Sunday, July 28, 2013

Never Gone by Laurel Garver

Tour Date: July 29th

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)

***Special thanks to Laurel Garver for sending me a review copy.***


 Laurel Garver holds degrees in English and journalism and earns a living as a magazine editor. She enjoys quirky independent films, word games, British television, Celtic music, and mentoring teens at her church. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

Visit the author's website.


Days after her father’s death, fifteen-year-old Dani Deane begins seeing him all around New York—wading through discarded sketches in her room, roaming the halls at church, socializing at his post-funeral reception. Is grief making her crazy? Or could her dad really be lingering between this world and the next, trying to contact her?

Dani desperately longs for his help. Without him keeping the peace, Dani’s relationship with her mother is deteriorating fast. Soon Mum ships her off to rural England with Dad’s relatives for a visit that Dani fears will become a permanent stay. But she won’t let her arty, urban life slip away without a fight, especially when daily phone calls with her lab partner Theo become her lifeline.

To find her way home, Dani must somehow reconnect with Mum. But as she seeks advice from relatives and insights from old letters, she uncovers family secrets that shake her to the core. Convinced that Dad’s ghost alone can help her, she sets out on a dangerous journey to contact him one last time.

Product Details:
List Price: $9.89
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 14, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1479205079
ISBN-13: 978-1479205073


My dad and I have this game we play on elevators. One of us comes up with three related things and the other has to guess the category. If I say “Frick, Cloisters, Guggenheim,” Dad will know they’re museums — and our favorite Saturday haunts here in the city. He usually stumps me with weird British slang from his childhood or random facts about my mother. I have a way harder time stumping him. Even when I try classmates’ names, art terms, indie bands or obscure Harry Potter characters, he almost always gets it right.

As the floors blip by, I at last have the perfect clue: Self, Us, People.

Identity groups? he’d guess. Circles of moral responsibility? Subjects of your latest drawing?  Blimey, is it the multiple points of view in Renoir’s group paintings?

Nope, he’d never get it. He never saw those coffee-ringed magazine covers in the ICU waiting room. He was the patient. And even though he died two days ago, I can’t stop playing Three Things on elevators.

By the time I reach the seventh floor, I have a strep-like ache in my throat. I shuffle into the hall, hugging a packet of Dad’s memorial service bulletins to my chest. I won’t lose it. I won’t. The minute I let one toe stray into that quicksand, it will suck me right under.

As I trudge toward our apartment, every muscle fiber screams, “No! Run!” like I’m the ditzy chick in some horror movie about to go explore the haunted attic alone.

The moment I slide my key in the lock, my mother yanks open the door. She stands there in her cashmere suit, fists on hips, dry-eyed and smelling of Tresor perfume, like she’d spent the afternoon in client meetings rather than a crematorium in Greenwich Village. I bet she’d let her long-lost Central Pennsylvania accent slip out before she’d ever shed a tear.

“Dani! Where have you been? I’ve been sick with worry. Your grandfather’s cab got back ages ago, and he said you were right behind him.”

“You didn’t get my message?”

She sags a little. “Do you have any idea how many people have left messages today?”

“Sorry, really. I, uh, stayed late to help with this.” I hand her the packet of bulletins, still warm from the copier. “The secretary let me do the layout. And a special cover.”

“So all this time you’ve been at church?”

I nod and follow her into the dining room, where the table is set for six. She tosses the packet onto the sideboard, then turns, frowning, to inspect my ink-stained fingers. “What on earth? You had a nail appointment.”

If she’d look in the packet, she might have a clue where the hours went and how I got so inky. But as usual, she can’t be bothered with anything tainted by stained glass and steeples.

I glance at Dad’s chair, wishing he were here to run interference. He’d compliment my skillful hands, explain how I can’t draw wearing those thick acrylic tips. But his chair is empty, and no matter how hard I wish it, I’ll never hear his voice again.

“Sorry. I just…ran out of time.”

“This simply won’t do, darling.” Mum prods my ragged cuticles. “You can’t stand in a receiving line and shake a hundred hands looking like this. Go wash up, and I’ll give you a manicure after dinner.”

