Authors: Francis Ray
I Know Who Holds Tomorrow
Somebody’s Knocking at My Door
Someone to Love Me
Rockin’ Around That Christmas Tree
Rosie’s Curl and Weave
Della’s House of Style
Welcome to Leo’s
Going to the Chapel
Coming May 2004
Like the First Time
From St. Martin’s Griffin
ST. MARTIN’S GRIFFIN
TROUBLE DON’T LAST ALWAYS
. Copyright © 2001 by Francis Ray. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
First published in the United States under the title
The Turning Point by
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
First St. Martin’s Griffin Edition: January 2004
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated to those who walk by faith
and to those who are almost there.
First of all, I want to thank God. With Him in my life all things are possible.
My gratitude also goes to the following:
LaRee Bryant and Angela Washington-Blair, who were with me in the beginning, two years ago, when the idea for this book came to me. I’m blessed to have you as my friends.
Bessie Lassiter, who called her son, Wright Lassiter Jr., who called Dr. Michael Harris, ophthalmologist, who answered question after question for over a year with keen insight and patient understanding.
Dr. Susan Parks, ophthalmologist/retina specialist, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. A macula hole in my left eye could have meant permanent blindness. You and God deemed otherwise. Thanks also for the encouragement to write this book.
Dr. Eugene George, neurosurgeon/head trauma specialist, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Thanks for the medical expertise and the laughs.
David Ondick, vocational specialist, and Shelly Smith, caseworker for the Texas Commission for the Blind. Thanks for giving me invaluable insight into the lives of those who view their loss of sight as an inconvenience, not a handicap.
Trisha Chandler, supervisor of Orientation and Mobility for the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. Thanks for the O & M lessons.
Glenda Howard, my editor. Your intuitive instincts are phenomenal. Thanks for helping me turn my dream into reality.
As always, to the home team, William and Carolyn Michelle Ray, husband and daughter, my biggest fans and supporters, thanks for not complaining about the house or uncooked meals. You make life meaningful. I love you.
“Death is inevitable. You can’t hide from it, run from it, bargain with it. Each one of us has to accept that sobering fact. The best thing you can do is be ready.”
Pastor Hezekiah Fowler’s deep bass voice reached every person within the packed frame church without the help of the failing PA system. In the front pew, Lilly Crawford sat with her long legs demurely crossed at the ankles. Her hands clutched a flowered, tear-stained handkerchief as she stared at the white casket draped with a spray of white gladiolus. More sprays were at the head and foot and clustered around the casket and podium.
So many flowers
, Lilly thought,
and so utterly useless. Mother Crawford couldn’t smell them now.
She had loved flowers of any kind, loved to spend time in her garden, but she’d been bedridden for the past six months as her body fought a losing battle. Yet the only person who had thought to send her flowers while she could enjoy them was the one person who couldn’t be here for her home going. If Rafe had come, there might have been two caskets instead of one.
To Lilly’s left sat her husband, Myron, in his best black suit, his usually straight shoulders slumped, his callused hands clamped between his legs, his proud head bent in submission to a power greater than his. Next to him sat his daughter, Lilly’s stepdaughter, Shayla, draped in black and misery, sobbing loudly. To her right was David, her husband, a shy, earnest young man with a nervous eye tic but, according to Shayla, a computer genius. Since David had been to his in-laws’ house only a handful of times before their marriage three years ago and twice since, Lilly couldn’t be sure.
“Hear me now; I said you can’t run from it, hide from it, bargain with it,” Pastor Fowler continued, and Lilly respectfully gave him her attention. “Each one of us in God’s appointed time is gonna have to give an accounting of our sins and look God and death in the face. The best thing you can do is be ready.”
Pastor Fowler’s hands, work-worn from thirty years at the bottle plant lifting twenty-pound crates of beverages, clamped around the scarred wooden pulpit. Out of his mud-brown, heavily lined face his brown eyes sparkled with the fervency of his message as he leaned his robust torso over the worn, open Bible.
Shouts of “Amen” came from around the church. Lilly knew if she were to turn around she’d see heads nodding in agreement as well. The pastor was in top form. Mother Crawford would have been pleased, but a little sad as well. She had always said no one preached more earnestly than Pastor Fowler when trying to win lost souls; his fervent prayers could wrench tears from the eyes of the boldest sinner. Too bad, she’d once commented after a particularly powerful Wednesday night prayer meeting, that he didn’t seem to be able to save himself.
Lilly hadn’t asked for an explanation. She had lost faith in too much to add Pastor Fowler’s sins, real or imagined, to the list. Besides, she knew how frightening and helpless it felt not to be able to save yourself.
