RELEASE DATE: October 15, 2020

BY: BERTHA CONNALLY ABRAHAMS

Without warning and unprepared, Roy and Regina Mayers became the parents of five little girls under the age of fifteen. A father and mother taken too soon from their children by a senseless car accident leaves a family torn apart. Oil slick streets and the recklessness of a drunk driver leaves frightened and disillusioned children to face a difficult reality.

Except for their Uncle Roy and Aunt Regina, they are alone in the world. Too young to grasp the severity of the situation, they will need to work through countless unresolved issues. Lydia, the oldest of her siblings felt an obligation to them. It began with a promise she’d made to their mother. Now, it seemed that promise extended to her sisters.

For a short while their lives appeared calm, but beneath the surface a storm brewed. As the family’s dynamics changed, those internal and external forces began creating an undercurrent. With such a colossal task of dealing with their pain thrust upon them, the girls didn’t shoulder the guilt of losing their parents well. Life wasn’t easy for any of them.

Could they manage alone? No way. It wasn’t possible. Fortunately, their Uncle and Aunt saw the gaping hole this tragedy created and wisely sought a way to help them heal.

It wasn’t a perfect family, but it worked. Their Uncle and Aunt gave them the best life possible. Lydia and her sisters, Keisha, Danielle, Patsy and Pauline, were the product of their parents and were gradually becoming the embodiment of their newly acquired family.

Most of them escaped those teenage years unscathed. Unfortunately, Pauline one of the younger sisters carried some extra baggage that none of them knew existed. It took much more effort for her recovery. Her struggle with drug and alcohol abuse brought the world around her crashing down on the entire family. It wasn’t just about Pauline anymore. Every member of the Mayers household were responsible for supporting each other in those dark hours. With prayer, a watchful eye and a dogged determination from those who loved her, Pauline survived. In time and with the aid of a therapist, eventually each of the girls learned to navigate the treacherous waters ahead.

The Mayers didn’t allow outsiders in and they didn’t venture outside of their family circle for help. Their Uncle and Aunt believed in self-containment. They handled all conflict that disrupted their lives. None of them knew for sure, except Lydia and perhaps Patsy what went on behind the closed doors in the Mayers household. Their Uncle Roy’s principalship and their upper society living didn’t line up. Where was the money coming from? None of them dared to ask or perhaps they were simply too young to care. Their Aunt Regina was loving, but it was prudent not to get in the way of her plans for her family.

Loving, yes, but forgiving, no way. Family meant everything to her.

Death and poor health forced Lydia’s predecessors, her Uncle’s Roy, Edmond and friend Jackson to look within the ranks for a new leader. It was time for a new generation to rise and carry on the family tradition. Unclear what that was, Lydia was stunned when she was chosen to lead her family and even more surprised to discover what her duties entailed. Why her? She wondered. She had taken an oath to do no harm. Was she capable of doing whatever it took for the sake of family?

Sandra Ware, Math Specialist/Interventionist — the Pew is a well-written piece of work that embraces and solidifies the power of love. It is a story of family who survives the highs and lows, the peaks and valleys, the struggles, the breakthroughs, and the sins forgiven, forgotten, or carried to the grave. In the Pew will both warm your heart and pierce your very soul.

Yolanda Stredick, RN — In the Pew is full of twists and surprises that kept me interested. There were moments when the story overwhelmed me. Through tears, I realized that sections of her book were a reflection of my own reality. This book is an example of lessons that I have learned during this journey we call life. In the Pew displays a wide range of emotions that are very relatable.

INTRODUCTION

Early on faith, environment, and love of family played a pivotal role in the lives of five little girls until a horrific accident took the lives of their parents, Paul and Rachel Reading. After the death of their parents they went to live with their unconventional uncle and aunt. At times, the roads the girls traveled came to a fork and no matter what direction they took, they hit a few sharp and unpredictable curves. Amazingly, the older girls, Lydia and Keisha developed great strength while struggling to live out their dreams. However, grief took control and tested the faith of the younger sisters. Despite all they endured, most of them found the road to a better tomorrow. Lydia had promised their mother that one day she’d provide the necessary care for those less fortunate. Keisha took a different path that exposed color barriers and taught her the meaning of true humility. Her ability to forcefully and passionately articulate a thought gave the underdog a voice. It came as no surprise that Keisha decided to take their fight to the halls of justice. It was Danielle who had the same passion to teach like their mother and grandmother before her. Of course, Patsy hoped to eventually reach the rank of CFO in a Fortune 500 company.

But, to pretend that all was well meant covering up Pauline’s alcohol and drug infested world. Unfortunately, the loss of their parents and their grandmother’s rejection played a tug of war with her emotions. She had a lot to overcome.

CHAPTER 1
In the Twinkling of an Eye

Fate intervened when a chance meeting at the church social brought them together again. College and travel took her away, but Sweetwater, Mississippi was her home. She stood at the window, swept back in time. On that very same grassy knoll as a little girl she once played an identical game of tag. Unexpected memories flooded her thoughts like tides that rushed in and then out again taking with it the evidence of her past. Keenly aware that someone stood behind her, she turned quickly. “Well, hello, Paul,” she said staring into the face of a handsome and memorable young man.