Nice. Deviate from Mum’s precious plan and I’m dismissed like a coffee-spilling, Xerox-breaking temp. I doubt anyone will give a hoot about my stupid nails tomorrow.

I open my mouth to argue, then clamp it shut. If Dad were here, he’d say it was “jolly nice of your mum to offer” and make the sign language motion for “honor.” My cue to remember the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” To remember our long talks about Mum and God and how being a sullen jerk when she pushes my buttons only makes my faith a joke to her. Hypocrisy. A lie.

I sigh. “Okay, Mum.”

When I look toward Dad’s chair again, he nods and mouths, Well done.


He runs a hand through his thick, ginger-blond hair and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle in the corners. I want to run to him and kiss those crinkles, kiss his hawk nose and big ears. Hang on and never let go. But I can’t move, can scarcely breathe. There’s no sign that his face was a crazy quilt of stitches, purple welts and crusted bandages. That machines kept his lungs working.

Mum waves a napkin in my face. “Dani? Hello? You all right?”

I peer around her. Dad’s chair is empty again, but the placemat at his space is askew. No way did Madame Perfect do that.

“Danielle?” Mum touches my arm and I jerk to attention.

“Sorry. I was just remembering —” I rifle through my coat pockets. “Here’s the receipts and change from the taxi. And I’m not hungry. But…I’ll take care of my nails. Now. On my own. But thanks for offering. I guess I’ll go now. To my room. So, um, bye.”

I stumble down the hall and pull my bedroom door closed behind me. For a dizzy moment, I grip the knob and gulp in air. I’m all right. It was nothing. A flash. A brain burp. After spending hours drawing his portrait from an old photo, I must have his face burned onto my retinas like an afterimage.

Except he moved. Gestured. Communicated. Bumped a placemat. I don’t think that’s usual for a grief hallucination.

Conflicting feelings scamper inside me like crazed squirrels. All around me is nothing but more chaos. Deep drifts of crumpled Kleenex, unfinished sketches, textbooks, and lotion tubes litter the floor. My bed’s lost under heaps of laundry. In one corner, my half-packed suitcase lays open beside an unopened stack of Christmas gifts. When Mum gets a spare moment to see this place, she’s going to flip.

“Dani?” Aunt Cecily calls outside my door. “Back, are you?”

I turn from the mess and open my door. Dad’s older sister shifts nervously in her tweed overcoat and tugs on a lock of her bobbed, sandy hair. She hands me a white garment bag from Macy’s. “Your mother asked me to find you something dark and dressy to wear tomorrow. None of your skirts or dresses is quite right for the occasion, she said.”

“Probably not.” I rip away the plastic. Something black and blandly shapeless emerges. Lord have mercy. What fashion travesty has Aunt Cardigan-Khaki-Loafers decided to inflict on me? She must’ve fallen into the clutches of Macy’s most sadistic sales clerk, or the most clueless — someone who assumes every Brit takes fashion tips from the queen.

Cecily’s forehead puckers with worry. “Is it all right, dearest?”

“It’s…nice,” I say, trying to not cringe as I rub the scratchy fabric between my fingers.

“You hate it.” She blushes, two red splotches spreading across her milky English skin.

Dad looked just like that whenever I asked him to pick up tampons at the store. I wince and turn away.

“We can take it back,” Cecily blurts, misreading me. She frantically digs through her pockets, finds the receipt, and jabs it at me. “Here, I still have the bill of sale. We can go now. Or after dinner. They’re open till ten at least.” She grabs up the shredded garment bag, noisily rustling plastic as she tries to rewrap the dress. “I don’t know why your mother asked me to shop for you. She knows I haven’t her capacity for glamour.”

It’s one thing for Mum to boss and bully me, but there’s no way she can do this to Cecily.

“Please stop fluttering. It’s fine.” I take the dress again and hang it on a peg, letting the plastic fall. There has to be some way to fix this, to spare my style-challenged aunt from embarrassment or having to fight the city crowds, which terrify her. Come on, brain.

“Oh, Dani,” she says. “Don’t settle on my account.”

