come over to visit that day and he was drinking, as usual. Sherry had overheard him running his mouth about her needing to be committed. That night, Sherry asked me if I would fix her hair for her. She was sitting in front of her dresser as I was doing her hair, when I noticed in the mirror that she was staring at my face. I just stood still for a minute looking back into the mirror at her eyes. Then, she said, “Katie, I don’t care what anybody says; I still say I’m going to Heaven.”
Then, I said, “I know you are, Sherry.” She had already asked me earlier that day if I thought God would forgive her for something that she had confided in me earlier. I told her that God already had. She said she sure did feel better about it after she talked with me. All this took place on Saturday. Sunday was visiting day at the prison camp. My oldest brother, Richard, was in there because of a DUI violation. Sherry went to visit him and told every inmate she came in contact with that she was going to Heaven. My brother didn’t understand why Sherry was doing that. She was usually so quiet, and she had never in the past approached strangers as she was doing now. When she left the prison camp, she went to my sister’s house. Jean said that while she was there, she was very quiet and she just didn’t act like herself. The next day was Monday. Sherry had an unusual amount of seizures that day. She didn’t talk much and when she did it was just to answer when being spoken to. We’d also catch her gazing up at the ceiling and it sounded like she was reciting verses from the Bible. We’d never even known of Sherry being able to remember one verse. Later that night, I did talk Sherry into going out and playing hide and seek with our younger brother and sister and myself. I was nineteen, but I still liked to have a little fun. After that, we all went to bed. Sherry was usually the first one to rise. She always had her room clean and was ready for breakfast before I got up. That was Tuesday morning and I was already up, when I noticed that Sherry wasn’t. I asked Mother why Sherry wasn’t up yet. Mother told me to go in and check on her. When I entered her room, I noticed that she was lying on the floor beside her bed. I went to wake her, and as I rolled her over, I noticed she had a black eye. I hollered for Mother to come look. Mother said she must have had a seizure and rolled off the bed. We got Sherry up and noticed that Sherry couldn’t walk very well without our help. She walked slumped over and her arms were dangling and weak. Slobber ran from her mouth to the floor. Mother kept telling her to wake up, that it was time to be up now. We walked her to the den where there was a coal stove, a couple of chairs, and a cot to lie on. There was also a baby bed in there for my infant son, Scott. I was pregnant with Robert at this time. We sat Sherry on the cot and she still wasn’t acting right. So, I told Mother that maybe we should let Sherry lie there for awhile since she had so many seizures the day before. I didn’t want her to get hurt anymore. Mother said that may have been best and we laid her down. Soon after that, Sherry started making this gurgling sound. It was a sound similar to the sound she had made when having a seizure, but it was a more steady rattle. At that time, I didn’t realize it was death rattling. Mother got on the phone and called Sherry’s doctor. They told Mother that he’d call her back. We had a ringer washer on the back porch and Mother was running clothes through the ringer. She kept waiting for the doctor to call back, but he never did. She called him back, but never got to talk to him. Mother said that one of us needed to watch Sherry while the other ran clothes through the ringer and hung them on the line. Mother and I took turns doing that for awhile. Then, when it was my turn to watch Sherry, I stepped into the kitchen for a minute with my husband, David. Mother walked in and asked if I had checked on Sherry lately. I said yes… that she was the same. Then the three of us went to check on her and she wasn’t making that sound anymore. Mother looked at her and said, “Is she breathing, Katie?” I don’t remember what I said next. I just remember holding her hand and touching her blue lips. I remember Mother crying and asking me, “What are we going to do?” Mother was crying, and I’d never seen her cry in my life.
I remember it was all being left up to me, and I remember saying, “Call an ambulance!” No sooner than she’d have the phone in her hand, I’d say, “No, David can drive her in his car!” I don’t know how many times I changed my mind. I just know that I was in shock. I remember David picking her up in his arms, and her body was like jello. He laid her in the back seat of his car. I grabbed my baby, and David, Mother and I rode in the front seat. We were on our way to Rowan Memorial. David couldn’t get the flashers to work, and nobody would get out of the way. People kept pulling out in front of us, and he had to keep hitting his brakes, and Sherry’s body flew out of the seat onto the floor. It seems like I remember trying to keep her from falling but I’m not sure. I do remember something was trying to come out of my throat. It felt like a scream. But I knew if I opened my mouth it would be more than a scream. I felt this crazy maniac laughter rising and rising in my chest. I thought, Why is this laughter trying to come out of me? We made it to the hospital but I didn’t go in. I knew she was already dead, and I knew where she was. No one could save her. She had already told us. We just wouldn’t listen. David went into the hospital with Mother. After awhile, he came back out and told me she was dead. I didn’t respond. I didn’t cry then, and I didn’t cry at the funeral. God was with me. He was making me strong by putting me into the shock that I was in so I could take care of things. My oldest sister and mother fell apart. My little sister needed someone to explain this to her. I was there for her. God protected me and my unborn child through the funeral. I just sat there, calm, and collective, as I watched Jean screaming, “Her hand moved! I saw her hand move!”
Right after my baby was born, I got the opportunity to grieve. I cried myself to sleep for weeks. But that’s what I needed to do, to grieve. You see, Mildred, I want you to know that God is real. It makes me feel so good to know that Sherry was happy about going to Heaven. She had already been forewarned. I don’t know if God talked to her or if it was an Angel from Heaven. I just know that after that day in the briars, she was happier than she had ever been before. And she never once said, “I’m going to die.” She always said, “I’m going to Heaven.” You’re always telling me that you wish you could get that old devil out of you. Sometimes you get the strangest, meanest, look on your face; then you’ll start saying the Lord’s Prayer. It’s like the devil is trying to win your soul. Pray hard Mildred, and God will win. I’ll pray for you, too, and I know he hears my prayers. This is the end of my letter Mildred, but it’s not the end of our relationship. I love you, and I’m glad you’re a part of my life now.
Katie was very tired when she stepped out of her shoes to rest. She’d done a lot of housework today. All she wanted was to lie down and take a nap. While she lay there, bits and pieces of the past kept coming back to haunt her and wouldn’t let her rest. She remembered when she first got married to the only man she really loved. She was only seventeen, and he was eighteen. David was the type of guy that was raised to believe that you have to slap a woman around a bit to keep her in her place. That’s how you kept the woman respecting you. That’s how he was raised, to keep her barefoot and pregnant. If Katie was caught looking out of the passenger side window of the car door, she would get slapped in the face and accused of looking at a guy that would be in a car in the next lane. So, Katie had to make sure she was looking down at all times. One time, he beat Katie so badly, he gave her a concussion and she stayed in the hospital for seven days. It was at night when he drove her down a dark road. He told her that he was going to kill her and pointed to a big field and told her that was where he was going to bury her. David had her at the back of the car and was punching her in the face. Each time it would knock her out. She would fall down on the pavement of the road. He would pick her up and hit her again. One time, a police car rode by and didn’t even stop. Finally, David must have gotten tired of beating Katie because he picked her up and put her in the car and drove away. Katie asked for a rag. David got scared when he saw all that blood and told her that he would take her to the hospital. Katie just wanted to go home, so he took her home and left her there. They were separated at that time. They stayed separated as much as they were together, back and forth.
