The month of May finally arrived and I was enjoying a beautiful warm late afternoon sitting outside. I decided to sit on the bench that overlooked my main yard and between two flower gardens, taking advantage of the remainder of the day’s sun that was soon to set. I always enjoyed sitting there, listening to the bees that travel from one side of me to the other, flying in front of my face, buzzing as they hit every flower in their path and, without doubt, working on a pollen high. Sometimes, people would ask me how I could sit there in the direct path of the bees’ flight pattern and not be nervous about the bees stinging me. My motto is…If they mind their own business and don’t bother me, then I’ll do the same and won’t bother them. Now, I wish I had the same fearlessness when it came to butterflies. As I know butterflies are beautiful and graceful, they make me go running every single time they come near me. I feel with bees, I know where they are heading. If it’s not a straight shot, directly aimed at my forehead, then I know they will be landing on a flower close by. However, as for butterflies, they are so sporadic, twisting, flying around as if they have been on a three-day drunk after attending a lollapalooza concert. They try to fly to the left and then to the right, as if trying to find their way back into the bar. They are very indecisive. I know it sounds like an oddity, something that represents change, transitioning from one point in your life to another, something anew, but I can’t help being completely petrified of butterflies.
“Change always comes bearing gifts.” ~Price Pritchett
Sitting there with my eyes closed, listening to the bees in flight, I felt the sun’s heat on my face and it felt so wonderful. I was enjoying having the warm weather back. I started to think about the letter that I wrote Trenna just a week before. Deep inside, I was wondering, hoping that she would contact me. My eyes concentrated on the sun behind my eyes, as I sat there starting to relax the day away. I suddenly had a premonition that the phone would ring while I was sitting outside. Then, one of the kids would excitedly yell from the window that someone left a message and her name was Trenna. I no sooner let this thought escape my mind when the phone rang. I could hear it from outside, as the windows were open, but I wasn’t able to make out who was calling. Moments later, Frank came to the window to let me know that someone by the name of Trenna called, leaving me a message on voicemail. I couldn’t believe it! Wow! I sat there wondering how did I know that? I went into the house to listen to her message. It was so exciting to hear her voice! Frank kept saying, “Oh my God, she called… she called! Jack, she called you!” Frank was excited, too. I couldn’t get over how quickly she replied to my letter. I thought I wouldn’t hear from her for months, if not at all.
Trenna introduced herself, letting me know that she received my letter. I noticed that she had a southern accent and the demeanor in her voice that was calm and soothing. Trenna said that she would be more than happy to speak to me about my father, answering any questions that I may have, as well as offering me her phone number. It was the nicest most sincere message that anyone could ever leave for someone who they didn’t know, almost as if she was calling me just to see how my day was.
I couldn’t believe that I was so close to actually speaking with someone who knew my father, possibly to give me some answers. It was unbelievable!
After a quick glass(s) of wine to steady my nerves, I called Trenna, but was only able to leave a message, hopefully, in the same pleasant tone as she had left for me. Monday evening rolled around and the phone rang. Frank sees on caller I.D. that it was Trenna Robinson. Frank answered, introducing himself, chatting with her first. Frank has a way with people. He can talk with anyone, at anytime, anywhere, about anything. I’ve seen Frank walk up to complete strangers in a grocery store, spark up a conversation and 15 minutes later, they were talking as if they had been friends for life.
I wait my turn to speak with Trenna with extreme anticipation. I have my paper with the questions I wanted to ask. I finally hear Frank’s conversation winding down. It was my turn! I finally get on the phone with Trenna and it felt as if we had known each other for years. She was so easy to speak with. The first 10 minutes of our conversation was talking about tacos and how we each liked to serve them, surely breaking the ice. She was so cute with her Southern accent and she immediately made me feel comfortable. After some small talk, we each shared what we knew about my father.
I shared with Trenna how I learned of my father’s death. I told her that I never knew or met him before and that he had left my mother moving back home to Georgia before I was born. I also told her that I grew up thinking that my father was mentally challenged and not being able to take care of himself, always leading me to believe that he needed assistance from others in life. I was told that he was a loser and no good. These were the ideas that were drummed into my head as far back as I could remember.