“Hello, Rachael, it’s good to see you again.”

She extended her hand. “How have you been these days?”

“Good. Of course, you look more beautiful than the last time I saw you. How’s that possible?” he asked.

She blushed. They embraced. He kissed her cheek. She could smell the fragrance of his sweet, but manly cologne as they exchanged small talk about their lethargic little town. Suddenly, at a loss for words he said, “See you later, Rachael,” then he turned and walked away.

Rachael Morganson and Paul Reading met and fell in love on a steamy summer day on the front lawn of her church. Sweat like dew settled on his brow and then poured down his face like raindrops as he stood in the sweltering heat.

He shifted his feet from side to side with frequency as his eyes danced nervously in his head. She felt his discomfort as he stood in such disarray. Despite his wrinkled and sweat-soaked shirt, he looked as handsome as ever with that curly black hair and sunbaked skin. His dark and muscular body shimmered in the sunlight like an African warrior. The first time she saw him, he literally took her breath away. Those chestnut eyes burned his image into her memory and every time Rachael relieved that moment it caused her to giggle like a love-sick schoolgirl.

The church sat on a long, isolated stretch of a dusty farm road in Sweetwater, Mississippi. Lydia glanced off in the distance. Row after row of cotton blanketed fields that represented a way of life gone forever. Five generations of their mama’s family once worshiped in this wood-framed church that now tilted to one side. The building’s bent and sloped structure showed visible signs of age. Just one more beam could’ve added the support needed for the next leg of the journey. How many times had she seen the fragile finish their course propped up with sticks and canes? The weathered outer appearance of the building didn’t signify the end, only a pause, until the time to move forward. Their church had stood now for more than a century as a sign of God’s favor to the loyal Mt. Olivett Church family.

Lydia was the oldest of the Reading sisters. Childhood games kept her sisters busy, while their mama shared her time and stories with her.

“I helped Mama cook, clean and take care of everyone. She had her hands full with five girls and Daddy. Somehow, we managed. Sometimes Mama paused briefly from the routine of her day and drifted off into her fantasies. Her passion for life carried me along with her like a current in a forceful river,” Lydia said.

The Readings approached Sunday as a day of relaxation. They considered any work done on Sunday unchristian-like behavior. Every Sunday morning Rachael walked up the aisle at the Mt. Olivett Baptist Church and proudly took the same seat in the third pew to the right as if assigned this seat from God himself. Her twins, Patsy and Pauline wobbled in behind her. Very careful not to linger far behind their mama and her little ducklings, in single file, the rest of them piled in behind them. The twins thought the privilege of youth gave them the right to sit next to her. Smugly, Keisha and Lydia squeezed into the seat to the right of their daddy. Danielle plopped down on his left. “Lydia,” Keisha whispered, “take this,” as she passed her a bubble gum wrapper.

Aunt Regina slid into the pew directly behind her sister and then tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey, Rachael,” she said.

“Hey, Regina,” she whispered. Roy, Regina’s husband, sat up front today with his visiting Masonic brothers. Halfway through the sermon, his head began bobbing back and forth. As his head jerked forward, he caught himself and sat straight up as if his army commander had yelled attention. Out of the corner of her eye, Lydia watched Aunt Regina. The prospect of their uncle asleep in church annoyed her aunt. Uncle Roy’s own private sermon awaited him today when he got home. Lydia thought.

Shortly after she took her seat, Rachael’s gentle voice took on a sterner tone as she reprimanded one of her children. “Stop kicking,” she said firmly as Pauline kicked the pew in front of her. Patsy placed her head in Mama’s lap and closed her eyes. Ms. Adeline seated in the pew in front of Rachael turned around with an unpleasant smirk on her face. Pauline continued kicking the seat. Rachael just smiled and nodded her head politely. Then she turned her attention to Pauline and gave her the look that usually put fear in their hearts. Anyway, she decided not to take any chances today. This time she gave Pauline the look along with a hard slap on her leg. Immediately, Pauline stopped. She knew Mama meant business, so she quickly pulled her legs back and shifted her position in her seat. Despite Pauline’s disruption, Rachael appeared in a good mood. Her pleasant mood she said came when she felt the presence of God. That’s probably why she only slapped Pauline’s leg once. Sometimes, Pauline required several hard slaps. But today, one slap and Pauline no longer kicked or fidgeted in her seat.

