By Carleta Fernandes
"MeeMaw, MeeMaw, tell mine story." My five-year-old darling climbed onto my lap. He never tired of hearing "mine story".
"Once upon a time in a far away land called Kansas, there was an itty-bitty baby boy. He was so tiny I don't think he even had a name." I began.
Grinning, he snuggled closer to me, fragrant from his bath. "Did too. Did too. It's Ryan. That's me."
I watched his pale blue eyes close briefly as he yawned, unsure whether he could stay awake until "...and they lived happily ever after." As I continued, my thoughts were on his real story, the one I couldn't tell him.
Ryan was the product of a too-early marriage between a violent young man and an immature girl. The situation was so bad that, Katie, Ryan's mother, sought and was granted a divorce before Ryan was even born. His father thankfully became an unknown ghost from their distant past, never to make contact again.
But that time was over, and Ryan was beginning to feel safe after an early childhood of chaos, danger and uncertainty. Having suffered through nightmares, bed-wetting and severe misbehavior, he was finally sleeping through the night and no longer rebelling. PeePaw, MeeMaw and his new daddy, Robert, would see that things continued to improve.
In 1976, my son, Robert, met Katie through mutual friends. It wasn't long before Katie and Ryan became a familiar presence in our household. We loved and spoiled the tiny newborn, however, Katie and Robert's friendship seemed casual and they soon became involved with other people. The next year, my job in Kansas ended. We closed the wonderful old house in Lawrence and returned to our hometown in Texas, leaving Katie and Ryan behind as well.
After Robert left, Katie was distraught and vulnerable. She missed him painfully. Maybe the friendship wasn't as casual as she thought. It was a struggle to keep herself and Ryan alive, and she had no family and few stable friends to help her. She drifted about and eventually met an unsavory character named Mike who was visiting his brother in nearby Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Out of a strong need to be loved, Katie fell for the handsome man. With promises of marriage, home and prosperity, Mike persuaded her to bring Ryan and relocate to a small town in northern Nebraska.
But, Mike had a malicious and jealous nature. The violence and control Katie's first husband had over her was nothing in comparison to this present situation. Poverty, beatings, and servitude seemed to be her lot in life, and Katie and Ryan lived in terror with no one to turn to.
Determined to survive, Katie hid back small change, sometimes only pennies and nickels. When she had a chance, she returned items to the grocery store for cash after Mike had checked the receipts and money spent. She saved every little bit she could. Some day there would be a way out.
"Please, Dear God, help me." Katie prayed every night.
She often thought of Robert; his gentle kindness and his slow, loving smile. She knew he was in Texas, but where? She had no idea.
One afternoon, Katie was putting away Ryan's toys. She saw a football in the bottom of the toy chest, the kind cheerleaders throw out to the crowds at football games. Picking it up, she remembered the day Robert gave it to Ryan. One of those remarkable days; a picnic at the river and a drive afterwards. She knew Robert's two sisters had been cheerleaders in his hometown in Texas. On the football was a telephone number and the name of a bank. As an idea formed in her mind, she spoke a prayer of hope.
The next day was laundry day. Katie pulled off extra bedding. She gathered up several other things too, clothes that didn't really require washing. She needed to add to her small stash of money. Mike counted the loads, grumbling about the extra expense. He handed over the exact amount of money Katie told him she needed, leaving her at the Laundromat with the promise that he would pick her up in two hours.
She changed all the money into quarters and quickly sorted the clothes into the machines.
She then went to the pay phone on the wall.
"First State Bank." the girl answered.
"I, uh, need to ask a question. Do you know a Robert Duran?"
"Sure. I went to school with Robert."
Katie was shaking. "Can you tell me if he has any family in town?"
"Well, yes. In fact, I saw him this morning at the cafe. He's working for his dad in the machine shop. I can give you that number if you'd like."
Katie couldn't believe the friendliness in the girl's voice. How could she be so helpful to a stranger on the phone? But, since Katie wasn't one to question good fortune too closely, she thanked the girl while jotting down the number. Before she lost her nerve, she dialed the machine shop. Her stack of quarters was so small. "Please be enough." she prayed.
"Machine Shop." It was Robert who answered. She had found him.
Between sobs, her story spilled out. "Oh Robert, I need help."
Robert got the number of the laundry and called her back. It seemed that Robert missed Katie too, and thought she was gone from his life forever. Plans were made for Robert to call again the same time in one week. By the end of the conversation, they were both in tears.
Two weeks later, struggling to carry Ryan most of the way, Katie walked three long, dusty miles to a small dirt airstrip where Robert was waiting with his father's Citabria. There wasn't much room in the small two-seater aerobatic aircraft, so Ryan rode on Katie's lap. She only had one small bag, having left most of their belongings behind. But Katie knew it was a small sacrifice to be free from the danger and fear under which they had been living.
God had heard Katie's prayers.
Ryan held fast to the small First State Bank football, now his favorite toy, as Robert sped down the runway on their way to a brighter future.
"...and they lived happily ever after." I looked down. Ryan's long, blond lashes lay softly on his cheek. He was sound asleep, curled up warmly and safely on my lap.
"Yes," I thought to myself as I tucked him into bed, "God does answer prayers. I have a beautiful daughter-in-law and a wonderful grandson, Ryan and Katie have a family that loves them, and my sweet, shy, Robert, is happy once more."
"Mine Story" belongs to each of us.
Carleta Goodwin Fernandes is a prize winning memoir writer. She draws from her life in law enforcement and her family. Her interest in genealogy and family history led to the penning of her own life stories. She is now retired and lives with her husband, Rick, in Texas. Mine Story first appeared in God Answers Mom's Prayers published by Harvest House in the God Allows U Turns Project. You may write to Carleta through the Letters page of this magazine.
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