I can tell that Trenna was shocked by my words because the description that I shared did not portray the man that she had known for many years. Trenna couldn’t believe that was my interpretation of the man who was known as my real father. Trenna told me that Charles was a man of few words, very quiet and reserved. He was kind-hearted and didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was down to earth and just truly a wonderful person. Hearing Trenna’s words left me in my own daze of amazement, as these weren’t the words I was use to hearing all my life. Nor did I think these were the words that I was going to hear from Trenna. I actually thought that I was going to be told that she didn’t really know him and that she couldn’t offer me any information whatsoever. However, on the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised when Trenna described Charles with such respect and admiration that my heart was aching with happiness. The way she portrayed him filled me with such contentment that I started to shed several silent tears, wiping them away as I continued listening to her kind words.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
I learned that my father was in a relationship with Trenna’s Aunt Bea. This is how Trenna knew my father. Aunt Bea had lived in the same assisted living apartment building that my father did, where they both met, becoming quite close. They were each other’s personal companions for many years, loving each other very deeply and were sweethearts to the end. Sadly, Aunt Bea had passed away on October 5, 2006, (ironically on my grandfather’s birthday), leaving my father with a broken heart. Trenna said ever since her aunt had passed, my father simply existed. He wasn’t the same person he was when he was with his love and his heart was simply broken in two. He lost his one and only true sweetheart. They loved each other very deeply Trenna said. I can sense the love and compassion that my father had for Aunt Bea just by the way Trenna was expressing herself.
“God is closest to those with broken hearts.” ~Jewish Saying
Not only was my father a man of the heart, but he was also a man of God. I was told that he was a devoted Christian man, spiritual, attending church and was always reading his bible.
With every word that Trenna spoke, I felt my heart open up with acceptance more and more. I was so pleased to hear what she was telling me about him. I tried taking as many notes as I could without sounding like a news reporter.
I asked if he worked. He worked and retired from National Engine and Tire Company. He also worked for a bread company in Atlanta years earlier. Without sounding offensive, I asked Trenna if he needed much assistance in life. I always used the words “mentally challenged,” as this is what my immediate family basically told me he was. But, I didn’t want to say these words to Trenna in fear of insulting her. So, I just asked her if he needed any assistance. This is when she said to me… “Do you mean if he was mentally challenged?” I said, “Well, yes, because this is the interpretation that my family always gave me.” I could tell that she was rather taken back by my question and then proceeded to tell me ABSOLUTELY NOT! She went onto say that she can’t believe that anybody would say something like that about him. I told her that I was very happy to hear that he had lived a productive life.
Trenna went on to tell me that my father really loved the Lord, so much in fact that he was the Deacon at his church where he attended, the Woodland Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. I just couldn’t believe that the man my mother portrayed, a man she claimed as basic stupidity, was a Deacon, a person who is ranking just underneath a Catholic priest or pastor. My father became a Deacon the same month and year that I became a Catholic, being baptized and confirmed, which was in February 2000. It was apparent that my heart was overwhelmed, as this is the true man who he was, the true man who he had become, the man that I absolutely missed out on having in my life.
I then asked if he had any hobbies or if he was artistic at all. I was curious to know if this is where, perhaps, I got my artistic talent. But, she said he just really loved reading his bible. This was his hobby; reading about our Lord.
When my father realized that his own health was deteriorating, he asked Trenna if she would be kind enough to handle all the funeral arrangements for when he passed. She kindly accepted his request and this is how she became the “friend” on his death certificate. Trenna told me that she knew my father for about fifteen years before he passed, elaborating to me on how much of a kind and nice man he actually was and that she was very happy to have known him.
Not knowing how or if my letter made an impact, I asked Trenna if my letter came as a surprise to her. Her response was, “OH YES!” Because she never knew anything about this part of my father’s life, nor did he share it. However, she told me that she was so excited to receive my letter that, in fact, she immediately called the old Pastor of the church and shared my letter with him. His name is Pastor Larry Camp. Trenna and I shared what we did for a living and I told her that I worked for a neurosurgical group and she told me that she was also in the medical field and worked in a lab. I found it very ironic that the name of her employer was “Tanner” Medical Center in Covington, Georgia! Talk about a coincidence, as my son’s name is Tanner. I noticed that we had a lot of similarities while talking that were almost uncanny, almost as if they were all meant to be. Trenna told me that there are many reasons why life is the way it is and why we are expected to do certain things at certain times and that everything is for a reason in life. I told her that I couldn’t have agreed with her more.