Church services seemed to go on forever today, perhaps because that lady, Ms. Jacobson, got the Holy Ghost. She let out a loud shout. Then she ran up and down the aisle and then danced all over the church. Her body jerked, and her screams could’ve awakened the dead. Then her glasses flew off her face and landed softly as if on a bed of puffy cumulus clouds before dropping safely onto her seat. She paid little attention. Instead, she continued jumping about like she’d stepped into a bed of angry fire ants. A well-trained army of ushers sprang into action with fans, water, and smelling salt in their hands. They fanned and wiped the sweat forming tiny beads of water on her face. Finally, exhausted, she settled into her seat. Her wig and beautiful red straw hat that had proudly adorned her head earlier now awkwardly straddled it. She looked like she’d been in combat. Suddenly, an usher reached up and repositioned her wig and her hat. Ms. Jacobson appeared unconcerned with her untidiness.

They sat next to their daddy clapping their hands and stomping their feet to the beat of the music. The melodious voices of the choir blended into a sugary harmony. Inspired by the sounds of the music, Lydia daydreamed, but had long ago realized that she couldn’t hold a note. Their daddy had great voice. He sang in the men’s chorus at church and a quartet called “The Harmonizers.” They loved hearing him sing. His smooth, high-pitched tone took on the sound of rushing water as it cascaded down a hillside. “Your daddy has a beautiful tenor voice,” their mama said proudly.

When services ended, they waited patiently outside so that their parents could shake Reverend Johnson’s hand and compliment him on his sermon. “Wonderful job today, Pastor.”

“Thank you, Brother Reading. See you got your note pad again, Sister Reading,” Pastor Johnson said.

“Always, Pastor.” She clutched her notepad, “yes, Pastor, as always another eloquent dialogue.”

“Thank you, Sister Reading, for those kind words.”

Rachael took detailed notes every Sunday. She said her notes gave her the strength needed for the days ahead. They’d grown accustomed to this ritual and didn’t dare move a muscle until one of them said, “See you next Sunday, Pastor, God willing.” With that cue, they ran as fast as we could toward the car.

Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy, particularly short on ritual, stopped briefly, greeted the Pastor and then walked briskly in their direction with outstretched arms. “Hello, everybody,” they shouted. Aunt Regina gave them a kiss and a big hug like she did every time they saw her, which happened every day. Their house sat on Broad Street, a block away. Uncle Roy greeted them warmly, too. Excited to see their favorite and only uncle and aunt, they returned their affection. Unlike their mama, Aunt Regina wasn’t blessed with a house full of kids, but she and Uncle Roy had each other. Daddy was an only child. Lydia overheard their parents say once that Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy couldn’t have any children. Unsure of what that meant, she always gave their aunt a bigger hug.

“Rachael,” Aunt Regina said, as she turned to face her, “how’s that back of yours these days?”

“Okay today. The doctor said I pulled a muscle.”

“Take care of yourself, girl. What can I help you with?” Aunt Regina asked.

“I’m okay.”

“I’ll stop by tomorrow,” Aunt Regina said, “but call me if you need me.”

She blew them all kisses, grabbed Uncle Roy’s hand, and walked off. Her walk looked more like a schoolgirl skipping as she held tightly to his hand. They crossed over the sidewalk and darted in between parked cars before they reached their own vehicle. The narrow street served as the parking lot since businesses had swallowed up the land around the church. In hindsight, it would’ve benefited the church to buy the piece of property next to its small lot a long time ago. Now looking ahead, their mistake glared back at them every Sunday morning as they fought traffic to enter their sanctuary.

Although a year older, Aunt Regina was even more beautiful than their mama. Perhaps because she had only Uncle Roy to take care of, she looked younger. Their skin had a light, almost pale hue and they had the brownish eyes she’d ever seen. The other exception, Aunt Regina was slightly taller than her petite sister.

“Hurry up, girls!” Daddy yelled. Abruptly, he stopped in his track, searched his shirt and then patted his pants pockets for the car keys. He had a habit of misplacing the little things.

Mama constantly yelled with affection as he got ready to leave for work. “Don’t forget your lunch sack, Paul.” Keisha and Lydia thought he forgot things purposely so that she would dote on him. They raced to the car to get window seats.

Before the words left Daddy’s lips, five sets of legs sprinted in the direction of the car. The twins always arrived last but squeezed in next to Mama and Daddy. Our dark blue suburban, the clunker, had more than enough room for everyone. Wherever they needed to go, it got them safely there. Daddy drove an old truck to work and that enormously awkward looking suburban to all the family outings. He absolutely adored that old car. Behind his back, they called it the big blue monster machine.

Within minutes, they arrived home. “Girls, go get out of your Sunday clothes,” Mama said. “Danielle, help your baby sisters get undressed, and then come in here and fix some snacks for everyone.”
“Yes, Mama,” she yelled.

“Lydia, you and Keisha come help me finish getting dinner ready.”

“Yes, Mama,” we shouted back.

An hour later, everyone sat down to dinner. Daddy blessed the food and then passed the different dishes around the table. Some Sundays, Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy joined them, but today, they’d made other plans. We spent most of Saturday preparing the Sunday meal. Everyone intentionally left the seats next to Mama open. They needed a break from the twin’s continuous fights over who would get the seat next to her. It got very noisy around dinnertime with everyone talking at the same time. Quietly, Daddy and Mama sat and listened. They said the dinnertime sharing belonged to everyone, but especially their children. Today, they talked about Ms. Jacobson and the Holy Ghost.