“It’s just very…grown up, which is kind of startling. Like you see me as so, well, mature.”

“Of course you are, so brave through such a difficult time.” As tears pool in her eyes, she briskly pats my arm and ducks away from my room.

The scent of beef bourguignon wafts through the door as she goes. For a split-second I’m tempted to follow her. But Dad’s counting on me to “honor” Mum, which for now means doing what I say I will — skip dinner to fix my raggedy nails.

I kick a path to my dresser and rifle through my toiletries for an emery board. As I dig deeper, something cool oozes onto my fingers. Oh, no. Hand sanitizer. One whiff and I’m back in Dad’s ICU room with powered-down machines, a gray stone man in a bed. So cold. So silent. So gone. I hurl the leaky bottle across the room, and it lands just short of the trash can, by Dad’s shoe.

Dad’s shoe?

I stare at the scuffed, brown oxford, size 12. My gaze drifts up to jeans legs, a corduroy blazer. It’s Dad, leaning on my desk like he used to every night.

He tilts his head and knits his pale eyebrows. “Rough day, my love?”

My love. His Rosebud. Dance-pants. Doodlebug.

Tears sting my eyes. My heart tugs me to go hug him and pour out all my troubles, while my brain screams Flatline! Corpse! Crematorium!

I wobble and sink onto my bed.

“Oh, Dad,” I croak. “What am I supposed to do without you? Mum and I…it’s hopeless. I can’t do anything right in her eyes. To her, I’m just a pathetic slob.”

“Not so, not so. Grace brags endlessly about your talent to anyone who’ll listen. She just frets about you, you know, developing a proper artist’s eye for composition, symmetry and all that. A bit of order does help, right?”

“I guess.”

He smiles. “Very well, then, let’s get to it. Crank some tunes and we’ll have this place spiffed up in no time. Come on. It’ll be fun. I’ll do my Bowie impression.”

I snort at the thought of Dad waving his long, wiry arms to glam rock while shelving books and dusting. He always is happy to be an epic doofus if it makes boring chores entertaining.

Not is. Was. Shame flushes through me.

“This can’t be real.” I turn my hot face away and peel off my coat. Why am I talking to this hallucination or ghost or whatever it is? How could I possibly believe that Dad can go on having fun and playing peacemaker? It’s wishful thinking in the extreme.

When I turn back, he’s gone. Instead of a sweet breeze of relief, the loss hits like a fist.


I squeeze my eyes shut and try to conjure him. The lilt of his northern British accent. The sharp scent of darkroom chemicals clinging to his clothes. But it’s no good.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Dad. Please come back. I promise I’ll listen.”

* * *

My breath fogs the cold glass as I perch on my bedroom windowsill and frantically dial Heather. Stories below me, yellow cabs race down Columbus toward midtown.

At Heather’s end, the Mexican Hat Dance is probably jangling in a pocket of that heinous gold lamé knapsack she loves so much. I hope she can hear it. Chances are her Georgia relatives dragged her to a monster truck rally or line dance or whatever it is they do for holiday family fun. She headed south for winter break with her big, noisy family the day we were all so sure Dad would pull through. He did wake up for a while. And Christmas was coming.

But real life isn’t a cheesy holiday flick with miracles that arrive right on time. Dad didn’t pull through, and now my best friend is far, far away when I need her most.

The line clicks. “Hey,” Heather says. “I thought we were gonna chat online at nine. You okay?”

“No, I — It’s…something really, really weird has happened. I saw…um —”

“Becca!” she suddenly shouts at her toddler sister, “get your grubby paws off my pastels and go back to bed! Hang on a sec, Dani, I need to move my art stuff before Becca scrawls a tornado in Times Square.” The phone crackles on fabric and I hear Heather calling for backup.

I sigh with relief. Bless you, Becca, you sticky-handed terror. That was a close one. What was I thinking, trying to tell Heather I saw Dad? She’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. Or worse, she’ll let something slip to our youth pastor or even my mother.

I grab my sketch pad and attack it with a charcoal stick while I wait. My jagged strokes form Dad and me on the steps of the Metropolitan. It sucks not being able to talk about his ghost or spirit or whatever it is, but what can I do? Who could I possibly trust with something this bizarre?