The next morning was when she had to go be admitted in the hospital. After Katie got tired of being beaten by David, she scalded him with some hot grits. He had to go to the hospital too. She had that one planned out well also. She had the car running and ready and took the phone with her so he couldn’t call for help after she did it. Then, after about an hour, she had her nephew ride with her back to the trailer to see if he was okay and if he needed to go to the hospital. Poor David came walking out of there with water blisters hanging off his arms and he ran out of gas on the way to the hospital and had to walk, but he never put his hands on Katie again. It wasn’t long after that the marriage was coming to a bitter end. David had cheated on Katie and Katie had learned to distrust him all the time and had already started falling out of love with him a little at a time. The two of them had just gotten back together because Katie had become pregnant and they were going to try to make it one more time because of the baby. There was no food in the trailer and David told Katie not to worry because it was payday and they would go out to eat that evening. The boys were seven and eight years old and Katie was five months pregnant with Miranda. She had the boys all dressed and clean and ready to go out to eat. They were hungry. David was late. It was getting very late and the boys were getting very hungry. Katie didn’t have anything in her house to make them to eat but one can of green peas. She was getting mad because she already knew what the deal was. She was going to have to find her boys some food, some way, somehow, because David was not going to show. Katie looked down at her two little boys sitting on the wooden steps at the trailer door. Their little skinny legs still clean like she told them to keep them so they could go out to eat. There was a lump in her throat. She had to think. What was she going to do? Find some food. Knock on doors of all the other trailers around there. She decided to go to a lady that had some boys about the same age as her boys and had invited them for pizza one evening. Katie really hadn’t thought it out when she knocked on the door, so when the door opened, Katie asked to borrow two eggs. So, two eggs it was. Katie took the eggs home and fried them and made the boys an egg sandwich. She figured it would at least be some protein.
It hurt Katie so much to see those boys get their hopes up to go out and get a good meal and have to eat an egg. Katie hated David at that moment! She knew he was off getting drunk or worse. They waited all night long and David never came home. He finally came dragging in around 8:30 the next morning. It was pretty chilly and they didn’t have any oil in the oil drum so Katie and the boys were huddled up with blankets around them on a big recliner. David came walking in the kitchen about that time. The first thing he said was a big lie about having car trouble and his brother coming to help him and one thing led to another. Then he offered to take them out to breakfast. As much as Katie wanted to refuse for herself, she knew she had to feed her boys. So she swallowed her pride and gathered them up to go feed them. After about a week had passed, Katie noticed some green stains in David’s underwear. She didn’t know what that meant, but knew it wasn’t good, so she called her gynecologist. Katie’s doctors told her to have her husband go to the health department and be checked and for Katie to come and be checked by her doctor. Katie confronted David, so he did go to the health department and they sent him to another doctor. Everything was very secretive. The only thing that David would tell Katie was that it was a urinary tract infection. David left Katie at her sister’s house while he went to the other doctor’s office to get treatment there. While he was there, Katie called her doctor and told them what was going on. She told her doctors that she wanted to know what her husband had and why they were keeping it a secret. Katie’s doctors told her to call David’s doctor back and let them know that she was five months pregnant and it was very important that they make her aware if her baby was in danger of anything. So, Katie did do that and the nurses on the other end got very quiet and whispered to each other and got back on the line and just told her that they were only allowed to tell her that it was a urinary tract infection. After that, Katie had to go get checked out at her doctor. She had samples taken and sent off. Nothing showed up there in the office. She went home thinking she was clean.
After about a week, she, David, and the boys were all coming home from somewhere when they were pulling into the driveway of the trailer, and a car was just sitting there. David started to stop, but then he started pulling out very fast. Katie opened the car door and jumped out. She sensed she needed to know. A lady got out of the car and identified herself as a Health Department worker. David had recognized her. She asked if she could come in Katie’s house, but Katie was embarrassed about how it looked, so she asked if they could just sit in the lady’s car. David had sped on off with the boys. He was getting out of dodge, because he knew he was being told on now. Katie got in the car with the lady and listened very carefully to everything she had to say. It was breaking her heart in two, hearing all those things the health worker was saying to her, that her baby may be blind because of David cheating. He had contracted gonorrhea and had given it to Katie. It hadn’t shown up on the test at the office, but it did when it was sent off. Katie’s doctors had called the Health Department and asked them to come to Katie’s house and let her know because it was so important to get her into the office to get treatment as soon as possible for the health of the baby. Katie didn’t have a phone to be reached by, so this was the only way. The nurse pulled out a big photo album and started turning pages. It showed babies that were blind and deformed. Katie started crying uncontrollably. She was sobbing. The nurse told her how sorry she was and Katie just jumped out of her car and ran into her trailer. Katie ran to the back bedroom and fell on the bed. She was screaming and crying. She was screaming at God. She got real calm and told God that if He would let her fall out of love with David, she promised Him that she would never go back with him again, ever! She begged God to please let her fall out of love with David, and God answered that prayer. She fell out of love with David and never went back with him. Katie had to get antibiotic shots for the gonorrhea but it didn’t hurt Miranda. Katie broke up with David when she was five months pregnant with Miranda. That was thirty-four years ago.
Katie sat on her front porch swing thinking of years gone by. I wonder what happened to Mildred after I left, she thought. Not much could have happened to Mildred. She was up there in years when Katie last saw her. On the contrary, a lot had happened to Katie. She was sixty years old and a little over two decades had passed. Katie had already lived through many more life altering changes since her departure with Mildred. She had already had two major surgeries and was now raising three of her grandchildren. Her first surgery was from a brain aneurysm. She found out about it before it had time to rupture. Everyone was scared to death at that time, everyone but Katie. She knew that God wasn’t going to let her accidently find out about the aneurysm just to let her die. She still had things to do, and kids to raise! Her time spent with Mildred was only a vague memory now and all her letters lay dormant on scrap pieces of dusty, faded paper at the top of her closet. If I wasn’t so tired, I’d clean that closet out and get those letters down and read through them, Katie contemplated. She had bought a small frame house in a railroad town with no more than three traffic lights. You could walk the whole perimeter of the town. She liked it there alright, but her dream was to move to Myrtle Beach and live out the rest of her life there in peace. Katie had raised her three kids and was raising her two grandsons and a granddaughter now. The boys were fifteen and seventeen and had lived with Katie all of their lives. Marie was their half sister and was four years old now. The boys’ mom and dad were both very young when they were born, so Katie was glad to take that role. She wasn’t expecting to start raising another child at her late age, but her daughter could not win the battle she had with drug addiction and another child was born. She took them to church on Sundays and home-schooled the boys with a Christian curriculum after they reached middle school. Everyone talked about what fine young boys and such a precious little sister they were! Preston was a devout Christian and would be found praying almost any time of day. Katie’s mind wondered off to the beach, thinking, If I could be there, I’d feel so close to God. The strength of the ocean and the feel of wind, it’s like God is right there close! The stars kissing the ocean at night was something she dreamed about. It was so peaceful to think about and that was all she wanted, peace.
Scott lived in West Virginia with his kids and she didn’t have to worry about them. Although she didn’t get to see her grandchildren from West Virginia very often, she loved them dearly. She had a special relationship with her granddaughter, Kassie. Her grandson, Ethan was still very young and hadn’t gotten close to her yet. Her other two grandsons, Nathan and Christopher were grown and living their own lives now. Nathan was Katie’s pick when he was a baby. He was her pride and joy and lived with her for about six months. Her other Son, Robert lived down the road from Katie, but he planned to move out of state soon himself. Katie had two beautiful granddaughters from Robert. Leah had a new baby boy, and Nicole married a marine cop and moved to San Diego, California. Katie was very proud of her! Landon was Katie’s teenage grandson who still lived at home giving his dad a hard time! Landon loved snakes, spiders, and all kinds of crawling creatures. Miranda was the one whom Katie wanted so badly, and the one who put Katie through the most heartbreak. Katie has tried to help Miranda as much as she could and has taken care of her most of her life. She prayed that Miranda would get well one day and learn to love herself again. Her granddaughters from Miranda, Kadyn and Marie, were little princesses and the light of Katie’s life, although she never saw Kadyn because her dad had custody of her. Katie realized that God had a reason for putting all three of her grandchildren in her life to be raised. Blake, Preston and Marie had made Katie the happiest person she could possibly be. She had become their mom, dad, teacher, friend and maw, all in one. She wouldn’t trade that role for anything in the world! “Oh my, it’s starting to get dark out here and chilly too! Katie thought as she realized how long she had been sitting on the porch in her swing. Katie was already thinking about those letters in her bedroom closet as she slowly tried to straighten her legs and back that had stiffened up.