“Mama, can I get the Holy Ghost?” Danielle asked.

“Sure, honey.”

“I don’t know if I want it,” Danielle said.

Mama laughed. Her contagious laughter filled the room. “The gift of the Holy Ghost allows us to worship Him freely,” she said.

“It looks scary,” Danielle said.

The twins sat very quietly. They looked confused.

“Mama, how can I get the Holy Ghost?” Lydia asked.

When she looked at me, her eyes filled with love. “God will anoint you with the Holy Spirit in His own time, Lydia.”

“Will I know when it comes?”

“You will, Lydia,” she said. Then she smiled and changed the subject.

After dinner the older girls cleared the dishes from the table and hurriedly washed them by hand. Their mama said that dishwashers wasted money. Why would she need one? Lydia thought. She had them. Absorbed in their world of make believe, the twins sat on the floor singing and talking to their dolls and their imaginary friends. Keisha and Danielle rushed outside for a game of dodgeball or perhaps basketball. Keisha’s seriously dramatic and frequently over-the-top mood swings probably determined which game they played. Remarkably, her moody behavior looked more like the temper tantrums of her younger sisters. Confident that Keisha faked them, Lydia ignored her.

Their daddy’s imagination combined with a little creativity kept them amused. One summer, he nailed an old basketball rim, void of any net, to a tree in the backyard. To everyone’s astonishment, Keisha and Danielle loved it. Sometimes, they spent hours on that makeshift court. Often from the bedroom window, Lydia watched the ball hit the backboard and then drop through the rim as someone yelled ….net. On the way to the room she shared with Keisha and Danielle, Lydia grabbed a book from the shelf. Today, it was her room if only for a few hours.

Their tiny, white, two-bedroom house sat at the end of Calder Street that intersected with Moss Avenue, one of the more impressive sections of town. A huge, old oak tree covered the front exterior of the house and an even larger version of that tree shaded the back. A white picket fence wrapped around and then enclosed the entire yard. This simple wood framed house looked out of place sitting in the shadows of those sophisticated houses with their manicured yards. Her daddy said that Moss Avenue had old money. Lydia thought he meant old as in not new. What a startling revelation when she finally understood what he tried to tell her. As if it made a difference when you got ready to spend it, Lydia still marvel at that concept of old money versus new money.

Mr. Walters, the owner of the sawmill lived on Moss Avenue with the affluent. He drove by their house every day on his way to and from work. Once Lydia caught a glimpse of him downtown on one of those few times when Mama took her along. His short stature surprised her. She expected him to look like a giant. Daddy talked about how kind, and compassionately he treated his workers. Daddy always said that conditions at work could be worse. Thank God for Mr. Walters. “When I talked to God, I made sure that I included Mr. Walters and all the workers on behalf of my daddy,” Lydia said.

Their parents made sacrifices for them. They gave the larger bedroom to the older girls and kept the smaller one for themselves. “Before one of you girls leaves for college, Paul and I will probably endure some heated squabbles over territorial rights and possessions,” Rachael said. Then she laughed and walked out of the door. The twins got their daddy’s pride, the converted loft he’d worked on all year. Had the space been larger, the older girls would’ve gladly swapped places with them. They envied their younger sister’s private quarters away from the curious eyes of their parents. The twins sensed their jealousy and rubbed their noses in it every chance they got.

Daddy went to work each day optimistic and happy about his family’s future. Their goal was a college education for each of them. Their parents didn’t believe in failure. “Not succeeding in one thing didn’t mean failure. It simply meant that a person needed to broaden their search. It’s out there,” Mama said.

The sawmill took him away from home early in the mornings and returned him late in the evenings. Rachael kept a tight schedule with five girls and housework. Occasionally, she helped down at the church and sometimes took on a community project. Some days, Paul came home so tired he forced a smile for their sake. Despite his pretense, Lydia captured immediately what her younger sisters missed. In Keisha and Danielle’s defense, they hated the thought of him being unhappy. Purposely, they hid their fear behind fake smiles and laughter. With deliberate oversight, they looked past his clothes and skin covered in a misty white powder. His dry cough went unnoticed by the twins.

Everyone else noticed when he coughed and wheezed uncontrollably. One day, Rachael made a disturbing comment as she and Lydia sat alone on the porch swing. “Those tiny flakes of sawdust will probably kill Paul one day.” Her words echoed loudly in Lydia’s ears and sent chills down her spine. Lydia shivered. When Rachael realized that she’d spoken out loud, she said, “I’m sorry, Lydia. Sometimes I forget. Although you have the gift of wisdom, you’re still a child.”

How could something so small create such a danger? Lydia thought. Why did he continue to work there? Of course, she knew the answer. He loved his family more than he valued his own life and would’ve done absolutely anything for them.

They seldom got around to dining out alone and looked forward to their date night. Daddy said with the restaurant’s limited parking, he needed to drive the old compact truck.