The phone clanks again. “Sorry ‘bout that. It’s too doggone noisy for Becca to sleep well here, with my redneck relatives hollering all the time. I keep hoping there’s some mistake and Daddy was switched at birth. Oh, get this — loony Aunt Pearl is going to clown college.”

My laugh comes out slightly strangled. Rusty. Like I forgot how.

“You don’t sound good, Dani. If the airport weren’t three hours away, I’d be on a plane home in a heartbeat. How about we take your dad some flowers when I get back Monday?”

“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m leaving on Sunday for England.”

“You are? But why?”

“The interment.”

“What’s that? Sounds like something Nazis would do.”

“It’s the, you know…the dirt part.”

“But I thought your dad was being buried in New York.” Her voice is thick and choked. “Aren’t we gonna get even a day of break to hang out?”

I blink back tears. “I wish. I really do. But the England burial is in Dad’s will. Sunday flights were cheapest.”

“You’ll come right on back though, won’t you?”

“No. Not for, um, two weeks.”

“Two weeks! Are ya kidding me? What about midterms?”

“Mum thinks she can cut a deal with the headmaster. I’m not sure what I’ll do if she can’t. I’ve got enough going on without worrying that my GPA is in jeopardy, too, right? I feel like I’m sinking into a swampy pit. I wish someone would throw me a vine.”

“I’ll try, Dani. Let me think. For your dad’s memorial service tomorrow, you need a plan, a way to bail if things get too ugly.”

“How bad can it get? I doubt we’ll have a pro-wrestling smack-down, like at your great-granddad’s funeral in Mobile. My family doesn’t really do ugly feelings, except for sulks and sarcasm.” I pick up my sketch pad again and layer on choppy cross-hatch shadows. “But if I get weepy and my mascara melts, I’ll…I don’t know. Hide in the bathroom?”

“Not very original, but it’ll do. Listen, you need someone there for you who won’t be a mess themselves.”

“Like who? Everyone I know left town for the holidays.”

“That can’t be true. But don’t you worry about it, all right? I got unlimited long distance and I won’t rest till I find someone.”


“Trust me, I wouldn’t let you be alone at a time like this.”

Trust her. I look at my desk, where Dad was standing just minutes ago. Trust her, my only friend who came to the hospital, ate bad cafeteria meals with me, typed my tear-stained homework.

“Heather, I need to tell you something a little freaky.” I take a deep breath. Trust her. Trust her. “I just saw my dad. And he talked to me.”

She gasps, and then the line’s silent.


“You — You think your dad is…haunting you?”

“I don’t know exactly.” I go to my desk and touch the spot Dad had leaned against. “I was trying not to fight with Mum and he was suddenly there, kind of…helping me cope with her. Later he offered to help me clean my room. He seemed so real, down to the wrinkles around his eyes.”

“I know you miss him a lot, but what you saw…might not be quite what you think.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. You think I’m cavorting with evil spirits, huh?”

“That’s not what I meant.” She blows out a slow breath. “You’ve got me worried. Please don’t do anything extreme — like climb in a casket or something. You’re stressed out and hurting and your mind can play tricks on you.”

“Climb in a casket? As if. You are so morbid. Anyway, there is no casket. Dad was cremated to travel lighter. I’d need to be the size of a Barbie doll to fit in his urn.”

“Dani, you better talk to somebody who’s there in person. Like now. I know you and your mom aren’t exactly tight. But your dad’s parents are there, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. His big sister, too.”

“Talk to them, okay? Promise?”

“Fine. Whatever. See you in a few weeks.”

I plunk the phone on my jagged sketch of Dad and me. My face looks half-melted, like Quasimodo or pottery that collapsed in the kiln. Heather’s right. I’m losing my freaking mind. And now my inky fingertips have a fresh coat of charcoal. Great. I can’t do anything without making a mess.

