~Suddenly, It’s Forever Chapter One~
In the midst of today’s trend of the expendability of a life, God continues to be inexhaustibly diligent to love, provide for, and reveal Himself to each individual life. Caught up in the written pages of Ellen Caywood’s life, I realized once again that God is able to carry out His plan for each life: to reconcile each of us to Himself through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
Some might call Ellen’s life “ordinary”, while others would say she had more than her share of heartache and injustice. However, God sees each event in our lives with eternity in mind and “works all things together for good…” (Romans 8:28)
Perhaps many of you will see yourselves, as I did, in Ellen’s struggle to find the answer to “where do my loved -ones go when they die?”, feeling the gentle tugging of the Holy Spirit leading us to trust in Christ Jesus for life-after-death.
Whether your life is one of triumphal success, or filled with pain and frustration, the answer to your need is still the same as Ellen’s answer: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24)
Debra Barnes Miles
Miss America 1968
Thank you, Debra, for your friendship and for taking the time to
read my manuscript. Blessings to you for your input - I
appreciate it very much.
This story is based upon a real person, Mae Ellen Morris/Caywood. All the traumatic events actually happened, and I've tried to keep everything genuine to her character.
While trying to capture Ellen's true personality, I came to realize that mere words have not the capacity to contain her heart and spirit.
The opportunity for Ellen's grandchildren to know her was snatched away. Perhaps, though, I've captured enough of her in this story for them to love her; she deserves that much.
I humbly dedicate this continuing story to my children and grandchildren:
Ray Allen's child:
Mother: Renita Woodward
Kelsey Adam Woodward/McEntire
Wife: Kwanna Henson/McEntire
Lamanda Deann, Shawnra Lea, Dorothy Lawrana, and Kristeena Joy McEntire.
Wife: Sharon Cole/McEntire
Karol Anne McEntire...
(whom we are raising)
Malcolm Dwain's children:
Wife: Joyce Huckabey/McEntire
Matthew Doran, and Michael David McEntire.
Lisa Ann's children:
Justin Cody, Brandi Lynn and Joshua Dwain Powell.
May Ellen Patrica's children:
Kimberly Diane Schmoll
Husband: David Butterworth
Kristin Nichole, Jessica Ann and Destiny Rose Butterworth.
Husband: Jim Doty
Son: Luke James Doty
Soraya Lynn's children:
Husband: Ryan Hitt
Katelynn Nichole, Rebekah Paige,
Riley Owen (entered heaven when he was a month old), Jayce Ryan
and Halley Renea Hitt.
...and to those yet unborn.
May their hearts see the love their grandmother would have showered them with. May they learn to walk with Jesus at an early age, and totally trust Him for everything.
All things work together for good, for those who love the Lord, and are called for His good purpose.
To my husband, Doran, and to my wonderful daughter-in-law, Kwanna Mae Henson/McEntire, who drew some of the illustrations -
Thank you is not enough but it is from my heart.
To Debbie Barns Miles, Miss America of 1968, for her input and encouragement - God bless you my friend.
To my Aunt Thelma Tidwell, who gave me a sweet picture of my mother’s teen and pre-teen years. She also gave me moral support during a difficult time.
I also dedicate this to the many people who have prayed through the years for my family and me. You know who you are and are known to God. My prayer is for God’s mercy and blessings to be always present in your lives.
There is another person I want to acknowledge with a grateful heart. She is the one who took this manuscript to her home, spending many hours over it making suggestions and corrections. She was my English instructor at Crowder College
in Neosho, Missouri. You are my Forever Friend,
May God bless you always, Carolyn Dean.
I also want to offer my thanks to Donald and Janice Edmonds who witnessed the murder and were willing to talk with me about it - ten years later.
Thank you, Tommy Walker, Texas Ranger, for taking the time to talk with me, offering assurance concerning the important details surrounding the murder.
Thank you also, Oleeta Reed, for letting me stay in your summer home in Weatherford, Texas. It was from there, I was able to gather information and get a lot of research done.
To my sisters,
Peggy Caywood/Cecil and Pat Caywood/Reed,
I love you.