Thank goodness Walgreens was not very busy that morning! Katie had gathered several photos of Blake to be put on a disk, and she didn’t know the first thing about doing that. I should be able to get to a computer and maybe a worker will be able to help me with this, Katie thought. Katie approached the desk and felt kind of stupid not even knowing the proper way to explain what she needed to have done. “My grandson is graduating this year and I’d like to get these photos put on a disk if I could,” explained Katie. The employee explained how it could be done and let her know that someone would be available to help in a few minutes. Katie wandered around the store looking at some things she needed to buy: some of Blake’s favorite body wash for him, Preston needed some more fiber, which reminded her that Blake was also out of vitamin D. Katie looked around and found a chair to sit and wait. She couldn’t hardly believe her sweet little Blake would actually graduate this year! She had to get photos from birth to his previous age to go on the disk to show during his walk while graduating. Looking at all those photos brought back so many memories, bittersweet memories. She remembered little Blake coming home from the hospital to a beautiful nursery Katie had made for him. Miranda was only fifteen when she got pregnant with Blake and Blake dad’s was only sixteen. Miranda was still wanting to party and have her fun, and she started being gone longer than she was being at home. Katie was the only mother Blake knew. She rocked him to sleep at night, saw his first tooth come in; she did everything for him. Then, Miranda started using Blake as a tool against Blake’s dad. As a matter of fact, she used Blake as a tool against everyone that loved him, and no one loved him any more than the one that had been raising him, and taking care of his every need since he was born. Miranda was just being a spoiled little teenager who wanted everything her way and she was going to get it, even if it meant hurting her son or her mother.
The fighting got real bad and Miranda had already started experimenting with drugs. Finally, Miranda jerked Blake out of Katie’s arms with him kicking and screaming, crying for his maw. She took him and left to go stay with Blake’s other grandmother, Carole. During this time, Miranda was playing one person against another. It was a bad time. She was turning everyone against each other and playing the victim herself. Katie didn’t see Blake for three weeks during this time and it almost sent her into a depression. Later on, when Katie had to take Blake to a psychologist, she was told that it hurt Blake badly to be taken from the only mother he had known. He developed a severe social disorder. Katie prayed to God for guidance and wisdom and was able to get Blake on the right track again. With the help of Blake and Preston’s other grandmother, the boys were well taken care of and very happy. Now, the oldest was graduating and the youngest is almost ready to start kindergarten. Katie planned to put her in a Christian school not far from where they live when the time came. And Preston... oh, what a God loving boy he was! When he was going to public school, his teacher would tell Katie that she would catch him praying at certain times and she never discouraged that, even though, unfortunately, it was banned from the public schools. Preston, at fifteen, had already decided that whatever he did in the future would have to be spreading the word of the Lord.
One night, not too long ago, he came running into his maw’s bedroom and climbed into her bed. Katie was aware of it, and threw the covers over him. He told her the next day that the reason he had done that was because of the encounter he’d had in his room as he was drifting off to sleep. Preston said that he had his eyes closed, and was falling to sleep when he felt his arms being pinned down hard, and a heavy weight covered his whole body. He heard God speak to him saying, “Don’t move your hand! Don’t open your eyes!”
Preston started saying over and over again, “I will fear no evil, I will fear no evil!” Then, the weight released him and his arms were no longer pinned down. That’s when he opened his eyes and ran out of his room. He realized it was a demon. Katie told him that the devil tries to get the holy ones more than the others, because he already has the others. Katie told Preston’s other grandmother, who was also a devout Christian, about the incident. They were both upset that the demon was preying on their young grandson. What a bully, they thought! Preston had already had an encounter with God over a year ago. He had gone to heaven in his dream and saw how beautiful it was. He had tears in his eyes when trying to describe it to Katie. He told her that he didn’t want to leave, but God had told him that it wasn’t his time yet. Preston remembered plainly the words God spoke to him, “Do not be afraid.”
After finishing up at Walgreens, Katie decided to pick up KFC for supper. That was one meal that satisfied everyone: chicken, potatoes and biscuits.
Later on that evening, Katie got a call from Miranda. It had been almost two years since she’d heard from her. It was a shock to hear her voice; especially a voice that she hadn’t heard since way before the drugs had taken control. Miranda told her mother that she had been in a long-term rehabilitation center and was offered a job as a social worker with recovering addicts. She sounded like the old Miranda... the one who was fun to be around and had so much going for her. She was beautiful and very smart. Katie had to get control of her emotions before she could speak. She felt the lump growing in her throat and knew the tears of happiness were getting ready to flow down her withered face. All those years of praying, praying to God for her daughter. Then, Katie started praying a different way for Miranda. She asked God to open Miranda’s mind to what He wanted her to see and do with her life. She prayed that prayer a lot, and Katie knew, if anyone did, that God heard her prayers! Katie told Miranda how proud she was of her and how much she missed her. Everything was going to be alright now. Katie felt it in her bones and she never missed it by much with her feelings. After getting that call, Katie started thinking about all the prayers that God had answered and just how far she could go back remembering them. She thought about the time when she was five months pregnant with Miranda, and when she was left alone to take care of her two sons and try to find a way to feed them and pay the bills all by herself. Food was the main concern at that point and time. Katie had gone into survival mode. She went to bed that night and started praying. She prayed for God to please feed her children and to please let her find a way to get them some food. The next day, Katie went to her sister’s house and called some churches. She was ashamed to tell them that it was her that needed the food, so she told them she knew someone that was in need, which wasn’t a lie. The next morning, she woke up to not just one car pulling up with food, but several!
There were station wagons and trucks, one right after the other, pulling into her driveway. She had brown paper bags full of food all over her table and then on the floor. Then one person who had came to help, also gave Katie money to put oil in her oil tank out beside her trailer for heat and enough to pay the light bill. Katie was overwhelmed with gratitude! She held her head down as she said, “Thank you so much!” to each of them. She thanked God from the bottom of her heart and had a long talk with Him asserting she knew it was Him who brought the food to them. Then, there was another time, when Katie was living with her mother for awhile, after being deserted by her husband again. She just needed to stay there until she could get back up on her feet, but her mother was also very poor and she still had three kids of her own at home to support with no help from anyone. Her mother still had Katie’s younger brother Ray, sister, Ann and her grandson, Dean at home. She had been raising Sherry’s son since she passed away. With Katie and her two children, it made seven of them to feed. One day, her mother was going to fry some fish. It was not nearly enough to feed the crowd. Katie stood there with her mother looking down at the mere amount of fish to be fried and said, “How are we going to feed everybody with that?”
Katie’s mother was very religious and she replied, “We’ll just have to divide it up.” Katie watched as her mother rolled the fish in cornmeal and started putting it in the frying pan. Her mother kept pulling the raw fish apart and it kept becoming more and more. Katie couldn’t believe what she was seeing! That fish was actually multiplying! There was plenty for everyone with some left over. Her mother simply reminded her of the story in the Bible when Jesus made the fish multiply and be enough for everyone. “That’s what He did for us,” she said. Memories, so many memories were streaming back. After she had ended the call with Miranda, Katie felt a weight had been lifted from her heart. She knew that Miranda had found her way now and she could find happiness for once, since she had also found the Lord. Katie started thinking about things after she went to bed. She called that her ‘thinking time’. She thought about life, and her children. Now she was thinking about her middle child, Robert. He was also a Christian and had gone through almost as much as Katie herself had gone through as a young person trying to survive. Robert had married his childhood sweetheart, never even knowing what it would have been like to date another. He had first thought about becoming a preacher, but changed his mind later. He left for South Carolina shortly after marrying to get his training to be an airplane mechanic. His wife was pregnant and he had to pay for his studies by working on campus mowing yards, working on planes and also mopping floors at the stores that lined the main drag at the beach. It became very difficult for him because his wife was moving her family in whom Robert had to support also. She had taken in her drug addicted mother, grown sister, and little brother for whom Robert to take responsibility. He managed somehow, by the grace of God and got that mechanic license and also his pilot’s license. Robert moved his growing family across the state, getting one degree after another, each time, working for the school he was attending. He soon developed a reputation as a hard worker and a good man. He could go into any airport and shut it down since he had also squired an inspector’s license.