I tiptoe to the bathroom, hoping Mum doesn’t stop me for a surprise inspection. I scrub my hands with wet wipes, pumice soap, then nail polish remover. A dozen cotton balls later, my fingers still have a faint blue tinge, like I’m oxygen-deprived. I ought to put on Goth-black polish to complete the look. Better yet, I could stick feathers in my hair and change my name to Dances-with-Ghosts. It’d be about as sane as keeping my promise to Heather.

I can’t go marching into the dining room and say, “Great news! Dad’s back. He just stopped by for a chat.” I can picture how swimmingly that’d go down with my family. Aunt Cecily would weep into her knitting, while Dad’s mother, Grandma Deane, would sit pale and stricken in her ivory twinset, teacup rattling in her hands. Dad’s father, the Reverend Elliott Deane, would either conk me with a crucifix like I’m possessed or give me the senile church lady treatment — a thoughtful frown, reassuring pat, and vague inspirational quote of the day. Mum would flash one of her apologetic “teenagers are such a trial” smiles, and say nothing. Not like she’d get a word in edgewise with Poppa Tilman grousing about her “un-daughterly” hospitality, “uppity” cooking, “plain-Jane” décor.

Well, I didn’t promise I’d talk about the ghost, only that I’d talk. I think I can manage to get “More tea anyone?” to come out of my mouth.

I towel off each knuckle and nail, chanting a prayer: Lord God. Have mercy. On me.

My heart rate slows. I can do this.

I shut off the light and slowly pad down the hall. Voices grow clearer as I near the dining room. Mum is blathering on about the real estate market in our Upper West Side neighborhood.

Then Grandma asks, “You’ve discussed this with Dani, haven’t you?”

I freeze. Discussed what?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lost & Found by Lyne Reider

Tour Date: July 26th

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (May 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Jeremiah M. Zeiset for sending me a review copy.***


Lyne and Nicholas John Reider married in 2004 and had five children. Nicholas went home to be with the Lord in November 2012. Lyne has spoken to adults and youth all over the United States about pain and grief and how to find rest in Jesus Christ. The Reider family currently resides in Wisconsin.

Visit the author's website.


After losing two sisters, a best friend, and her thirty-seven-year-old husband, Lyne shares her incredible testimony of how God has not only kept her, but ultimately used every event to bless others.
Lyne came from a broken family. Her father is a convicted murderer. The first and only time she met him was while he was in chains and in prison. She was raised by an abusive stepfather and contemplated suicide several times. Lyne knew there was a God and she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only thing keeping her alive.

Tragically, Lyne’s sister Michelle passed away at the age of twenty-four, and her other sister Antonya passed away at the age of sixteen. This ultimately led to severe depression. Nothing, however, prepared her for the pain she felt when her thirty-seven-year-old husband Nicholas died. Incredibly, she never lost hope in God and therefore, she chose life over death.

Regardless of a person’s status in society or how much money they have, grief affects anyone, in any culture. This book has touched the lives of many. And it will touch you.

Product Details:
List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 102 pages
Publisher: LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1622450795
ISBN-13: 978-1622450794