To my brothers, Melvin (Sunny); Monroe (Phil); Ronald (Ron); Morris; and Junior (Skip) Caywood. I have lost all but two brothers: Phil and Ron... I love you
SUDDENLY IT'S FOREVER!
by Dorothy Caywood McEntire
Naked cotton fields surrounded the paint-hungry, four-room, clapboard house. On windy days the long-neglected roof whimpered for attention. And rainy days brought about promises of new shingles for repair as soon as possible.
The one entrance to this bare-looking abode boasted of a new, homemade, screened-door. A heavy spring held the screened-door shut and little fingers would be smashed if not kept out of the way of its fierce slamming.
To Ellen, this house was home. Ellen's mother, Nora, knew they had scant cash to buy materials for improvements and she also realized that her husband, Oscar, had little time for repairs. Nevertheless, Nora couldn't help wishing for a better home for her children. Her working hours seemed to have no end, and the nights flashed by, but Nora had a strong and determined spirit that allowed her no room for self pity. She worked alongside Oscar as they struggled in the cotton fields to provide food and clothing for their family.
Late fall found the stubbed cotton fields unsightly and bare except for a narrow patch just south of the house. Oscar and Nora were trying to get the last of the cotton picked before bad weather set in so they stayed in the field until supper time. Like all sharecroppers, when a load of cotton was sold, they had to pay the landlord his part.
Oscar and Nora kept a dream alive that someday they would own a small piece of land for themselves. Thornton, their landlord, had offered to sell them the land they were working but Oscar didn't trust him and refused his offer.
This day had seemed unusually long and Ellen was glad to see her parents coming in from the field. She called to her older brother, Jimmy, to get a fresh bucket of water from the well. Because of the chores, which needed to be done before supper, time would pass quickly. Oscar and Nora washed up at the well and then helped Jimmy draw water. Oscar headed for the barn to milk as Nora and Jimmy entered the house. Nora started supper and Ellen rounded up her younger sisters, Gennieve and Carrie.
Just as Nora put cornbread into the oven of her wood-burning stove Oscar set fresh milk on the cabinet to be strained.
"Jimmy," Oscar called Jimmy away from the Yo-yo game he was playing with Gennieve. "Pour the rest of the water into a pan and put it on the stove. I'll bring more kindling in."
"Sister," Nora instructed Ellen. "Bring me a clean straining towel for this milk and then set the table for me."
Ellen took the chipped plates out of her mother’s curtained cupboard and set them on their homemade table. When she started filling the glasses with water she thought of how often Carrie came close to breaking one. Carrie loved the sound of a spoon tapping on glass so she couldn't be trusted to have her own drinking glass.
"Mother," Jimmy opened the oven door. "I think your cornbread is ready."
"All right, Jimmy. Now, run and get me another bucket of water."
"Did you have any trouble out of Gennieve or Carrie today?" Nora asked Ellen as Oscar began washing Gennieve's little hands.
"No, Ma'am, they were real good."
"That's good to hear," Nora smiled at Ellen.
Gennieve looked at her older sister with eyes full of relief and Ellen grinned back at her. Earlier Ellen had threatened to tell on Gennieve for running out the screen door, and letting it slam shut, just missing Carrie's chubby fingers.
"Eat right up with no fussing," Nora offered, as she helped Gennieve and Carrie up to the table. "And I'll let you have some honey on your cornbread for desert."
When supper was over Ellen was the first one up from the table. She wanted to sit outside and watch as the shades of evening was pulled down on her marginal world. Although she was in a hurry to go outside she closed the screen door with care. The darkling day was still trying to hold its rays of sunshine as she sat down on the rickety steps and looked around her unpretentious domain.
As Ellen watched a rabbit scramble for a safer place she began thinking about school. She would be six in March and old enough to attend school with Jimmy. He had made school seem like such an adventure she could hardly wait to begin. That's what she was thinking about when she first sat down on the edge of the porch. Then, as darkness engulfed her, she started looking for the first star. Jimmy had taught her about making a wish and the rhyme she always said. "Star light; star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have my wish I wish tonight."