Katie was thinking with pride about the article she had seen and read of her son while he was living in Virginia. The article in the paper was about Robert turning their airport around and fixing everything the right way for them. It had a photo of her son sitting at a desk and they were naming all his titles and accomplishments. She was very proud of him! Then, one day, he was stricken with menere’s disease. It had to do with vertigo. After extensive testing, he was grounded. No more flying for Robert! It was like the end of the world for him! That was his life at that point and time. Robert prayed hard for an answer. He still kept his faith. If Katie missed church, she would call him up and ask him to come outside and teach the Bible to all the grandkids. It was fun and Robert knew his Bible inside and out! He made his Bible stories funny and captured everyone’s attention. One day, Robert was doing some work on a car at his sister’s apartment, when he was confronted by a couple of guys. Robert was in a bad way with money, with him not being able to work and his wife not wanting anything to do with him now that he was sick.
Christmas was coming up and the two guys propositioned Robert on how he could get some good money quick. Robert was weak and fell right into their plot. He got in trouble for conspiracy even though he had just met the two. One was wearing a wire and Robert was set up quick! He had to spend five years in prison. He couldn’t understand why he had to lose his job, family, and all that he cared about. He was taking a lot of prescribed medication when he was locked up, medicine for his ears, for anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc. One thing led to another with his sickness. His body actually had a panic attack without Robert even knowing it was going to happen, because his body knew he could fall down at any given minute. That led to being agoraphobic because he was afraid to leave his house. So, he was a prisoner in his own body, even at home. Katie went to visit Robert every month when her disability check came in. He had lost everyone else! His kids went astray after he was gone, since he was the one doing most of the raising anyway. The youngest, Robert’s son, Landon, was practically living on the streets at seven years old. His two daughters went completely wild because they no longer had structure and Katie couldn’t do a thing about it! When she tried to step in, she became the enemy. Robert knew his estranged wife was turning his kids against him. That was the hardest part for Katie’s son because he was such a family man and that’s all he’d known. Robert started refusing all his medication and praying to God and reading his Bible over and over again. He told his mother one day, at visitation, that God had healed him. He no longer had any attacks and he felt healthier than he had in years. Robert told her that he realized why he had to go through that experience and he accepted it, knowing he went in with his eyes closed and was coming out with them opened. After being discharged, Robert reclaimed his children. His oldest was living with her fiancé and was waiting on her dad’s release to get married. His middle daughter, and son, came to live with him. The kids would have been just fine now. It wasn’t long before Robert found the love of his life and became engaged to be married. For once in his life, he knew what it felt like to be loved back the way you were supposed to be.
Katie was very happy for her son and all he had learned through this experience. He had always been her closest child because he was the one who made things better. He was the peace keeper! He loved to make people laugh and he did that a lot. Back in his earlier days, when he was struggling through his education, he was traveling back from Texas where he’d worked for one of his degrees. He was so hungry that his stomach was touching his backbone. Robert just had enough change to buy himself a sandwich at the next bus stop. After buying the sandwich and opening it, he opened his mouth wide and was just about to take a bite when he noticed this little, dirty homeless girl looking straight up at him with hunger in her big brown eyes. He immediately pulled the sandwich down to her and asked if she was hungry. She nodded her head yes, and he handed it to her. The whole thing! She woofed it down like she was starved! Robert said his hunger completely went away. He felt full as a tick, as he described it. Robert said that there was no way he would have been able to eat a bite of anything because that’s how full he was and he thanked God for being able to feed the little girl. Yes, Katie loved her son and was thankful that she had done something right with raising him. Katie thought of her nephew, Dean, her dead sister’s son who was getting up there in years now. He was in a nursing home because he couldn’t walk and his mind was not right anymore. He had gone through almost forty years of seizures, just like his mom; they were uncontrollable. Katie’s mom had passed away several years ago and her younger sister, Ann, had taken custody of Dean. She was the only one that hadn’t gotten married and had children, so she had the most time on her hands to tackle that obligation. Ann was also a wild child. She had lived most of her adult life in the big city of Charlotte and had traveled the world. She made her living doing massages and was very well known for giving the best with her strong hands.
Ann had a different belief than her siblings. She was not sure about the Jesus thing. She knew he was a man, but was not quite sure if he was the man everyone said he was. So, that’s where she stood. One day, while watching Dean while he was in the hospital, Ann experienced something that changed her forever! She was holding Dean’s hand, when all of a sudden, he started growling and throwing his tongue in and out. It scared Ann so bad! She started telling him what to say, telling him to say that he loves Jesus! Ann said, “Say it Dean! Say you love Jesus, Dean!” Ann began yelling those words also, yelling that she loved Jesus! Then, Dean’s whole body rose up off the bed, actually levitating. When it all stopped and her hand was released, she ran down the hall looking everywhere for the chapel. Ann ran in and fell to her knees and cried. She prayed a different prayer that day. Katie told Ann that demons were very real and you had to be careful when dealing with them. She told Ann about the time when Miranda was five years old and Katie was living in Statesville, going to college and taking care of three kids alone. Katie’s mother was also living in that town, a few blocks away from her. Katie had to take her mom to pay all her bills and was also her transportation to doctors and such, although Katie’s mom was well known for walking all over town and from one end of it to the other! One night back then, Katie had a dream about her mother standing on her front porch looking in the screen door. She had an old fashioned screen that just had a screen to look through and a heavy spring that let the screen door slam shut on its own. Katie dreamed that her mother was standing on the other side of the screen and Miranda was looking through the screen from the inside of the house. Katie looked down and noticed the screen wasn’t locked. Miranda could have easily opened the screen for her grandmother. Katie told Miranda not to open the door, and that is wasn’t mother standing there; it was the devil tricking them. Miranda listened and didn’t open the door. Katie told her, “If you don’t open the door to him, he can’t come in.” Then, the devil in disguise stretched out on the porch and grew in length. Her mother’s head was at one end of the long front porch and her feet were at the other end! Katie knew the demon was furious because she wouldn’t let him in and he was unable to trick her. Katie explained that dream to Ann, hoping it would reaffirm that demons were real, but their God was much more powerful if they only believed!
Katie woke up to the alarm going off at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Today was the day of the Rowan County Home School field trip. The high school kids were going to Washington, DC to visit the Capitol and other important places. Their bags were already packed and ready, so everybody only had to get up and throw their clothes on. “Blake, Preston, get up!” Katie yelled. “You can go back to sleep in the car while we’re traveling. Your nanny will be here soon.” Carole was going with them. She tried to go with them as much as possible on field trips and sometimes on vacation. Katie always took the kids to Myrtle Beach every summer and Carole went with them two summers ago. She vowed she’d never go back there after her car got towed from a parking space that it was not supposed to be in. Katie gently raised Marie’s little body up against her. “I love you baby,” she whispered in her granddaughter’s ear. Still half asleep, four year old Marie pulled away trying to snuggle back under the covers. “Come on now, we have to get ready to go!” Katie urged. Marie followed her maw to the bathroom and began asking questions... something she seemed to do a lot of those days. After everyone had brushed their teeth and made one last check to see if everything was packed, Blake texted his nanny to see if she was on the way. They were riding with her. She had a new SUV and there would be more room. Finally, Carole pulled up in the driveway and everyone carried their bags out to the car—everyone but Marie. That was why hers got left behind, along with Katie’s computer that was packed up.