Why Not Me?
Growing up I knew that my twin and I had a different father from my older two sisters. I also knew that our stepfather was neither of ours. I’m not sure how I found out or at what age I found out. I do remember that I knew it at the age of about eight because a woman who had come to the house said that my twin looked just like our father, and we burst out laughing. We knew she must have been lying or she didn’t realize Zeke was our stepfather. Perhaps she really did think they looked alike, but we knew better.
The earliest childhood memory I have is when I was about five years old, and I was at Red Lobster with my sisters, mother, and cousin Lat. My next memory is around the same age, and we were in Michigan where I was born, and my mother and Zeke were leaving us with relatives to go to Texas. I remember that I cried like never before. I feared I would never see my mother again, but we soon moved to Marshall, Texas.
Growing up was hard for me. I was shy, fearful, and intimidated. I always thought I was ugly and unpopular because of the fear Zeke had put into me. My biological father had never been in the picture. He led a very destructive life and is now serving life in prison for it. Not only was he involved in multiple crimes, including robbery and rape, but he eventually committed the terrible crime of murdering a young woman. I never knew him. I only knew his name. I did have an old picture of him from the 1970s. I don’t remember how I got the picture, but I think my mother gave it to me when I asked her about him.
I used to stare at it because I could not see how in the world I looked like him. There were several times when I was young that my mom would get upset with me. I’m sure I did something wrong. She would say I had the same personality as my father, and I looked just like him. It made me mad because I could tell that in some small way, she was disgusted with me for reminding her of him.
So I stared at the picture and hated it. I had never met this man who was my biological father. I did obtain his prison address and wrote one or two letters to him in 1996. But when I got his letter back, he talked crazy, and it scared me. I never wrote him again.
When I was twenty-four, I did finally meet him. In the year 2001, while dating a guy named Jesse, I had such a burden on my heart to find out why he had killed that young lady. More than anything, I wanted to see him and talk to him face to face. I had a college ministry during that time at Iowa State University, and I was on fire for God. I wanted everyone to get saved.
I discussed this with Jesse, but we needed to get my name on my father’s visitors list. We did and we then drove to Michigan from Iowa.
Nervous and unsure of what I would say, I entered the maximum security facility. I was scared. After a lot of waiting, they called my name and did a normal body search. They took me to an area where people were talking through a thick glass or plastic window. I sat down and waited.
In about two minutes, he entered, wearing an orange jump suit. His hands were shackled and his feet were shackled. He could barely walk. I became numb. The only thing I remember is him telling me how much I had grown and how beautiful I was. All I could manage to ask was why he had murdered that young lady.
He said they were dating and smoking marijuana and drinking. In the middle of an argument, the young lady had grabbed a letter opener. He tried to take it from her, and all of a sudden he snapped and stabbed her.
I just sat there holding my breath. He knew I was a believer in Jesus Christ, and he told me that evil spirits came into his cell and tormented him. He was very afraid. He asked me to look on the internet about demonic spirits, and I nodded. I was in shock. But why was I nodding my head?
I didn’t need to know about demonic spirits. I knew about the power and blood of Jesus Christ! But I couldn’t get the words out. I prayed with him, but I don’t even remember what I prayed; I was so shaken up. I never went back, and I never answered any letters. I was so afraid of him knowing where I lived even though he had a life sentence in prison.
I had known that I had a bad father, but not much had ever been said about him. My early years were good as far as I could remember. One time in particular we had a huge Christmas. My stepfather Zeke wasn’t as mean back then. We had chores, and a lot of them, but our house wasn’t the war zone that it would later become. That Christmas we got so many toys, bikes, remote control cars, dolls, and stockings full of candy! That was the first and last nice Christmas I remember having. After that, Christmas consisted of maybe one shirt, some pajamas, and a stocking full of nuts and oranges. Life had taken a dramatic turn.
I wish people, especially parents, would realize that although children may have had happy moments in their lives, if the majority of their life was in darkness, that is what they will recall most often. That overshadowing darkness was especially the case with me.
Stark contrasts filled my early life. In high school, I was in band, and I twirled rifles and flags. Twirling rifles was pretty cool, and only about five to eight girls qualified, so you had to be good. And I was! We had to attend parades, but most of the time my sisters and I could not go.
We were all in band, and my twin twirled also. My older sister was the drum major. One time we went to a parade, but to my mom and stepfather, that was probably enough. However, we would get left there with no ride home.