"Sister," Jimmy had told her. "If you ever tell anyone what you wish for it won't come true."
Oscar came outside and sat down beside Ellen. He put his arm around her and hugged her up close. The unusual softness of his voice, and the look of tenderness in his eyes, imprinted a sweet memory in her heart.
"What are you looking for, Sister?"
"A star," she answered shyly knowing he would tease her.
"Are you going to make a wish for your ole' daddy tonight?" His blue eyes were twinkling, as he smiled, because he enjoyed teasing her.
"Sure, Daddy," she grinned up at him. "If you want me to. But I can't tell you what I wish for or else it won't come true."
"Now, how am I going to know when it comes true if you don't tell me?"
"I'll tell you when it comes true, Daddy," she answered. Oscar laughed affectionately and tousled her hair.
A cool breeze began to stir and Ellen could hear the rattle of dishes as Nora started cleaning up. Nora usually called Ellen in to help but earlier Gennieve had said she wanted to clear off the table. Gennieve was almost four years old and she thought helping clean up made her as big as Ellen.
Jimmy carried nine-month-old Carrie outside and they sat on the other side of Oscar. Nora and Gennieve soon joined the laughing little group. But when Oscar started telling Nora about a fight he had been in all the fun of the evening died.
"Oscar," Nora admonished. "You should just give Mr. Thornton the nine dollars he's demanding. After all, this is his land, and he must honestly believe you cheated him."
"Nora," Oscar spoke sternly. "I didn't cheat him, and he knows it, but he would have cheated me. I'm not going to see my family do without this winter because of that man's greed!"
"But, Oscar," Nora worried. "Mr. Thornton will be here tomorrow and he says he'll kill you if you don't pay him."
"Thornton’s a thief and his main problem is thinking other people are just like him."
"I believe that!" Nora exclaimed.
"You know what you look like, Nora?" Oscar grinned at her. "You look like a little moppet with tousled, curly hair."
He reached over and touched the end of Nora's small turned-up nose. "Yep, you look like one of those little china dolls that's for sale down at the store. Guess I'll start calling you Half-pint."
"Oh, Oscar," Nora tried to sound angry. "Stop teasing and be serious."
"Why, Nora! I am serious. Sister?" Oscar looked at Ellen.
"Have you ever noticed how your mother's mouth can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to smile or just sit there and pout?"
Ellen giggled and agreed with Oscar about Nora's mouth.
"See there, Nora? You're an unpredictable woman and even your children know it."
"Oscar, please!" She was smiling. "Do get serious. I think you should give him the money."
"Nora," Oscar became solemn. "I've paid Thornton all I owe him and I'm not going to be threatened, or pressured, into giving him another penny. The truth of the matter is he's still angry over the whipping I gave him in front of the barbershop."
"I declare, Oscar, it's just awful! Grown men fighting like small boys. That Thornton is a nasty, mean man and he's not through with you yet."
"You worry too much, Nora. But since he's threatened to kill me I'll carry my gun. My Pappy always said a man who's quick of tongue ain't usually quick on the trigger. Thornton’s the type of man who’ll point a gun at someone just to threaten him, but he wouldn’t pull the trigger, that is, unless he has back up from a friend. If he comes around I'll just shoot in the air and you can watch him run like a scared rabbit."
"Oh, Oscar! Let's go inside and go to bed. All this talk about guns and killing. It's..., it's..., well, it's scary. It’s getting late; morning will come soon enough."
"All right, Worrywart, let's go inside." Oscar stood up and stretched, then helped Nora up.
"Nora, did I ever tell you you're too short for me? All the time I was courting you I thought you were sitting down.”
“Yes sir…," Oscar paused, winked at Jimmy and Ellen, then picked up Gennieve, "…never knew how short your mother was until we were standing in front of the preacher. Too late to back out then so here we are, a mix-match if there ever was one."
"Oscar," Nora started laughing. "If you had to be serious for more than five minutes it would kill you."
"Now, that can't be true, Half-pint." Oscar joked back as they entered the house. "It took longer than five minutes for your slow talking preacher to marry us and I was serious then. A man would have to be serious with a shotgun in his back."