Their parents died instantly when out of nowhere, a drunk driver broad-sided them. Daddy lost control. His truck went airborne then landed upside down in a ditch filled with rainwater. Light showers had fallen earlier in the day. A combination of rain and oil from the busy traffic made the street slick and traction impossible. It seemed like they’d just arrived at Aunt Regina’s house only a block away when a police officer rang the doorbell. Aunt Regina opened the door. In the moonlit night, Lydia saw the grim expression on the face of Officer Jones, one of their daddy’s friends. He came over many times when Daddy hosted one of his barbeque cook-offs. They spoke softly, but whatever he said to Aunt Regina made her cry.

She closed the door and came inside. Her face held a haunting expression and her eyes looked glassy. “Even today, that memory haunts my dreams. Then she grabbed us and squeezed so tightly, I felt the air escape my body,” Lydia said. Her tears frightened them. She made a quick call, then she sat and pulled all of them close to her. No one said a word. Lydia didn’t know why they waited until the door burst open. Uncle Roy rushed in out of breath, as if a mad dog chased him. Slowly, his breathing returned to normal. Last month, Amanda, a classmate had an asthma attack in front of the class. She wheezed, choked and fought for every breath of pure life. Everyone watched in horror. Uncle Roy sounded the way Amanda had that day.

Then they told them that their parents had died in a traffic accident. What did that mean? Lydia thought. Would they go away for a little while and then return? Were they gone forever? Last summer, one of her classmates died. He never came back to school again. The teacher, Mrs. Collins moved Jimmy’s desk into the corner of the room. Did she expect him to one day walk in and take his seat? Lydia wondered. Once in the middle of a class discussion, she saw George turn completely around in his seat, as if he expected Jimmy to answer Mrs. Collins’ question. Did this mean that their mother and father would never kiss them goodnight or tuck them in ever again? At any age and especially as children, death was hard to digest. Tears rolled down Aunt Regina’s cheeks as she held my sisters. The fear in Keisha’s eyes frightened her. Danielle bellowed loudly. Her outward display showed the tremendous mental distress she now faced. The twins, Patsy and Pauline knew that something terrible happened but couldn’t comprehend the effect on their lives going forward. Within a matter of minutes, they didn’t belong to anyone.

Life as they once knew it changed. With school ended, summer vacation started out hot and humid. The sun came up even brighter and hotter than usual for this time of the year. They went into town with Aunt Regina for the weekly grocery shopping. Lydia shuddered as she imagined their lives had their uncle and aunt refused to take them in. Thank God Aunt Regina, their mother’s only sister, and Uncle Roy, her favorite brother-in-law stepped in. Although new parents, their efforts still surpassed those of some of the other parents they knew.

Lydia and her sisters never knew their paternal grandparents. However, Lydia recalled with disdain their grandmother, Duchess Margaret Rose, their mama’s mother. How could she ever forget this prejudiced woman?

Uncle Roy consoled Aunt Regina as he walked her toward the kitchen. While Lydia clung to her sisters, she heard him say something very odd. He looked at Aunt Regina with concern in his eyes and whispered, “Call Paul’s brother, Edmond.” Lydia held onto her sisters even tighter. She thought she’d misunderstood him amidst all the chaos. Surely, she hadn’t heard him correctly. Daddy was an only child. Mama had said that he only had his girls in this whole big world to look out for him.

Aunt Regina did her best to console them. Five little girls, now motherless, created a totally different scenario for her. Briefly, Lydia stepped in and took over as the surrogate parent. She knew that after the initial shock, Aunt Regina would require all the help she could get. Childless, she lacked the experience. Lydia had heard their mother speak of her sister’s barrenness, but she wasn’t sure what their mother meant. Aunt Regina loved children, especially them. She and Uncle Roy often volunteered to babysit for their parents when they wanted some alone time. Her big robust uncle had a huge heart and every chance he got he let the world know just how much he loved them. Pride filled his eyes when someone asked if they belonged to him.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “these are my girls.” The outward evidence of his love welled up in his heart and then spilled over into his generosity. They loved going into town with him. Whatever they wanted, he made sure they got it. He surrendered to their charms, particularly the twins. Like the bond that their mother and Aunt Regina shared, they developed a special bond with their new parents.

Lydia was twelve, Keisha eleven and Danielle ten when their parents died. Patsy and Pauline celebrated their sixth birthday two months earlier.

Lydia vowed to always look out for her sisters. Every time Mama got ready to leave the house she said, “Lydia, take care of your sisters and make sure they clean their rooms, I’ve got a last-minute errand to get done before dinner can get on the table.”

“Yes, Mama,” Lydia said. As Mama walked toward the door, she stopped and whispered into Keisha’s ear. Then Keisha smiled and looked back at Lydia. Mama continued toward the door. Then she stopped again, looked over her shoulder, and winked at Lydia. Keisha and Lydia were away at college when Lydia thought about those days. Immediately, she picked up the phone. It rang several times. Finally, Keisha picked up.