Asking Trenna if she had any pictures of my father, she said she had one that was taken with her Aunt Bea. She was going to, and did, send them to me. She described him as short and having the biggest brown eyes. I must have really touched her heart, because she then went onto tell me that she wishes she had something of my father’s that she could give me, which I thought was so touching. But, I said that talking with her and listening to what type of man he turned out to be was gift enough. I shared a few experiences with Trenna about my life, letting her know that I wasn’t brought up with any religion in my life whatsoever, but decided that in the year 2000 that I wanted to be baptized, confirmed, to have God in my life. I think this pleased her to know that I went through this; something I have in common with my father. She told me that he did leave his beneficiary to a blood niece, but she couldn’t remember her name. Trenna had buried him in his brown suit and silver wristwatch. Trenna gave me the hours that she worked and told me that I could call her any time if I have any questions whatsoever. We really made a wonderful connection. It was almost as if we were meant to speak with one another.
After ending my conversation with Trenna, it was then that I felt as if my heart and soul had been cleansed. The emptiness that I had inside had escaped, it has moved on, leaving me to see my father in a whole new light. Although my father may no longer be walking upon this earth, I knew he left a lasting impression on those whom he had a connection with and, although I never met the man, I felt as if I had known him all my life.
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” ~Garth Brooks
It was soon that I received an envelope in the mail from Trenna. I remember I was at work when it came. My family couldn’t wait for me to come home so it could be opened. It was almost as if it was Christmas morning and I was about to unwrap the gift that I was wishing for the most. As I slid the contents out of the envelope, there in front of me was an 8×10 picture of my father with his love, Aunt Bea, staring at each other with smiles on their faces as if they just shared something amusing between themselves. I immediately noticed that I had his nose and his smile. Trenna also sent me a couple smaller pictures of him when he was older. But, it was the bigger picture that I liked the most and I immediately fell in love with it. A good friend shared that he looked like the actor, Robert Duvall. I could surely see the resemblance. I also received his Mass card and announcement from his funeral, which I have proudly displayed with my other family members. I received a copy of his death certificate and his last social security check, which was never cashed. Accompanying all these treasured items was a beautiful card from Trenna, expressing how much her Aunt Bea loved Charles so very much and that he loved her, too, enjoying one another’s company, and attending every church function together. Trenna felt that Charles was a wonderful man and that she was sorry that I had missed out on such an experience of getting to know him. Once again, Trenna extended the offer of me calling her day or night, leaving me the impression that I had made the absolute right decision in contacting her. I not only gained information about my father, but I truly felt that I also gained a dear friend.
I was on such a natural high after talking with Trenna that I could hardly go to sleep that night. My mind replayed every word, every comment, and every remark that was said. I was so much anticipating that I would get the worse news ever if not even hearing from her at all. All my life, I heard negativity on this subject and would get nowhere when I questioned. I just assumed it was going to continue. I was simply elated! I am at such peace now knowing that my father was a pleasant and compassionate man. I don’t know what his reasoning was for not trying to contact me. Perhaps, he felt that he didn’t have the permission or authority to do so after all these years, recognizing that he had lost the right to have me in his life. Nevertheless, whatever his feelings and thoughts were, I have learned to accept them.
When Trenna made her phone call and chatted with the previous Pastor of my father’s church, Pastor Camp, he went onto to give her his cell phone number and address, asking her please to pass it along to me and that he would be more than happy to talk with me about my father at any time.
Days had passed. Taking Trenna’s proposal, I decided to call Pastor Camp that coming weekend. I was finally able to connect with him one Saturday afternoon via a phone call.