"Do you want Jimmy to tell his teacher we had a shotgun wedding?" Nora was laughing up at Oscar.
"Jimmy," Oscar looked around as if to make sure there was no one listening. "Just between us, I would have married your mother without a gun in my back."
Nora started rushing everyone off to bed but she continued
fussing at Oscar who guffawed at her.
"Oscar you're a rascal! Don't be telling such foolish stories to your children. Don't you know they may believe you?"
Oscar laughed even harder and everyone joined in. Ellen couldn't understand why her daddy was chuckling but she giggled along with him.
"Button nose," Oscar called Carrie as he lifted her high above his head. "Do you believe your ole' daddy's foolish stories?"
Carrie shrieked with merriment as Oscar swung her onto the bed. Then he bent over and kissed her good night.
"Good night, girls. Good night, Jimmy." Oscar called out to them as he was going to bed. "Sleep tight now and don't let the bedbugs bite."
Going to sleep with her parents in a good mood was a warm, cozy feeling for Ellen. The next morning, Jimmy wasn't feeling well, and Oscar let him stay home from school. By mid-morning, Jimmy was better, and the children started looking for their parents to come in from the field. Jimmy saw them first because Ellen had left the window to get Carrie a drink. All the children gathered on the front porch as Nora and Oscar pulled the long, cotton sacks into the yard.
"You feeling better, Jimmy?" Nora called out. "Yes Ma'am." Jimmy yelled back.
Oscar put their sacks in the barn and walked with Nora to the well house to draw up a fresh bucket of water. Both drank from the water dipper then poured water for the other to wash hands and face. Oscar dried his face on a tattered towel Nora always hung just inside the well house door. He was drying his hands when Mr. Thornton and his brother-in-law, Mr. Berry, walked into the yard. Nora put the water bucket back into the well as Oscar walked toward Mr. Thornton.
"What do you want, Thornton?" Oscar asked.
"Are you going to pay me that money?" Thornton bellowed.
"No, I'm not giving you another penny." Oscar's cold voice seethed with quiet rage. "And if you think having Ed with you will make any difference you're badly mistaken. Now, get away from here or I'll whip you both."
"Then I'll settle with your body." Thornton replied, as he drew a gun and shot Oscar.
As Oscar fell he drew his pistol and shot erratically into the air. Mr. Berry started shooting also but the wild gunfight ended quickly and no one else was shot. Nora and the children had watched the gunfight in stunned silence.
Mrs. Thornton stepped from around the side of the house as Nora's scream shattered the sudden stillness.
"Don't pick up Oscar's gun, Nora." Mrs. Thornton ordered and pointed a gun at Nora. "Stay away from him!"
Nora paid no attention to the stern warning. Crying Oscar's name, she fell down beside him. Mr. Thornton walked over to Nora and told her the same thing would happen to her if she tried to prove the shooting was his fault. Then the three of them ran from the yard.
Nora yelled at Jimmy and Ellen to get a pillow and blanket but Ellen couldn't make her legs move. She just stood there and stared at her daddy's bleeding body. Jimmy ran to the house and when the slamming of the screen door pierced the air like a gunshot, Ellen screamed. Nora never looked up from Oscar's face. Jimmy yelled back at Ellen to hush up and she choked back her fear.
Carrie crawled onto Nora's lap for comfort. Gennieve sat down beside them and gently whimpered when Nora would cry.
When Jimmy returned, he and Ellen sat on the other side of Oscar. Every time Oscar moved or groaned Ellen would question her mother about it. Nora tried to get Oscar to talk, but he never did. Soon he was still and quiet. Three hours passed before neighbors found them sitting by Oscar's body.
"Nora, he's dead," the neighbor softly stated.
He took Carrie out of Nora's arms and lifted Nora to her feet. The neighbors led Nora, Carrie, and Gennieve into the house. Jimmy and Ellen stayed by Oscar's side. Ellen felt a cold shiver run up her spine when Jimmy reached out and touched Oscar's face.