“Hello,” Keisha said panting heavily.

“Hey, girl.”

“Hey, Lydia, what’s going on?”

“Not much. It seems I’m always in a hurry. Most times, I barely get to the phone before the impatient caller hangs up,” Keisha said.

They laughed then chatted for a few minutes about their hectic lives and the usual girl talk. “Keisha, do you recall what Mama said to you every time she left to go off on one of her errands?”

“Yes,” Keisha said and paused. Then she laughed so loudly Lydia held the phone away from my ear. Her eardrum felt like it would explode.

“Well, what did she say?” Lydia asked, annoyed.

Keisha continued to laugh. Her voice echoed. “I’ve waited for you to ask me that one question my whole life.” They laughed. “If you must know, Mama whispered softly into my ear, ‘Take care of our Lydia, even the strong need our help sometimes.’ ‘Yes, Mama,’ I said.”

As the oldest, Lydia understood that their uncle and aunt had a tough decision to make. Where would they live? Aunt Regina’s life work as a teacher hardly equipped her to handle five young girls under the age of fifteen with the drama of those teenage years ahead of them. Sure, she babysat us sometimes which offered a temporary fix for their parents. Would they welcome five additional mouths? The thought frightened Lydia more for her sisters than for herself. She hated the thought of them, mainly the twins, separated and under the supervision of strangers.

All week-long their aunt looked distracted. Probably, she fretted over the funeral arrangements and probably what to do with them. Their devout Christian parents always put God first, and then the family. They understood the importance of the proper order of things. Aunt Regina struggled with her decision and feared that her inexperience could jeopardize their maturity. She had no prior knowledge when it came to the care of children. Teaching children that went home to their own parents at night was completely different. She positioned God in the right place, but she didn’t seem to know what to do next. Rachael said that some people needed a little extra help. That’s why God sent them a tangible sign. Lydia hoped that Aunt Regina didn’t miss it when it came. The stress of their aunt’s struggle showed on her face.

They rose early the morning of the funeral. Keisha, and Lydia helped dress the little ones. All morning Lydia found it hard to hold back the tears. Today, they would say their final farewell to most important people they’d ever known. She already missed them. Whenever Mama left her alone with her sisters, she always said, “Lydia, you’re the oldest, take care of your sisters.”

They agonized. Her baby sisters’ constant onslaught of tears reminded Lydia of a leaky faucet. Constantly, she consoled and told them that things would turn out okay. More and more these days, she wanted to run away from that big sister everyone leaned on. However, her role took on a life of its own and thrived under its newfound power. One by one, they came to her for the strength they thought she possessed. Pauline worried her. She remained quiet. Keisha’s anger spilled over at times even though she tried her best to cope with her emotions. Misery and sadness showed on the faces of Danielle and the twins. Much too young, the twins couldn’t understand that one day this pain would inevitably loosen its grip on them.

The hour finally arrived. Lydia kept hoping that their parents would walk through the door and join in on the joyful celebration. That didn’t happen. After the internment, people stopped in to pay their respect and offer words of comfort. Even though she understood that they meant well, the continuous barrage of well wishes zapped her strength. She recognized their daddy’s co-workers and their church family, but she saw people she’d never met before today.

With enthusiasm, Aunt Regina introduced them to Congressman Edmond Stein and his wife B.J. “Girls,” she said excitedly, “say hello to Edmond and B.J. Stein.” What she said next stunned Lydia. In total disbelief, Lydia stood fixed in the same spot. Her temples throbbed. Uncle Roy walked off, mingled, shook hands and thanked the guest for coming. The twins stared across the yard in a daze, not because of what Aunt Regina said, but because the entire day was way too much for them to handle. “Girls,” Aunt Regina said, “I want you to meet your daddy’s brother, Edmond and his wife, B.J.”
Her cheeks burned like someone had slapped her hard across her face. With her mouth agape, Lydia stared up at him and in a raspy voice said, “Hello, sir.” He smiled and then gave her a big hug.

“Hello, young lady. We’ve heard some fantastic things about you and your sisters.” Then he hugged her sisters. She shared something with this rather handsome and polished man. Although, at the time blinded by disbelief, it seemed unclear exactly what they had in common.

B.J., the distinguished congressman’s beautiful wife, reached out and pulled Lydia close. Despite, her red, puffy eyes, she looked regal. She wore an exquisite three-strand pearl necklace that dropped in tiers down the front of her basic black dress. The air that encircled her felt calm. She dabbed at the corner of her eyes with her pristine handkerchief. Then she hugged each of them again. Overcome with jubilation, the stranger, Mr. Stein, hugged each of them again, too. He seemed genuinely glad to see them as if he’d found a valuable item that had been lost. Where had you been, Lydia thought angrily? Daddy lived as though you didn’t exist, so why have you come now? She waited anxiously. Had he come to take them away? Lydia felt sure their aunt would dive right in and help her wade through what felt like choppy waters.