“Our faithful sister, Minnie Faye Crawford, was ready,” Pastor Fowler said, assurance in every syllable of his voice. “At eighty-one she had lived a long time. Was blessed with a loving husband who preceded her in death, a loving son and granddaughter who gave her countless moments of joy and blessings in her declining years. The Lord saw fit to take her first daughter-in-law, but He blessed her with another fine Christian woman in Sister Lilly.”
“Amen” flared up again. Lilly closed her eyes against the looks she knew would be cast upon her. No one except Mother Crawford and Rafe ever let her forget she hadn’t been the first Mrs. Crawford. To everyone else Lilly was still trying to measure up, still failing. Just as Rafe had failed.
“So, brothers and sisters, I come to you today asking this question.” Pastor Fowler paused, his hard, piercing brown gaze sweeping over the gathered crowd again. “When it’s your time to lie in the arms of death as our beloved Sister Minnie Faye Crawford now rests, when it’s your time to close your eyes and wake no more, when it’s your time to lie in front of the pulpit, when it’s your time to take that last final ride, will you be ready?
“Will you be able to look back on your life with no regrets as this sister did, to count your blessings instead of your woes, or will you bow your head and weep for all that is lost, for all that should have been done and wasn’t?”
Lilly’s head snapped up. Wide-eyed, she stared at Pastor Fowler. Had he guessed?
No, he wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t know that she lived with regrets, that her blessings were few, her tears many.
Lilly didn’t know she was sobbing until she felt the brush of wind on her face and opened her eyes. Standing in front of her, in her starched white usher’s uniform and black armband, was Sister Lawrence waving her fan. “Mother Crawford wouldn’t want you to weep for her.”
Tears rolled faster down Lilly’s amber cheeks. She shut her eyes again. Guilt pressed against her chest like a heavy weight.
If only they knew.
Stepping back from the pulpit, Pastor Fowler lifted his hands and beckoned. “Undertakers in charge.”
Lilly shut her eyes tighter against the wailing sound of her twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter. No matter how unchristian it was, Lilly couldn’t help thinking that Shayla should have come to see her sick grandmother. Houston was only a three-hour drive away from Little Elm, but Shayla always had an excuse.
The wail grew more plaintive, more demanding. As in the past, Shayla’s father drew his only daughter and favorite child into his arms, murmuring words of comfort and reassurance.
“Hush, baby girl. Daddy’s here.”
“She’s gone! Grandma’s gone!” Shayla refused to be comforted.
Lilly turned to see Shayla being physically restrained by her father and her husband. David’s eyes were wide behind his gold wire-frame glasses. He was as lost as Myron in his attempts to comfort Shayla, and just as concerned. No surprise there. Shayla wouldn’t have married a man who wouldn’t meet her many demands and go soft at her frequent emotional outbursts.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Shayla shouted as the spray of gladiolus was removed, the upper half of the coffin lid lifted.
Lilly faced forward thinking this was one time that Myron wouldn’t be able to give Shayla what she wanted or what he thought she needed as he had done so many times in the past. The pain and heartache he had caused others hadn’t mattered. No price was too high for Shayla to be happy. No one knew this better than Lilly…or felt the burden of it more.
The small white frame house on North Fourth Street was filled to capacity. The April day was unseasonably warm, with no clouds in sight. People spilled out of the eight-by-ten living room, cooled ineffectively by a window unit, onto the freshly cut grass in the front yard, careful of the borders of newly sprouting tulips on either side of the paved walkway that stopped in the middle of the yard.
The mourners were content now to mingle happily beneath the undisciplined mulberry tree in the front yard. Laughter came often. Funerals were a social event. People took the opportunity to mourn, but they also renewed acquaintances not seen sometimes since the last funeral and gave thanks that they were still among the living.
Inside the scrupulously clean kitchen there was barely enough room for the women from the church’s auxiliaries to fit. Mother Crawford, the eldest member of the church, had been well respected and loved. The food had been accumulating for days. Most of the women over forty were known for their special dishes and took pride in bringing them to the home of the bereaved.
Lilly stood over the huge roasting pan on top of the electric stove and scooped out corn-bread dressing onto a paper plate. Sister Madison had a touch with dressing that made you want to savor each bite. When asked what her secret was, she’d only smile in that serene way of hers. She never told. Some of the women at the church thought that was selfish, but Lilly knew that some secrets could never be shared.
“Sister Crawford, are you all right?”
Startled, Lilly looked up to find Sister Madison staring at her with narrowed eyes in her ebony-hued face. “Y-yes.”
“Don’t look like it.” Sister Madison glanced at the plate in Lilly’s hand. “I know my dressing is good, but don’t you think whoever you’re fixing that food for wants more than dressing?”
Lilly jerked her gaze back to the plate in her hand. It was heaped with dressing and tilting dangerously. Flushing, she quickly scraped most of the dressing back into the pan.