It was a good trip to Washington, despite having to stop and buy a new little girl travel bag and the clothes to fill it, since Marie’s was left behind. Blake was good at programming directions into his phone and leading them in the right direction. He was also designated to drive at night because both grandmothers couldn’t see a lick in the dark. Once everyone was in their motel room and claiming their beds, Katie received a message on her phone letting her know where to meet the others to get the plans for their tour. It was a short meeting and the crew was very tired from the five hour trip that had turned into a seven hour trip. The next few days were very hectic! Racing for the metro, trying to keep up with the school group, and walking for miles were exhausting to Katie and Carole. Katie noticed it was hard on the kids too, even with all their energy. All in all, it was a good trip and learning experience. They got to tour the Capitol, the Supreme Court, Lincoln Memorial and several other places of interest. Most importantly, Katie got to meet a very nice Christian woman who really helped her with guidance on how to get to places. She too, was a home school mom and a blessing to Katie. Preston met a good young man a couple years older than himself and that was another blessing. Both boys had one thing in common, their strong belief in Jesus. They hit it off from the get go and hopefully, they would be lasting relationships for Preston and for Katie. They left Washington around noon and were home before dark. It always seemed like it was faster coming back than going anywhere. Marie ran through the house screaming, “Paw, where are you?” She wrapped her little arms around his legs and hugged him tight before he reached down to pick her up. Then, she had to go find the dogs... her dogs! Sonny was Katie’s present husband and hopefully the last! Sonny met Katie while working at the hospital. He was a registered nurse and both worked on the same floor. He also played in a band that played beach music. Sonny was married to Katie before the oldest grandchild they were raising was born, so he was always the kids’ grandpa in his eyes as well as theirs. The boys were dying to get on their computers and talk to their friends online. Katie just wanted to lie down. Tomorrow would be school day for Marie. She was in preschool at the big Methodist church downtown. The next morning after dropping Marie off at school, Katie rushed back home to have her time with God. Every morning, she went out on her back deck and prayed for a long time. That was her time with God... her alone time with Him. She thanked Him for letting them have a safe trip and for pouring out His blessings on them. She reached her hands up high above her head, trying to feel His presence. The warm sun was heating her hands with His love. She loved Him so much and knew He loved her even more.
Later that day, Preston asked Katie, “Maw, are we still going to Myrtle Beach for our vacation, or was that trip our vacation?”
“We’re going Preston. That was just a field trip,” she replied. It was getting closer to graduation for Blake and things still needed to be done for that. Preston was now driving with a learners permit and Katie needed to do some documentation on the hours he had driven.
Sonny was retired, but had a part-time job as a security guard. He also stayed busy playing his music. Sometimes, he felt as if he had more on his plate than he could handle since he started playing with the praise band at his church. They were members of a growing Christian church that they all loved! Life-Way Church was a nondenominational church with a wonderful pastor. People seldom ever came out of that church without a smile on their faces. Pastor Danny was very funny and knew just how to get the point across. Katie called him “Teacher”, because he was always teaching his church more than preaching. He seemed to know things. Everyone there knew that he surely must have been anointed because they witnessed God working through him. Preston was in the youth group and all of the youth as well as the leaders had noticed his love for God. One day in youth, Caleb was praying with the youth leader. They were standing with their foreheads together. Preston was crying while they were praying and wiping his eyes with a Kleenex. After the prayer, Preston and the leader noticed blood on the Kleenex. Preston thought he must have had a nose bleed, but when he cleaned his nose to see, there wasn’t even a trace of blood from his nose. Katie told him he must have cried the blood of Jesus through his tears. She already knew Preston was special because of the things that he told her about God talking to him. He also had dreams of being in Heaven and God talking to him. He reminded Katie of her sister, Sherry, who was so kind and loyal to God. Preston was the peace maker among everyone. Katie knew that she could rest assured; she would see her Preston in Heaven one day. That she had no doubt about it!
I’ve got to get these bills paid, Katie contemplated. She always paid bills on the fourth Wednesday of each month… at least some of the bills. That was when Sonny got his social security check and he gave Katie the bill money. Katie paid the rest of the bills out of her small disability check that came in on the third of each month. Well, I don’t know how I’m going to get this money to the bank and the bills to the post office without a car, thought Katie. She had been using Blake’s car to do things like that, but both boys had been staying with their nanny once they were back from the trip. Katie knew she would once again, have to call Blake and ask him to come home in time for her to pick up Marie from preschool. Blake had just gotten a job at Subway and he had two days off. He hated the job, but felt obligated to work there until he had something different. Katie went out on the back porch, as usual, to have her morning talk with God. She prayed for guidance and for the Lord to lead her in the right direction today. She asked God to give her the wisdom to make the right decisions and do the right things. Of course, she thanked Him for His many blessings. Then, she got a phone call from her daughter-in-law, Robert’s wife, asking Katie to ride with her to a few places. That sounded good to Katie because now she had a way to go pick up Blake’s car without bothering him.
Katie told Laken that she wanted to go look at a car that was for sale and Laken agreed to go with her. The car was more than Katie could afford and it was a luxury car. She would have to withdraw the money out of savings to get it, but needed to leave enough in the bank to pay for the repairs of the swimming pool. She wanted to have the pool up and running for the kids this year; it had been two years since it was open. As Laken and Katie were riding down the street heading to the site where the car was for sale, something caught Katie’s attention to the left. She saw a nice little yellow car for sale and some others that looked pretty good. She beeped her horn and they both pulled over. This little sporty cavalier was half the price of the BMW that they were headed to see. Katie did a test drive and she made up her mind right then; that was the car she wanted. After a trip to the bank to deposit the bill money in checking, and withdraw the car money from savings, Katie left and went straight back and bought the car. “God sure led me straight to that car!” Katie mused.
Anything and everything was going wrong on this day! Blake would be graduating later on this evening and Katie needed to get to the church by ten this morning to set his table up and go through a practice run of the ceremony. While trying to get out the door in their rushed amount of time, Blake’s zipper wouldn’t zip on his gown, his tie was not tied right, and Katie had misplaced the right table cloth she wanted to use for his table; not to mention that there was no time to stop and buy the graduation balloons she wanted to place on the table. The meeting had already started when they all arrived at the big church where the graduation was taking place. Blake was so nervous during the rehearsal. Blake was to walk his grandmother down the aisle with his grandfather walking behind. Then, Blake would seat Katie and Blake would then make his way on down to the front. Everything was going well now. Blake’s zipper finally worked, thank goodness, and the rest of the ceremony went perfect! Blake’s table was set up very nice but not as crowded as most. Blake was a simple boy and he didn’t like all that attention on him or his table.
As Katie walked around the table placing photos of Blake at different ages of his life, and certificates he’d earned, Blake walked around taking them off. Finally, they came to an agreement with what would stay on the table and it looked fine. They had just enough time to go home and grab a bite before the actual ceremony would begin. Katie dressed in her best church dress. It was a sleeveless, white lace dress that was becoming to her form and came just to the top of her knees. She had Preston dress in his Sunday clothes as well. Sonny wore a white dress shirt and tie with black dress pants. He decided not to wear a dress coat because of the high temperature on this Saturday. After taking Marie to her sitter, the family was off to the graduation. This made the second child whom Katie had graduated. She had home schooled the boys’ friend that lived across the street most of their lives. Katie home schooled his last two years of high school. He was having problems in public school and had called Katie and asked for her help. That was two years ago, so Katie knew a little about what to expect. This was so different for her though, because he was one of her own. How proud she was!
When they got to the church, they found their places and got ready for the big event. After listening to several speakers, the line of graduates and their parents started their walk. One by one, the graduate walked the parent down the aisle with everyone looking on. They were all so handsome, and the young girls were so pretty. Katie’s heart was about to burst with pride and happiness. Finally, it was their turn! Katie’s arm was wrapped in her handsome grandson’s arm as they started their walk, with her husband following close behind. Blake was so tall now. He towered over her at six feet already and he hadn’t even turned eighteen yet. Blake rarely smiled, but when he seated his grandmother, there was a loving smile on his blushing face. Someone caught that in a photo taken. Each graduate was called to walk down from the big stage as the parents walked up to the front where they met. Then, the graduate gave the parent a rose in exchange for the rolled up diploma. It was a beautiful site. Blake’s name was called out and Katie felt like her legs would not move, but Sonny nudged her on until she made it to the front. Blake handed her the rose and she gave him the diploma. She hugged her grandson and stood there for a couple of minutes while photos were being taken. Blake’s plans had been read out by the speaker and now the graduation music was playing while a video of Blake’s photos from baby to present was shown on a big screen. Katie was overwhelmed with the memories. She wiped her tears as she made her way back to her seat with Sonny following close behind.