By this time, we had moved from the city out to the country, in Nesbitt, Texas. Nobody ever wanted to take us home. We never had any money, so here we were in 101 degrees of hot Texas weather, and we had no way of buying an ice-cold drink. The parade was downtown, with no water fountains around.
I felt like I was going to pass out. I stared at other kids buying drinks and started to cry. Then my older sister Michelle came up and said she had begged her friend for some money to buy a Dr Pepper. The three of us drank from that small eight-ounce cup and savored every last drop. So what my parents thought was a fun event turned out to be terrible and humiliating to me.
I’m sure my mom did the best she could. I guess I was upset with her for choosing a husband who didn’t work, but stayed at home instead of supporting her. If he had worked, we would have had enough. I have such a dislike for laziness now, and that is a good thing.
Similarly, we would go to band practice and get left there. We would sit outside on the steps as everyone else left, hoping someone would pick us up. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. My band teacher, Mr. Robinson, often took us home but was reluctant to do so every time, and didn’t always offer. If my mother did pick us up, she would be late. Practice would be over at 5:00 p.m., and she would come at 8:30 p.m.
Sure, this isn’t the end of your life, but you sure start to feel that way. We seldom had new clothes for school. In the earlier years, we did. But starting in the sixth or seventh grade, we did not – no new clothes for the first days of school. I know this because I remember being embarrassed at school about it when I didn’t even have new school supplies either.
As I worked out in the yard, I daydreamed about wearing an outfit that I had seen in a JCPenney catalog. I wanted that outfit. We worked a lot. We lived in the country on a farm, and we had goats, chickens, cows, and dogs. I learned how to gut a fish before I was ten years old, and I knew how to kill and skin a chicken. I hated my life.
My sisters and I spent countless hours a day working on that farm while Zeke stayed in the house and dictated to us from the back steps. This was not easy work, and it was too hard for a little ten-year-old. We had to clean and rake out the outside sewage line. Nasty. Our yard was so large that once we raked leaves and burned them, Zeke would come outside and make us do it again because the wind had blown new leaves out of the trees. We used axes and sickles and cut down logs all day. It did not matter if we had school or not.
On Saturdays, Zeke would bark and yell at us to get up at 7:00 a.m. and go outside to work. I used to wish that we could watch cartoons. We would stay outside until dark, which was between nine and ten o’clock in the evening. We could only break to eat. I would be so sore that I cried.
I remember one night when we had been working all day and night, I was so tired. I didn’t get to bed until at least eleven o’clock, and that week I had been on “dish duty.” Well, there was one small saucer left in the sink. Zeke came into our room around one o’clock in the morning and yelled at me to go clean that one plate. I was so tired and weak, I just started crying.
I rarely had peace in our home. If I did, that meant Zeke and my mom weren’t home. They would argue so loud and so much that I would pull the pillow over my head and cry. One time the fighting got so bad that my mom pulled a gun out on Zeke. Of course, in Texas people hunt a lot, so we had a pistol and a rifle by the back door. My mom went to jail that night.
Our house was a mess, and I wanted to get out! We could never go over to our friends’ homes, and we could never have them over to ours. I didn’t care about that because I was too ashamed to have them over.
A dramatic change took place the day my sister Pinky died. I believe that was the day a part of my mother died as well. I can still see my sister. She was beautiful, and I thought she was the coolest person ever. Her name was Antonya, but we called her Pinky. My mom said that was because her skin color was pink when she was born. She was cool and she had cool friends. I remember a party we had for her, but we could only hang out in the backyard because we weren’t grown up enough to hang around her friends.
We traveled to Houston, Texas a lot. I saw MD Anderson Hospital a lot as well. You see, Pinky was sixteen years old and had melanoma carcinoma skin cancer. I don’t know exactly how long it was between them finding it and her dying. Not long though.
We went to Camp Star Trails for family members of cancer patients. I remember the first year that we went, Pinky had given me about sixty dollars. I didn’t know what it was for. But I knew I loved candy! I went into the camp candy store and bought the entire store out! The only thing I left was Chick-O-Sticks. Campers were in a theatre room, and I snuck next to Pinky and my sisters in the dark. Very sneakily, I showed them all the candy I racked up. My sister Pinky gasped and asked me where I got the money for all of that candy.
I said, “From the money you gave me.” 
She shrieked back, “Girl! That was our bus money to get home!” 
Of course she made me take the candy back and get our money back. At the end of camp, I received the “Candy Queen” award. That was funny. There was a beautiful girl there named Heather. I wished I looked like her. She was breathtaking. And then she died. Although camp was a fun atmosphere to take your mind off things, you were constantly reminded of the sickness.