“Maybe you should rest. Nobody would blame you.” Sister Madison laid a broad, comforting hand on Lilly’s thin shoulder. “You’ve been a good wife and stepmother to him and Shayla. Mother Crawford often said how blessed they all were that Myron found a good woman like you after Carol died.”
Lilly flinched and grabbed the long-handled spoon in the green beans. Carol again. They didn’t do it out of meanness, Lilly had finally decided, but as a compliment. Carol had been a fine, Christian woman. She’d worked tirelessly in the church. She never complained or had a cross word to say. Everyone said so. Myron most of all.
“Is that plate ready, Lilly?”
Lilly went completely still for the space of two heartbeats. Hands trembling, she quickly reached for the meat fork. “In a minute, Myron.”
“Brother Small has a long drive ahead of him,” Myron said.
“You go on out and talk with the men, Brother Crawford. I’ll bring it to you,” Sister Madison offered. “I don’t think Sister Crawford is feeling well.”
In the small kitchen, it only took Myron a few steps to reach Lilly. Sharp brown eyes studied her face. He took the plate out of her hand. “Go rest for a while. I’m sure the other women won’t mind.”
Immediately there was a chorus of agreement.
“I-I’m fine,” Lilly protested.
He smiled in that old familiar way that used to make her heart turn over. “You’ve been on your feet enough. Go rest.”
The words were spoken gently, but Lilly watched his eyes. They were cold.
Quickly untying her apron, she laid it over the back of the yellow vinyl-covered chair at the table. On her way out of the room she heard several of the women heap praises on Myron about how thoughtful he was and how blessed Lilly was to have him as a husband. They praised him for being a francis ray good Christian son, for the nice way he had put his mother away. He didn’t bother to correct them.
If only they knew
, Lilly thought, opening their bedroom door at the end of the short hallway. Mother Crawford had paid for her own funeral arrangements, and when Myron had learned she had paid cash he had acted so hurt that she hadn’t trusted him that she had gone the next day to have his name added to her checking and savings accounts. By the time Mother Crawford died there was nothing left of the money she had done without to save.
Too nervous to rest, Lilly paced the carpeted floor and watched the luminous dial on the clock radio on the nightstand. When fifteen minutes had passed she returned to the kitchen, telling the protesting women she needed to keep busy. With looks of sympathy they let her stay.
Lilly was out of bed at first light the next morning. She never lingered. Before Mother Crawford’s death it had been to check on her. Now it was to escape her husband. Easing out of their bedroom, she closed the door softly and went to take her bath. Walking down the narrow hall, she wondered how had she let her life come to this? How could she have been so wrong about a man?
She had had such hopes and dreams when Myron first asked her out. That he was sixteen years older, a widower with two children aged fourteen and sixteen, had made her feel somehow special that he had chosen her.
In the town of twenty thousand, he had a good job as a short-haul truck driver, and a neat little house, and was a respected deacon in the church. In everyone’s opinion he was a good catch, and for the first time in Lilly’s life women envied her.
She’d grown up being referred to as “that Dawson girl,” and the reference had never been good. Marva Dawson, Lilly’s mother, hadn’t cared what others thought of her and certainly not what they thought of her daughter. To Marva’s way of thinking, her life was her own to live as she pleased. It was her turn to have some fun after what she’d suffered. Her unwanted and unplanned pregnancy with Lilly had ruined Marva’s life, just as her washout of a husband had.
Johnny Dawson was supposed to be the next great Jim Brown. Instead Johnny had been cut in spring training from the New York Giants. Marva had banked heavily on him being her ticket out of Little Elm.
If she hadn’t been pregnant with Lilly, Marva could have stayed in New York and used her face and figure to be an actress or find a rich man. Instead she had to come back with a disgraced jobless husband who took off to parts unknown a year later.
Unemployed, Marva had used the face and figure she was so vain about to get “her due” from other men. She had no intention of standing in line for government cheese or having some social worker look down her snooty nose at her. If one man couldn’t give her the things she thought she needed, she found another.
Lilly had grown up with people talking about her mother’s lifestyle and speculating on how long it would take for her to turn out the same way. The girls of the good families didn’t speak to her, and the boys who asked her out were mainly interested in how fast she’d take off her clothes. Even the girls with a reputation for being fast wanted nothing to do with her. Books became her friends.
At fourteen she lied about her age to get a job at the Dairy Queen in a wasted effort to help her mother so she wouldn’t have to take money from men. Marva had looked at the fifty-six dollars Lilly had proudly handed her after two weeks of work and flatly told Lilly her perfume cost more than that. Lilly hadn’t offered again.
She’d met Minnie Crawford when Minnie’d gone to JC Penney to buy a hat for Women’s Day at Little Elm Baptist Church. Since Penney’s was one of the few places to buy ladies’ hats in town and elderly black women wouldn’t think of setting foot in church without their hats, Lilly had waited on several women in her first three weeks of working in ladies’ accessories.