Deep in concentration, the four of them walked off together. They spoke in hushed whispers and huddled like football players before the execution of a big play. The whispers puzzled them, but it appeared that they walked away in full agreement. Would they separate them from all that they’d ever known? Terror gripped her. Mr. Stein and his extraordinarily beautiful wife walked over and said goodbye again. “Lydia, Regina and Roy will know how to reach us. Call if ever you need anything,” she said and instantly, Lydia felt a powerful connection to her. Then the couple got in their rental car and headed for the airport.

Miraculously, as the day faded, and the evening drew nigh, it revealed a dramatic sunset. They felt tremendously grateful for those who came but breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind the last guest. Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy called them into the family room. Lydia’s temples throbbed, and a headache hit with such force it ignited sharp pains that shot through her brain like the spark plugs that ignited the engine in their daddy’s old car.

“Girls,” Aunt Regina said, “Right after the accident, we petitioned the court for permanent custody. I know it’s what my sister would’ve wanted.” Thankful for their decision, they cried and ran into the arms of their new parents. Lydia’s shoulders relaxed; her headache seemed less intense. God called their parents from their earthly home then placed them in the capable hands of people who loved them equally as much.

In the days that followed the funeral, gloom crept in and stifled the air around her. Lydia sat alone in the quietness. Her sisters wandered off to their rooms. They looked lost and defeated. The horror that brought them to this nightmarish moment had finally culminated.

Lydia heard Uncle Roy say, “Regina, it’s been a rough week. I need some fresh air to clear my head.” It sounded like another one of her uncle’s excuses. He faked those walks from time to time for their sake. And as predicted, as soon as the door closed behind him, she called out.

“Lydia, come here, I need to talk with you.” She detected urgency in their aunt’s tone. “Please, sit down. Recently, you found out a secret that had been hidden for decades. Under dire circumstances, you’ve discovered that your daddy had a brother. As a matter of fact, they met for the first-time last year and had an enjoyable reunion.”

Lydia sat dumbfounded. The recently unveiled new truth and what masqueraded as truth seemed miles apart. Her thoughts swirled around in her head like tumbleweeds in a dust storm. How could their parents have been so selfish? She felt betrayed. Why did they feel the need to hide the truth from them? she thought. A sarcastic chuckle rose up from her throat, and she asked, “What else do we not know?”

“You’ll know more in time,” their aunt said with a sweetness in her voice that reassured Lydia. “Your grandmother almost carried this dark secret to her grave. What changed her mind? Who knows? Because of what she hid from the world, she never wanted anyone to get too close or Edmond to get too far away from her. She feared her past life would spill out and pollute all that she’d held sacred. In confidence, Rachael shared this fascinating story with me. She said that your grandmother gave up your daddy for adoption when he was an infant but provided for him financially under a cloak of secrecy.”

Lydia sat and listened. What could she say? She wondered. Words escaped her. Then she remembered this stranger who shared the same bloodline and had their daddy’s incredible smile.
Aunt Regina waited for any sign of a breakthrough. She remained speechless.

“Perhaps, one day, Lydia, you’ll know the whole truth,” Aunt Regina said with hope filling her voice. Lydia walked down the hall to the bedroom she shared with her sister then threw herself across the bed. The pillow that covered her head muffled the tormented sound coming from deep inside. Her sisters had enough pain to deal with. However, less bothered by the news of their new uncle than her, they welcomed the idea of a larger family.

They stayed out of school an extra week after the death of their parents. Aunt Regina said grieving was a process and that they needed more time. Intuitively, their aunt made the right decision. She hired a therapist. For an entire year, they made their bi-weekly pilgrimage to the office of Dr. Maude. This kind woman who stood approximately five feet in high heels, with blond hair and big blue eyes the color of the ocean helped them navigate a treacherous road. They fell in love with her and felt comfortable sharing their most intimate thoughts in her colorful space. Each of them carried a tiny bit of unwarranted guilt that she helped them chisel through. Immature, they blamed themselves for their parent’s death. If I’d done my chores or my homework on time, they rationalized. It seems silly now, but at that moment when the pain of their loss ruled their lives, those reasons seemed real. Within those sessions, Dr. Maude helped them reshape their individual worth and removed the guilt from most of them. In Pauline’s twisted state of mind, she felt that their parents abandoned her.

They returned to school and melted with some difficulty back into the routine of their once-average activities. Their parents died, and they fell apart. Pieces of their lives broke off every time they moved in any direction.

With their lives in shambles, her twin sisters regressed beyond the point of their six years. They required so much attention that it drained the energy of everyone around them. Poor Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy, Lydia thought. They didn’t complain. Instead, they showered the twins with even more love and affection. Weak and exhausted, Lydia felt like her body had lost its sustainer of life to the fangs of a vampire. Determined to help the twins survive this terrible ordeal, they pulled together as a family. Worry kept her awake at night. She feared that their uncle and aunt would grow weary of them and ship them off to an orphanage. In her heart, where it mattered, she knew that her dread lacked merit.