Once the ceremony was over, all the graduates stood up, turned their tassels and then threw their hats in the air. Katie smiled. They all made their way to the next building to have refreshments and admire the tables. Now, Katie was getting very anxious to pack up and leave. It had all been very emotional and draining for her. After about an hour, they left with all their belongings and went out to eat some real food. The refreshments ended up being only peanuts and cake, so they were all hungry. Katie was thinking about all that had happened that day and it would all happen again for Preston in two more years. Then, she would be through. She wasn’t going to home school anymore. She was tired and wanted to relax a little.
Life returned to normal again after a week or two and Katie and her family were enjoying their pool that had been out of use for the past two years. The water was so clear and fresh now. Katie had a new liner, new pump, and all fresh, new water. She had worked hard this past month clearing out all the overgrowth that had taken over the abandoned pool in the back yard. The weeds had actually turned into trees out there! Katie sat down on her lounge chair to feel the warm sun on her body. She marveled at all the work that had been done in such a short amount of time. All the weeds had been pulled, the stumps and small trees growing had been cut down, and she had sprayed weed killer over the whole perimeter. There was a small table to the left of the pool as you entered through the wooden door. This table had four chairs and sat next to the shallow end of pool. The octagon style pool had four steps leading down to the water. Most of the floats and water toys were placed down on that end. Another table was sitting straight across the pool in the right hand corner. It was even smaller, with only two chairs. Both tables had pretty tablecloths on them. The side of the pool that went down the length had the steps that led down to the deep end. On that side, the cleaning brooms and nets all hung on the wooden wall of the high privacy fence. The fence had turned black in color because it hadn’t been treated in years. Katie loved her spot at the pool most. It was on the other end where the diving board was and where she had made a pretty little pond garden. She had a pretty little table set up on that end and it would have been a shame to put a tablecloth on that beautiful marble table. That area was a little different from the other sides of the pool. It had big red cement blocks that Katie had bought from Lowes years ago and put down with mixed cement and pebbles in between. Later on, she called a few brick companies and one offered some bricks free of charge to Katie. She accepted with gratitude and laid the bricks down herself. She refused any help because she knew just how she wanted them laid. Now, everything was just like she wanted and even some pretty plants had started to grow that she wasn’t going to pull up. Listening to the water in the garden pond beside her, with its soothing sprinkling sound, let Katie’s mind wander. She had decided that today she would look for those old letters to Mildred. She wanted to read them and find out what happened to Mildred.
It was rare that Katie got to enjoy her alone time at the pool, especially since Marie was out of preschool for the summer. When Marie wasn’t with her maw, it was usually Laken down there with her. Her son’s fiancé just lived around the block so it was easy for her to come up and keep Katie company, plus she was big help with Marie. Marie loved Laken and her Uncle Robert. Robert’s son, Landon, didn’t come down as much this summer as he had in the past. He would come down every once in a while to stay all night with the boys and they would go night swimming. He would always walk straight to Katie when he entered her house and wrap both his arms around her and say, “I love you, Maw.” She hugged him back tightly and told him she loved him more. Her son, Scott, and his family had already come down to visit this summer. Katie cooked a big meal as soon as her granddaughter, Kassie, had called to let her know they were coming. She enjoyed seeing her first born son. He was always wanting to make sure his mom had what she needed, but she would never let him know if she needed anything. She was a proud woman and couldn’t stand to even think about taking from her children. On the day that Scott and his family came down, Robert and Laken also showed up. They made some family photos and soon everyone left. Katie had the photos to remind her how much fun little Ethan, Marie and Kassie all had playing in the water. With Kassie being older now, little Marie was starting to annoy her with the constant talking, and demands of affection from her.
The sun was setting and Katie decided to go in and check on everybody. Then, she would get down those letters and read through them.
Preston was packing his bag for his weekend trip. He was going to University Impact Camp with his youth leader of their church and a few other members. Marie was watching a cartoon video that her paw had put on for her. Blake was doing something on his computer. Blake wanted to take a break from school after he graduated to decide just what he wanted to do. That was fine with Katie because she knew that whatever he decided to do, he would be working the rest of his life, so there was no rush for him to get started. Preston had decided that he was going to start classes in the university next school year and by the time he graduated, he would have two years under his belt, which would only leave two more years of attending to receive his bachelor’s in theology.
The next day started early. Blake got up to help his maw with directions to the camp where Preston was going. Blake could do anything with his phone. He would always get them where they were going. After dropping Preston off, Katie wanted to take Blake and Marie out to breakfast, but Blake was tired and just wanted to go home. They agreed on a restaurant and called the food in to be picked up and they would eat at home. Katie thought about the look on Preston’s face as she pulled away, leaving him with strangers. He wouldn’t be completely with strangers; he did have a few friends from church and thankfully, his youth leader whom Preston loved. Katie knew she had to break those apron strings, but it was easier said than done with her. It was like that with all her children. Thoughts of ‘what if he doesn’t have enough to eat, what if he gets lost or gets sick,’ all came to her mind. She laughed at herself thinking about how old Preston was and her silly overprotection. After all, Preston’s mom, Katie’s daughter, was exactly that very age of fifteen when she became pregnant with Preston’s brother, Blake, but that’s a different story. Those boys were nothing like their mother. Katie realized that it’s not how you raise them, it’s each and every one of their own personalities that are all different. Katie’s grandsons had not even had their first date yet and that was a good thing. Yep, that boy is going to go far, Katie thought. Marie was very excited to be going to her cousin’s birthday party today. Katie had to work out a time frame to be at the party and away in time to pick Preston up from camp. As it turned out, the party was running late, so Katie had to turn to plan B in order to pick up her grandson. She would simply get his paw and Blake to do that chore for her. Now, she could relax at her great niece’s birthday party today.
This child was Katie’s brother’s grandchild. Her brother had passed away before his grandchild was born. Ray was a giver. He always made sure every single person in the family had a Christmas present; even if it wasn’t much, everyone had something. He passed away at the early age of forty-five with a heart attack. He was overweight and had become a diabetic as well. Katie had already lost her mother, father, two brothers and one sister. There wasn’t that many of them left. Her oldest brother, Richard, oldest sister, Jean, and baby sister, Ann were all that were left. Her brother, Lee, had passed with a lung disease a few years ago. Katie had the presents packed up for Marie’s cousin, Kerry. Marie was following close behind as they headed for the car. They had gotten five year old Kerry a little girl suitcase decorated with the cartoon Frozen. Katie had sneaked a few things of Marie’s to put in the suitcase, things that were brand new and Marie hadn’t even noticed. She put a stuffed animal, a princess tiara, stickers, a purse, and a few other little things in there. They had to drive to the country to get to their destination. Katie had never been to this house. Her niece’s husband had inherited the house from family members not too long ago. The country drive was beautiful! Long stretches of dark green grass on rolling hills were seen everywhere. A few scattered trees and ponds that sat way off the road were so pretty. Horses galloping across the fields and cows grazing in the warm sun could have been seen every other mile or two. North Carolina was a beautiful state! The land was not too flat and not too mountainous. It had a lot of trees and greenery that seemed to match the contrast of the next landscape—God’s landscape. The state also had all four seasons. That’s the one thing that Katie would miss when she moved away, if she ever did.
