Now, at 4:27 a.m., I sit in the dark in front of a fire with thoughts and memories that will not stop and so I write...
Mary, my mother, is writing down her story. She is being strong and brave and she sends me pages that make me weep. My tears are of joy and of sadness. She tells of truths that have not been spoken to me before. She is doing it for me because I asked her to. I love her for it.
Everyone looked at my mother as if she was a movie star. I didn't know that she was broken, but, "Fragile...Handle with care" was stamped across her spirit even then. My Dad knew it, and a part of me did too.
God gave her four babies to love and care for and we were her life. We played, listened to records, read stories, sang, and Mother sewed. She made clothes for herself like the ones Jackie Kennedy wore, and she made Easter dresses and school clothes for my sisters and me. Ron was her first. Her only son. I was born 11 months later. Lori followed two years after me, and two years after Lori, came our baby, Kaylynn.
I love to dance and sing because my mother showed me the joy she got from them. I love stories because Mom didn't just read, she made books come alive. I love the way I love because my mother showed me how.
Elmer, my father, made me feel safe. I learned to trust because he was trust worthy. He left the house in a suit every morning and came home every night at 5:30 as Mom put dinner on the table. He was gentle. He was funny. He fixed skates, light switches, dryers, bikes and cars. He rescued kittens from inside walls, killed opossums, and saved feather-dyed baby chicks that had caught on fire. He showed me how to catch fireflies and he took scary out of thunderstorms.
He taught me to play. I played harder with my Dad than I have ever played with anyone else, and I can still feel the velvety grass he put under my feet ever summer of my childhood if I close my eyes. And boy...could my Dad laugh. It was the infectious kind. I know all little girls think their Daddy is the most handsome man on earth, but mine...Oh...mine was! His smile would light up whole room.
Wonzell, Paul's mother, was born and bread a Texas beauty, but her father left their family to be with someone else and broke her heart. At sixteen she had a secret wedding to Paul's father, and Paul's brother, Charles B., was growing in her belly when she received her high school diploma. At seventeen, Wonzell was a wife and a mother. The next year Paul was born. Four years later, she had David and eight years after that, she had a baby girl who they named Charla, and their family was complete.
I will never know what it feels like to be in the skin of Paul's mother on that fateful day, but the decision she made changed the lives of her children forever. I grieve for all that was lost inside her room in the dark that terrible morning, and I must trust God for the things I will never know. I think about her often because she gave life to baby boy that I have shared a life with. I wonder, "Would she love me?" I never got to look into her eyes. I never got to ask her what Paul was like at three. She never got to hold our children. Paul's children. She never smelled them. She never got to know their hearts.
Charles Brockton Payne, Paul's father, is a man I would have loved deeply. I know this just as I know that he too, would have loved me. Sometimes knowledge just comes and you know. I see something in the eyes of the handsome man who fathered my husband when I look at pictures of him. I can't explain it better than this, but I long to sit beside him and hold his hand. I want to feel him hug me. I picture him weepy in love, just like his Paul, with anything concerning our children. He got so much taken from him that morning. So very very much. Did he see it coming?
I have spent more of my life with Paul than without him. Thirty-seven of fifty-five years. He is the most beautiful picture of a life redeemed I will ever see. And that is my gift. Paul was fifteen when his Nana gave up her life for theirs and moved from Cleburne, Texas to Oklahoma City to care for four broken children left behind. Life went on.
At 17, Paul met a free-spirited, guitar playing, Maxi-dress wearing girl with long white hair bleached as white as snow. He thought she was beautiful. She was me.
We dated. We fell in love. We made plans for a life.
Weeks before our wedding, Charles B., Paul's older brother by one year, committed suicide. Paul's life stopped again. He was 20. This time, we planned a funeral together and after it, we married with broken hearts and began a grown up life with a 15-year old. David, Paul's younger brother, moved in with us and Nana, now full of grief and 63, took eleven-year-old Charla back to her home in Cleburne to give her the only life she knew how to give. A few months later, I found David locked inside his bedroom and Paul had no more brothers.
There is nothing especially unique about these peoples lives. They could be your family, but they aren't. They are mine. All of them, however, had an end to their life before it ever started because God knew every detail and breath of every single one of their days.
The Pam and Paul story continues to thrive with struggles and laughter and love. We began our family five years later with a beautiful precocious daughter named ReAnnon who was in charge immediately.
Our handsome son, Michael, too smart, too cute, and oh so charming was born to negotiate and stole my heart four years after. He still charms like no one else and always makes me laugh out loud.
Chandler, our stunning, free-spirited, photogenic and fiery red-head, surprised us three years later and brought new life back into Father. This one is so much like me that it that it takes my breath away.
ReAnnon's story continues now at the leading (thank you Lord) of her husband Garrett and three precious boys. Jude is 4. Reed is a 2. And Gideon is 3 months. I have never been so much in love.
Gideon cooed at giggled at me this week...
Jude and Reed happily took a spot beside me in the Higerd family Hillbilly band, but I know this will not last much longer...
Michael is coming home for the holidays...his first trip home in almost two years. He's bringing his girlfriend Kim...
Chandler moved back to the area from San Diego so I get to have her light and beauty much more often as she sings and dances and cuts my hair...
And Paul? He recently came across a shoe box of love letters written between his parents while Charles was in New York City studying to be a stock broker and Wonzell was back in Cleburne with Nana. Charles B. was four, Paul was three, and David was growing inside her belly as this shoebox became his gift.
Nana's body is old and tired and she is ready to go see Jesus and Paul is preparing to speak about the woman who sacrificed her life to four grandchildren...
Life...it simply happens.