Unfortunately, her grades drifted and then tumbled like an avalanche down a snow-covered mountainside. Lydia reached out from her own nightmares and comforted her baby sisters. Like Mama had done years earlier, she hung a dream catcher over their bed and told them that it would trap all their bad dreams in its web. Myth or truth, what did it matter if it brought them some restful nights?

Concerned teachers and loyal friends kept Aunt Regina informed of the rapid decline in her grades. “Lydia,” Aunt Regina said, “you’ve got to think about your own physical and mental health.” She listened politely, but she felt obligated. Her sisters needed her and many times, their mama left her with the responsibility of their care. This time caring for them seemed greater than any other time.

Keisha’s return to everyday life seemed effortless. Danielle’s poker face masked her hurt and made it harder to gauge her emotions. They endured a difficult time; the seven of them which now included Aunt Regina and Uncle Roy. At times, she felt sorry for Aunt Regina. Parenting five little girls was hard, particularly Pauline who should’ve come with an instruction manual or at least a return policy. Lydia shook her head. The days ahead would surely test their faith in God and each other. Uncle Roy was a big old teddy bear with a gentle touch. Aunt Regina preferred a strong hand but searched for that happy medium. Lydia doubted that she had found it. Mama always said that God answered prayers. She wondered if Aunt Regina ever prayed for children. God sure had a sense of humor, she thought and smiled inwardly.

Aunt Regina was far from the sweet and gentle soul. It was Mama who gave her the nickname fireball. She had a fiery temper. Frustrated some days but for the most part, she managed to keep her temper in check. Despite those regrettable moments, her genuine efforts shone through. The charge of raising five girls weighed heavily on her, but she pushed forward and maneuvered her way through this maze. With the absence of a manual or instructions on the dos’ and don’ts’ of parenthood, Aunt Regina got a whole lot of experience rather quickly.

Lydia had to admit, they weren’t an easy bunch. Keisha had mood swings, some she faked, and some were real. Danielle gloated while she bossed everyone around. The twins sulked and cried constantly for Mama and Daddy. Lydia felt their aunt’s pain. As new parents, they attended their school activities, PTA meetings, and conference times. These two-wonderful people were a constant reminder of God’s blessing.

Evidence of their new parents uncompromised love showed up in all the things they did for them, which included the numerous carpools over the years. During countless days and nights of colds, fevers, stomachaches and perhaps a few unnamed illnesses, Aunt Regina sat, held their hands and prayed. It seemed as if Lydia needed them praying for her recovery more than the rest of them. Sometimes, they took shifts rotating in and out of their rooms. Regardless of the hour, one of them stayed at their side until the worst passed. Could they love them anymore had they been their birth parents? Lydia seriously doubted it. Lydia and her sisters loved and depended on them for all their needs. Then on the second anniversary of their parent’s death, their adoption became final.

Challenges came with their passage from adolescence to those teenage years in the Mayers’ household. Under the watchful eye of Uncle Roy, the boys stayed at a safe distance. Still freshly imprinted in her memory, she recalled the day Larry dropped over and asked their uncle if she could go to the movies with him. Uncle Roy nearly scared that poor boy to death. In that stern and formidable voice of his, he said, “Young man, I expect you to return Lydia to this house the same way that she left. Do you understand, son?” When he stood up his large frame took up all the space around them.

“Yes, sir,” Larry said, as his voice trembled with fear. Despite the uncomfortable start to the evening, they discovered that they had a similar taste in music, movies, and sports. Under the same roof with Danielle and Uncle Roy, she developed an interest in sports. Unfortunately, Larry decided he’d avoid the grief that came from an overzealous protector. Keisha and Danielle had the same problem when their one or two dates showed up at the door for their uncle’s permission. The word hit the street and traveled quickly like gossip. The campus buzzed with the news that Principal Mayers, the strict disciplinarian meant business when it came to his girls. Dates dwindled.

“We had a broader focus and could care less,” Keisha said. Would Daddy have been as strict? Of course. Lydia thought.

Every Sunday morning, they attended church and although a little less formal and structured than their parents, they didn’t break with all the tradition. Of course, Aunt Regina passed on the opportunity to take notes, but they waited for a chance to talk about the highlights of Pastor Johnson’s message. “Good afternoon, Pastor, great sermon today,” Uncle Roy said.
“Thank you, Brother Mayers.”

“Yes, a very powerful message indeed.”

“Thank you, Sister Mayers. You two have done a fine job of raising those girls.”

“Thank you, Pastor,” they said chiming in together. They prided themselves on their newfound skills as parents. After all, they’d done the work on their own, without self-help manuals or meaningful advice from so-called experienced friends. Lydia and her sisters fidgeted but stood and although the cue was slightly different, they waited. When one of them said, “See you next Sunday, Pastor,” five sets of legs made a mad dash toward the car. Uncle Roy kept their daddy’s old suburban, the big blue monster machine, not because he liked it, but because it held fond memories for them.