I do think, however, that at camp was the first time I seriously had a crush on someone. His name was MacGyver, and he was our camp counselor. Of course, I was ten and he was in his twenties. He pretty much laughed at me. I would have too if I were him. He was married, and this little tike was begging for his attention. My sisters laughed at me.
Our move to the country had caused things to change with more chores, more work, and more abuse. Zeke never wanted anything good for us. One Halloween my mom wanted to take us to get candy. She shoved us into our pickup truck after she and Zeke had been arguing about us not going anywhere. As my mom tried to drive off, Zeke attempted to jump into the back of the truck. I didn’t even want to go home because I knew it would be bad when we returned.
One time Zeke made Michelle so mad that she grabbed a butter knife and pulled it out on him. She always was a pistol. As adults we later laughed because a butter knife would not have done anything harmful.
One day as my twin Ellaysa, my sister Michelle, and I got off the school bus, we noticed a lot of white chairs in the yard. No one was home. We often came home to an empty house because Zeke was next door at his father’s house. It was the country, and his father’s house was not close, but he was our neighbor. Michelle thought we were having a party, but Ellaysa thought Pinky had died. I leaned more on the side that Pinky was gone, but didn’t believe it.
My mom’s best friend Ora Brown brought Mama home, and she was crying. I knew Pinky died, but said nothing. Mama pulled all of us into the back bedroom and said that Pinky was gone. She was dead. All I could do was cry. I cried even more for my mom. That was her firstborn. That was her baby. Now that I am a mother I feel her pain even more. Oh, it had to hurt so badly. To lose the baby that you have adored, taken care of, loved, and raised. My mother lost a part of herself that day. I still grieve for my mother.
Because I had never seen a dead person before, I was terrified at the funeral. My beautiful sister and the coolest person in the world didn’t even look like herself. What did they do to her? It didn’t look like her at all. An usher tried to force me off the pew to go look inside her open casket. Who did he think he was? He didn’t know her. He didn’t know me. Didn’t he realize I could see her face from where I was sitting in the front row? I told him no as he tried to pull me up to go look at her, and then I became angry and yanked my arm from around him and firmly told him no again.
I didn’t want to see her like that. I later regretted that I did not go up and kiss her forehead. After it was over and she was buried, I just wanted to see her one more time, and I couldn’t. I hated myself for many years for refusing to see her one last time.
After this, I noticed that everything in my home changed. I love my mother. I always found peace, rest, and safety in her. But that all disappeared. After Pinky died, my mother had good jobs, but it wasn’t enough because Zeke was unwilling to work. The jobs my mother had didn’t pay much, or perhaps they did, but because Zeke could never keep a job, we always struggled. I resented him for being so lazy.
Out of all the years of living under that roof, I only remember him working straight for one month. He was always yelling about the white man and not wanting to be told what to do. So, he bummed on the couch all day, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. I hated that smoke. I still do because I’m allergic to it. My allergies are so bad that I take allergy shots. Zeke became more and more cruel. He knew how I would sneeze around smoke, and he would smoke in the car with the windows rolled up. He would refuse to roll them down if I asked. He was so miserable in his own pathetic life that he wanted to make ours the same.
I remember my mother sticking up for me one time. I was sneezing so much and couldn’t stop. Zeke became irritated in the car and yelled at me.
My mom yelled at him, “It’s more irritating to her than it is to you!” 
It made no difference. I was still stuck in a smoky car. To this day, I do not like to see children in cars with their parents smoking. Why are you killing your child? Do you not love them enough to stop your habit for a car ride? You have a choice to smoke. They do not. You are the one that is making them smoke.
I will always be able to say I love my mother. I’m sure she did the best that she could, at least from the understanding and knowledge that she had. My only source of sadness comes from people not wanting to grow in their knowledge. For instance, someone may want to borrow money from you, but they do not want any knowledge of how to be debt-free themselves. It is a shame and very sad that people tend to not want any meaningful learning tools that would help them manage their money and be good stewards over what God has given them, especially if it is not received from a family member.
I cannot grasp the pain of losing a child. I can only imagine it. And the thoughts alone are unbearable. One thing I have learned on this journey is this: After I have tried for so long to make things normal in my life, I now realize that after the death of a loved one, things will never be normal again. People say you must find a new normal. No, take out the word normal because it will never be normal again. You must start a new chapter.