It sure would be nice living out here, thought Katie, but nothing could compare to the beach life she longed for. Looking down at her directions every once in a while, Katie made one turn and then another. The rural roads turned into narrow one lane asphalt roads. After crossing a railroad tract, Katie noticed the next road she needed to turn on was a dirt road. The dirt road wound around a couple of times before she could see balloons tied to trees and stumps. She saw cars parked in a yard of a small white framed house. Several people were sitting on white plastic chairs that you could buy from Family Dollar Store pretty cheap. Katie found a place to park and got Marie and the presents out of the car. She recognized several people including her nephew and his wife. He had married a beautiful girl from the Phillipines and they were very happy. This nephew was the son of Katie’s deceased brother that had passed away with lung disease. After hugging a few people, Katie found a chair close to her nephew and his wife. They had the party area set up quite festively and the food looked great! They had a table with crock pots filled with barbequed sausages, meatballs, and tiny smoked wieners. There was a big platter of fresh vegetables and dip in the middle. Another platter was filled with a variety of sliced meat and cheese. Then, there was the pretty birthday cake with different colored layers. There were chips, ice cream, and punch. These people knew how to throw a party, and it really didn’t cost anybody that much money. Katie’s niece had all her other family members bring a dish to the party. Everyone talked for awhile and then it was time to open presents. Kerry’s mom handed her the present that Marie had brought her first to open. All the little children tried to help with opening the gifts. Katie smiled, realizing they weren’t really trying to help. They wanted to see what was inside and wanted it to be theirs as well. Little Marie looked on as Kerry started pulling the contents out of the pretty suitcase. The look on her tiny face was priceless! She walked straight over to her maw and whispered in her ear, “Maw, that’s my stuff!” Katie reassured her that she had the same thing at home and it was alright for Kerry to have these things. Marie seemed to be okay with that and ran back to watch her cousin open more presents. After everyone had eaten and sprayed silly string all over the kids and even some of the grownups, Katie started saying her goodbyes to everyone. It had been a good day, but Katie and Marie were both tired. She only hoped the boys had eaten, so she could just rest as soon as she returned home.
The next day, Katie decided to get those letters down and read through them. She got a chair and put it in front of the open closet doors. Then, very carefully, she stood up on the chair so she could reach as high as she could to feel for the letters. Her old house had very high ceilings. “Awww,” she moaned, “I think I’ve found them.” Katie slowly pulled the stack of papers down from the closet. The pages weren’t stapled together, but had been sitting just as they were for many years. The paper had yellowed and the edges were ragged. Some of the writing was faded, but still legible. Katie sat down at her kitchen table and began to read. Memories flooded over her as she read. She remembered a lot of things that had been forgotten. She remembered that Mildred had a son that owned a flower shop or a green house. She tried to remember where it was. She thought it was somewhere in the county outside the city limits. I’ve got to find that green house, thought Katie. She wanted to find out where Mildred was buried and share the letters with her family members. Katie only remembered that one son though. He had been nice to Katie and seemed very pleased with her. Katie remembered him being very business-like and always dressing in a suit, which seemed kind of inappropriate for someone who would be working outside in a green house, but that’s what Katie remembered. Later in the afternoon, Katie gathered her letters up and headed out to look for some green houses and flower shops. She knew where most of the flower shops in town were, and who owned them. There was only one green house in town and it wasn’t owned by Mildred’s son. Katie drove about five miles out in the county on the west end of town before she saw the big green tarps. There were so many of them! This must be it! she thought.
As Katie pulled into a driveway leading onto the property, she saw a young man that looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He was watering some plants as he glanced at Katie edging up to one of several green houses. She parked her car close to him, got out and introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Katie Hall,” she said with her hand outstretched.
“Brad Fortson,” the young man replied, “how can I help you?” Katie knew she had the right place. She hadn’t seen the name of the green house, but she knew that Mildred’s last name was Fortson. After explaining why she was there, Katie learned that this young man was Mildred’s grandson. Brad’s father was still alive, but getting up there in age and had turned the business over to his son. “So you’re the one that my grandmother was talking about!” Brad said in amazement. Then Brad began to tell Katie all about Mildred’s stories that she told them after her and Katie had parted ways. Mildred hadn’t mentioned anything until a couple of years later and she had to communicate what she was saying on paper. Brad invited Katie to his home so she could reunite with Mildred’s son.
“I’d be delighted!” said Katie. The beautiful home sat way back off the road up on a hill. It was a two story yellow house with white trim. It looked like a big farm house. It had a white picket fence that circled the whole house and lots of land. The big, wrap-around front porch was decorated with a white swing and white wicker furniture. Beautiful flowers hung from the top of the porch in their hanging baskets. Brad’s father was sitting in a rocking chair, smoking a pipe when they walked up. Brad introduced Katie, and his father’s face lit up with a spark of recognition. “It’s been a long time,” said Katie.
“Yes, indeed!” replied Charles Fortson. “Well, we have a lot to talk about. Do you have the time to do this today?” asked Mr. Fortson.
“Of course,” said Katie. Brad went inside to bring out some cold lemonade for them all as they began to talk about the past. Katie told Charles about the letters and Charles told Katie that he had found some that his mother had also. Then, he told her what Mildred had requested on her dying bed and even had in writing. Katie listened intently, hardly believing her ears.
“It seems my mother loved you very much,” he said. “She spoke highly of you the whole time you were with her.” He continued, “My mother owned a cottage on the beach. It’s pretty run down, and hasn’t had an occupant for at least ten years. We haven’t done anything with it because she left strict instructions that it would go to you.” He stated. Katie tried to soak it all in, but it was so overwhelming to her.
“Where is she buried?” Katie asked. Charles told her that she had been cremated and her ashes were thrown out over the ocean where her cottage was located in Myrtle Beach. They had gone out on a boat and honored his mother’s wishes. Katie sat there with her head down, biting her bottom lip. It was something she did when she was thinking hard. “I don’t know what to say,” Katie said in little more than a whisper. Mr. Fortson reached over and touched her arm as he smiled and handed her the keys to the cottage.
“Now, my mother can rest in peace,” he said. It was obvious that a burden had been lifted from him. On the ride home, Katie thought about the life changing events that were about to take place. She was already getting excited! When she told her family the news, they were speechless. Katie called the motel at the beach where she and the kids had stayed for many years while on vacation. She planned to go in a couple of days to see the cottage and decide on what to do.
“Okay boys, it’s time to go to bed! We’re leaving at the break of dawn in the morning,” Katie ordered. Marie was already asleep, thank heavens! Sonny was staying home as usual to take care of the animals, plus he had to work his part-time job as a security officer. He had already made supervisor and his job was very important to him. The kids and Katie already had their bags packed so they would be able to just get up and leave. It would be a three hour drive, but Katie knew it would take longer with bathroom and eating stops. The next day, while traveling, Katie listened to the kids as they played the same ole games. Every few minutes, one would hit the other and say, “Punch bug!” which meant that they were the first to spot a little Volkswagen bug first. They also had to call out the make, color and whatever else they saw on the car. Then, there was the game where one person owns everything on their side of the road, while the other person got the property on their side. Marie colored and played with her toys that were brought along. The boys spent a lot of time playing games on their phones and Marie played games on Katie’s phone. Katie did have help driving now. Blake had his license and Preston had his permit, so that was helpful. They arrived at their favorite destination around two in the evening. As Katie went to pay for their room in the office of the motel, the kids headed down to the beach. Marie followed close under Preston’s watchful eye. Once they had their bags all taken up to the room, they decided to go out on the beach and just relax. It was a long drive and everyone was tired—everyone but Marie. She just discovered a new burst of energy!
They walked down to the water wearing their flip flops. The sand was way too hot to be barefoot. Katie lifted her head high and breathed in the salt air as far down her lungs as she could. She absolutely loved the beach! The seagulls screamed overhead and the wind blew softly over their bodies. The sound of the ocean waves hitting the water was so peaceful. Marie screamed out in glee! She was so happy to be there. The boys jumped in and started swimming right away. They had brought their boogie boards to ride the waves. Marie stayed right with Katie wading through the water where the wave had broken and ran up to the sand. “It’s fun, Maw!” Marie yelled.