As I begin to dial the Pastor’s cell phone number, I realized how ironic this call was. I went my whole life without knowing who my father was and here I am now about to chat with the second person within a week who was actively in my father’s life. I was nervous but, once the conversation got going, I felt the calmness in the Pastor’s voice, which made me feel comfortable. There’s something that needs to be said about southerners … they are truly humble and gracious people. I could feel the immediate fondness that Pastor Camp had for my father. He, too, could not express enough how kind-hearted, loving and respectable my father was. I noticed that the word kind-hearted was used a lot to describe my father. Pastor Camp was telling me that Charles would always come up to him, asking if there was anything he could do for him or the church, always following up by saying, “Now, Pastor, if you don’t tell me what you need done, I won’t be able to do it for you.” What a wonderful thing to do for the Pastor and his church. As I did with Trenna, I shared with Pastor Camp about how my family members would always tell me that my father was “challenged” and always needed assistance in life. Chuckling to himself, Pastor commented by saying, “If Charles was mentally challenged and needed assistance; he would then have to get himself checked out!” I was told that the church was putting together a memorial and my father was to be a part of it. Pastor even invited me and my family down to Georgia, where he said that he would be happy to escort me to the cemetery where my father was laid to rest. It appears that the church had purchased several burial plots years ago. The church gave one plot to Aunt Bea and this is where she is buried. Another, I found out, went to my father. Their wishes were to be buried next to each other so that they can rest in peace eternally, to be with each other always, forever.
Not sure if I should have, but I went ahead and shared with Pastor that my parents were legally married and that I wasn’t an “oopsy” in life. I was actually planned and that they were married almost two years prior to me being born. It was at this point that I could tell what I just said to the Pastor came to be a big surprise. He then made a comment that that must have been the reason why my father never married his sweetheart, his love, Aunt Bea. It was because my father knew deep down inside that he was already married and if he married another woman, it would be a sin. It was almost as if the Pastor had an “Aha” moment. I had learned from Trenna when we spoke that the Pastor did know about me. My father had once confessed to the Pastor that he was a father and that he had a daughter. Whether this conversation went any further, I’ll never know, something that I would like to learn one day, what words were exactly exchanged. By the manner in which Pastor Camp spoke of my father, he was an absolute beautiful human being and that he was honored to have had him in his life and to share worship with.
I found the Pastor to be a very funny man and easy to chat with. He had a wonderful sense of humor, even offering his wife to cook us all up some biscuits and gravy, providing we ever came to visit. I thanked Pastor Camp for the enlightenment about my father, his friend, and this ended our conversation.
I now know two individuals who couldn’t speak highly enough about my father, leading me to believe that my family said such horrible things to ruin my perception of him, to destroy any hope that I may ever have of wanting to know him, to keep me as far away from him as possible. Perhaps, it was my own family, my mother, who was “disabled,” being unable to let go, hindering her heart so much that she wouldn’t allow others, me, to see the good side of my father.
When looking up my father’s obituary, I noted that a Pastor Couch had officiated over my father’s funeral. Doing my research, I knew this was the new pastor of the church where my father had attended. Working up my courage once again, I decided to write Pastor Couch, in hopes that he would be able to share information with me about my father as well. As I write my email to Pastor Couch, I couldn’t help but to reflect on how fortunate that I have been to learn so much and positive things, too, about the man who I was proud to call my father.
May 26, 2011
Dear Pastor Couch,
My name is Jackie Morin (Lambert), daughter of the late Charles Ray Lambert. It was within the last few weeks that I had learned about my father’s passing in October, 2010. According to the obituary that I found online, you had officiated over his funeral. I hope you don’t mind that I email you and briefly explain why I am writing to you today.
Recently, I had the extreme pleasure and opportunity to speak with Ms. Trenna Robinson with whom my father knew. Trenna and I shared the most delightful conversation about my father. Not knowing much about him and his life, I was very happy to learn that he was a very kind-hearted and pleasant man. Trenna also shared with me that you knew my father, as well as Pastor Larry Camp, and that my father was a member of the Woodland Hills Baptist Church.
I always wanted to know more about the man who gave me life for over forty years now. I was always given a particular impression of my father by family members and it has warmed my heart to know that they were wrong. What I have learned so far has healed my heart immensely.
I am not sure if you knew my father very well on a personal level or if he was more of an acquaintance, but if there is anything that you would be able to share with me, in hopes to get to know my father better and the man he was, it would be graciously appreciated.
I have attached a copy of the letter that I sent to Trenna so that you may better understand my journey.
I hope this email finds you well and I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.
As does a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, I, too, experienced a metamorphosis, a transformation that has changed my life forever, an awakening, learning that my father was a very special man.
I watched my email everyday in hopes to receive a response from Pastor Couch. Several days later, I did. It was during a time when I was so sick with a gallbladder attack. However, reading the Pastor’s compassionate email was exactly the medicine that I needed to make me feel better…