Another Husband for Mother

Mother continued working in a local hospital where she met another patient who fell in love with her. By this time, the divorce from Vernon was behind her, my sister and I were well into high school, and some of those six brothers were pressing on towards the teen years. No doubt Mother was feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of continuing as a single parent. One week before my high school graduation in May 1963, she married Kelsey. He was a good man who worked for the state of Arizona maintaining a stretch of unpaved mountain road out from Globe, a city about 80 miles east of Phoenix. It was obvious that he loved Mother and wanted to take care of her. He was even willing to be a father to the boys; but as time would prove, he came a little late to that task. Nevertheless, he did his best.

I was no longer attending a Nazarene church but instead had been invited by friends to an independent Bible church where I was growing in the Lord and had a strong youth group for fellowship. Through the influence of the youth pastor, I felt the Lord wanted me to attend a Christian school in South Carolina, so I made application and began working to earn money for college.

In July, Mother took my sister and the boys with her to Globe. Because of work, I stayed in Phoenix. They were enjoying an afternoon at Roosevelt Lake when tragedy struck. My seven-year-old baby brother, who had been sitting on a rock with Mother monitoring his every move, suddenly fell off the rock into the water and was immediately sucked down into a deep hole. Mother, who could not swim, instinctively dove in but could not reach him. She subsequently passed out and somehow floated to shore. My sister and brothers were witness to all of this. Miraculously, just as this was happening, Kelsey, who had been grading the road that day, was the first person on the scene. My brother’s body never surfaced, and divers had to be called out to retrieve it. Mother told me later that when she came to in the water, she knew she could not save Lloyd. The faces of all her children kept flashing before her face. She knew she had to make it to shore and save herself for their sakes. Seems there were lots of miracles at Roosevelt Lake that day.

It was at my brother’s funeral that I realized I had a different view of death than most people. Yes, there was a sense of loss, but I was excited that he was in Heaven with Jesus! However, that excitement kept me from fully entering into the grief my mother was experiencing in the loss of her child. Credit youth and immaturity if you will, but I soon learned the depth of her grief when I received a letter from the college to which I had applied. Without my knowledge, Mother had written the school saying she did not think it was a good idea for me to enter in the fall, that I did not have the finances and she could not help. The school was asking me how I wished to proceed in light of my mother’s letter to them. In her mind, she had just lost her youngest in death. Having her oldest go so far from home for college was akin to losing another child. Out of respect for Mother, I agreed to postpone college. In God’s timing, he allowed me to enter school in the fall of 1964. Through his faithfulness and provision, I graduated four years later. Only one other of my siblings has obtained a college degree.

Today there are six of the eight Roberts children still living. I am the only one who does not live in Arizona. Years ago, we lost another brother who had fought in Vietnam. He finished his tour of duty and returned home only to be taken in a freak motorcycle accident. God even brought good out of that loss as several of his organs were donated to save the lives of others.

During my college years I was greatly burdened for the salvation of my brothers. At night from my bunk bed in the dormitory I would cry out to God for their souls. Finally, in a breakthrough moment God gave me the assurance that each of my brothers would come to know him. As the years passed, I watched God fulfill that promise.

To those readers who have followed this narrative of my childhood, the message that I pray comes through is that God is loving in all his ways, deliberate in EVERYTHING he allows in the lives of those who belong to him – and I belonged to him before I knew him because HE had chosen ME before the foundation of the world! That baby girl conceived in sin and reared in poverty and abuse was at all times under the watchful eye and protecting hand of a loving heavenly father.

There is much of God’s grace that was manifested in the ensuing years of marriage and rearing of my own children, and he may allow the sharing of those stories in due time. For now we will stop this narrative and continue in another vein – all for the purpose of displaying his glory in order to bring “Light for the Night – encouragement for the dark places of life.” The Lord be praised!

Settling in Arizona

Awesome Cactus in Carefree AZ

Although I did not make the connection at the time, it was God’s abiding grace that brought us safely to Phoenix. How incredulous that my mother would drive alone with 10 children in the car, pulling a trailer half way across the country. As I learned later in life, when it comes to the welfare of her children, a mother will do whatever it takes.

The house Vernon had for us was nice enough, so we settled in. Had the landlord known 10 children were moving in, I am not sure he would have consented to rent the place. I think Vernon told the man he had two children, which was true. He just neglected to mention that his wife had eight of her own!

Arriving after the midpoint of a school year was difficult, but we managed to enroll and life settled into a routine. Early on the scene of our lives was Aunt Vera. She was related to Vernon distantly, but she was from Arkansas and seemed to take an interest in our family. She helped us get started to Orangewood Church of the Nazarene. Like everyone else, she loved my mother.

Mother eventually found a job at a local hospital. I finished the eighth grade and was preparing to enter high school when we made another move across town to a house with cheaper rent. The roaches and scorpions were highly offended by our presence, but the house was situated at the foot of a mountain in a desert-like setting that afforded my brothers lots of space to roam and explore.

Life with Vernon and his children was never easy. His temper flared often and we never knew what might set it off. Mother worked days and Vernon worked nights. When we were in school, he had no trouble sleeping during the day, but summers were another story. I was well into my junior year of high school when something I said or did sent Vernon into a rage. My sister insists my typing woke Vernon from sleep. I thought it was that I had been peeling potatoes and he did not like the way I was peeling them. At any rate, he became so violent and threatening that I ran from the house when I saw him go for his gun. I fled across the desert to a phone booth outside a café near the house and crouched out of sight until I saw him drive by in the car trying to find me. Once he had passed without seeing me, I ran up the street to a friend’s house to call my mother at work. Her shift was ending soon, and by the time she came for me, she had determined it was not safe for me to return home and had arranged for me to stay with Aunt Vera.

This incident occurred in early January, 1962. During my stay with Aunt Vera, she learned that my sixteenth birthday was approaching, and she wanted to have a party for me. Everything was going along fine until I found out that the friends I had invited would be bringing me presents! No, this could not be! It was not right that anyone should spend money to buy me a present, so I cancelled the party. Aunt Vera was disappointed, but I was relieved.

However, it was during this time that news of my father’s death reached me. Mother came to Aunt Vera’s to tell me he was dead. As I later learned, he had come to Mama’s house on Christmas Eve. After dinner, he went into her living room where our pictures were on display and spent a good bit of time looking at each one. Afterwards, he started a drinking binge that resulted in his death. I asked if I could go to his funeral and was told that he had been buried almost immediately after his death on New Year’s day. Somehow I felt robbed.

Eventually it was deemed safe for me to return home, but Vernon was not happy. It was not too many months afterwards that Vernon took his two children and returned to Arkansas where he filed for divorce. Although Mother was glad to see him go, she did feel somewhat abandoned. Had it not been for Aunt Vera and a few other friends, Mother would never have made it. She kept working at a job she loved, my sister and I were old enough to make money cleaning houses, so somehow we managed. Then, Mother met another man.