“Do you want to sit down here and play in the water, or go up a bit and build a sand castle?” Katie asked. Marie decided to play in water for the time being, so Katie placed her beach chair right there at the water’s edge so she could relax while watching the kids. The ocean breeze was just what Katie needed. She was soaking in all God’s beauty. The plan was to go look for the cottage tomorrow after everyone had rested up. After breakfast the next morning, the crew set out to find the cottage that was now under the ownership of Katie. Katie still referred to it as ‘Mildred’s cottage’. Katie told the kids that it would be like a scavenger hunt. The boys were a little old to go for that, but Marie was pretty excited. As they headed down Hwy. 17, they looked at all the signs advertising good food and places of entertainment. They were headed south toward Murrells Inlet. The cottage was on a spot of land in Pawley’s Island, which was right past South Myrtle Beach. It was a small beach town of only about one hundred and three in population. It was known for the rope hammocks that were made there. Katie had heard of it several times in her life, but had never been there. It was a little town in Georgetown County, South Carolina and the Atlantic Coast. It was twenty-five miles from Myrtle Beach according to the GPS that Blake was using on his phone. As they drove through Murrells Inlet, they noticed seafood restaurants everywhere! This town was well known for its seafood. There were a lot more people living there. After about thirty minutes of driving, Katie noticed a small wooden sign hanging on hinges to her right saying ‘Welcome to Pawleys Island’.
“We’re here!” Blake said. Preston pulled his head further toward the front seat to look.
He said, “Where do we go from here?”
“Let me look at the directions,” Katie replied. She pulled over and looked down at her directions that were hand written by Charles Fortson. “It seems there’s only three stop lights in this little town and—well well I suppose to turn left at the third one,” Katie stated. She pulled back on the narrow black asphalt road and headed further south. A few small restaurants with straw roofs were on the main road and a couple of little shops were too. There were hammocks hanging everywhere! They had to stop at the second stop light and Katie looked down the narrow one lane street to her right. There were tables sitting outside for customers of most of the restaurants. Down the road, to the left led to the ocean, she could see the blue water going as far as the eye could see. There was an ice cream shop and a hotdog stand on that road. Finally, Katie turned left at the third light and drove slowly down this small paved road. Blake told her to go four blocks and turn right on Ocean Blvd. As she drove down the scenic coastal road, she looked at the abandoned cottages and wondered if anyone lived down here.
“Slow down, Maw!” Blake said, motioning toward a cottage further down the road all by itself.
“Is that it, Blake?” Katie asked.
“I think it is,” he answered. They pulled into a tiny drive almost invisible by the overgrowth. The cottage was small, but dainty, even though it was run down.
“Let’s get out y’all,” Katie said. She reached back and unbuckled Marie’s seatbelt and helped her out of the car. The boys were already walking around the property. A rock walkway led to the door of the house. There was remnant of a flower bed that lined the rock walkway. To the right of the cottage was a weeping willow tree. Wild flowers were growing everywhere. They were beautiful even though unkempt and completely out of control. Ivy climbed the side of the cottage on the left side. A birdbath sat in the yard along with a broken bench. Katie walked around to the back which faced the ocean. Immediately, she lost her breath! The beauty of what she saw was overwhelming! The backyard led right down to the ocean. There were no trees to block the view. There was a palm tree on each side of the cottage in the back, but nothing to block the gorgeous view that had taken Katie’s breath away. Little Marie had occupied herself with broken items she was finding in the yard. Blake and Preston had wandered on down to the ocean. Tall poles were holding up the cottage in the back. The patio sat high up above, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There used to be a screened in area on the ground raised up a little with marble floor. The screen was long gone, but the floor was in good condition. Katie saw the steps that led to the back door of the cottage. There were about ten steps in all. The sand from the beach reached all the way to the cottage so it had to be raised for safety. Wonder if these keys fit the back door? Katie wondered. She climbed the steps and tried one key and then the other before it fit. When she opened the door, it was like she went back in time.
Beautiful wallpaper lined the walls of the cute little kitchen. The yellow colors in the wallpaper made the room look bright and happy. There was an electric range, a small refrigerator, and a cupboard placed right where Katie would have put them. The retro dining table was definitely antique! It had red seated chairs slid under the chrome metal curved legs and a porcelain enamel top. The floor was covered with black and white tile from the fifties era. Katie walked on through the house that she was already falling in love with. The next room was the living room. It had a cozy and warm feeling. Each room was painted a different color. Beach scenes were found hanging on the walls. There were three bedrooms and two baths. Well, it certainly won’t take much to fix this up inside, Katie mused. Just then, Marie came running in with the boys behind her.
“Can we stay here, Maw, please?” Marie begged.
“We’ll see. We have to fix it up first.” Katie replied. “Well boys, how do you like it?”
Preston spoke up first, “Maw, I love it here! It’s beautiful!”
“Yeah,” agreed Blake, “you can walk for miles in either direction and have your privacy.” Katie walked down to the beach while the others stayed in the cottage. She reached the ocean and raised her hands up toward heaven.
“Thank you God for blessing me and my family. Thank you for all you have done and all you still do every single day. I love you, Father God, with all my heart and soul. I trust in you completely. Please guide me through this transition as I know you will. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.” Katie looked out over the water and knew what she had to do. Tomorrow she would make things final. On their way back to the motel room, they stopped to eat in Murrells Inlet. The seafood was delicious! With full stomachs and not having to worry about directions, the drive back was a lot better. They laughed and talked about the life each one was going to have. Of course, Katie was moving into this cottage as soon as possible. She could get the repairs done while living there. The boys were going to stay in their house with their paw for some time, in the little railroad town where they had grown up. They would also stay with their other grandparents where they stayed in an apartment built on to the original brick house out in the country. Then, when they wanted to get away, they’d pack up their bags and come to their other home on the beach with their maw. Life was going to be good for them.
Marie would stay with Katie until Miranda returned. She had put in a transfer with her job so she could keep Marie and give her mom a break. Katie’s daughter knew that Marie would be going back and forth from her house to Katie’s. That was just fine. Everything was going to work out the way the Lord wanted. The next day was a beautiful sunny day in Myrtle Beach. The temperature was just right. Katie and the kids were heading back to Pawley’s Island. This time, Katie had all her letters with her that she had written to Mildred years ago. Before reaching the cottage, they stopped by the dock where Katie had called earlier to rent a boat ride out in the ocean. The owner of the boat got the address and agreed to meet them in an hour. The beginning of the rest of Katie’s life was about to begin. After being at the cottage for about thirty minutes and cleaning up the place a little, Katie saw the boat racing through the ocean toward her property. She gathered up her letters and yelled for the kids, “Let’s go. He’s here!” They all ran down to the water where the boat was sitting and ready.
“Climb on in,” the driver said. The boys stepped over the edge of the boat while Katie picked Marie up and handed her to her brother who was standing with outstretched arms. Katie got on the boat last with the help of the driver. She told him that she only wanted to go out one mile and stop. The wind whipped through her hair as she contemplated her actions. The salt water air stung her face, but in a good way. Katie noticed where the water changed colors confirming they had gotten far enough out into the deep waters. The driver stopped the boat and said, “That good?”
“Yes, perfect.” answered Katie. She asked her kids to stand with her as she reached into her beach bag and brought out the stack of old withered letters that she had written to Mildred over twenty years ago. Thankfully, the wind had subsided for a bit. Katie started tearing up the letters one by one. Everyone looked on, wondering why she was doing that. After all the letters were torn into shreds, she pitched them out into the deep waters where Mildred’s ashes had been pitched. “Rest in peace my dear Mildred. Thank you for everything!” Then she whispered, “Until we meet again...”
38es were found hanging on the walls. There were three bedrooms and two baths. Well, it certainly won’t take much to fix this up inside, Katie mused. Just then, Marie came running in with the boys behind her.
Marie would stay with Katie until Miranda returned. She had put in a transfer with her job so she could keep Marie and give her mom a break. Katie’s daughter knew that Marie would be going back and forth from her house to Katie’s. That was just fine. Everything was going to work out the way the Lord wanted. The next day was a beautiful sunny day in Myrtle Beach. The temperature was just right. Katie and the kids were heading back to Pawley’s Island. This time, Katie had all her letters with her that she had written to Mildred years ago. Before reaching the cottage, they stopped by the dock where Katie had called earlier to rent a boat ride out in the ocean. The owner of the boat got the address and agreed to meet them in an hour. The beginning of the rest of Katie’s life was about to begin. After being at the cottage for about thirty minutes and cleaning up the place a little, Katie saw the boat racing through the ocean toward her property. She gathered up