"Daddy, please don't be dead," Jimmy pleaded as he gently patted Oscar's cheek.
Before long the sheriff and several other men arrived. They stood around talking about how it could have happened. None of them paid attention to Jimmy or Ellen. Suddenly Ellen felt an uncontrollable urge to run. She wanted to get away from the still, cold body that lay so close to where she stood. She spun around and started running as fast as she could through the bare cotton-field. She could hear Jimmy calling her name and knew he was running after her.
Ellen ran until, finally, she could run no more. She fell to the ground crying for her daddy. Jimmy dropped down beside her and tried to comfort her as they wept together. When Ellen stopped crying Jimmy suggested they get up and start home.
"Mother will be looking for us," he stood and helped her up.
They walked home with unspoken, anguished thoughts playing through their minds. Darkness was folding its coat around their world as they trudged into the yard. Ellen looked for her daddy, but he was gone.
When Jimmy and Ellen entered the house they saw their daddy's brother, Willie Morris, along with Nora's older sister, Mona, and her younger brother, George McGee Jr., in the kitchen. They were talking with Ellen's Grandma McGee. The group paid little attention to Ellen and Jimmy, until Ellen started to open her mother's bedroom door.
"Don't go in there bothering your mother, Ellen. Just sit down somewhere and be quiet." Ellen's Grandma McGee sounded firm but gentle.
"But, I want to see my mother," Ellen boldly answered back.
"No, Sister, your mother's been through enough today and she needs quiet. You and Jimmy go sit down somewhere and behave. Now go!"
"Come on, Sister," Jimmy said. "Let's go back outside."
"But, I want to see Mother," Ellen pleaded as Jimmy took her hand and pulled her toward the door.
"Grandma said no, so let's go outside," Jimmy answered.
Ellen allowed Jimmy to pull her outside and they sat down on the porch.
"Jimmy," Ellen asked. "What happens to you when you die?"
"I don't know, Sister." Jimmy sounded tired.
"Maybe Daddy is where God is. Do you think God took Daddy to heaven with Him?"
Jimmy didn't answer and soon the two children were absorbed in their own melancholy thoughts.
A voluminous, shining moon was radiating a silvered reflection over the yard. Ellen thought the man-in-the-moon seemed forlorn and dejected looking, and she responded to those feelings with a deep and audible sigh. She got up and slowly walked to where her daddy's body had lain all afternoon.
She was kicking dirt over the dark stains when Grandma McGee called for them to come inside.
A pallet-bed had been made for Ellen and Jimmy on their bedroom floor. Their grandma was sleeping with Gennieve in the big bed and Carrie was with their mother. Ellen lay awake a long time thinking about death and her daddy. She wondered what would happen to them now. She had overheard Grandma McGee talking about them moving to her house. Ellen didn't want to move because this was the only home she had ever known.
She got up, tiptoed to the window, and looked out over the modest backyard. She began thinking about all the things her daddy had said he was going to do. He had promised Jimmy that when school was out they would get a puppy. Grandma McGee had just given them a rope for her daddy to tie on a limb of the only oak-tree on their place. Her daddy had said that she could be the first one to swing on it. And there was the paint Uncle Willie had given her daddy for their bedroom. It was all more than she could bear to think about and she trembled in fear. She slowly turned from the memories and lay back down. Finally, sleep came, and then it was morning.
Ellen awoke hungry but her first thoughts were of what had happened. She wanted to see her mother so she quickly dressed and walked toward the door.
"Sister," Grandma McGee called her back. "You're going to have to be a big girl and help your mother today. Don't be fussing about anything. You hear me?"
"Yes, Grandma," Ellen answered. "Can I go see Mother now?"
"Now, Sister, I'm sure she's sleeping. So let's not disturb her. She'll be up soon. Why do you want to see her this early in the morning?"
"I'm hungry," she answered and started to cry.
"Well, lord be, Child! You don't have to cry about it. I'll fix you something to eat. Did you eat supper last night?"
"No," Ellen forced herself to stop crying. It wasn't because she was hungry that she felt like crying. It was because she had such a deep longing for her mother. Grandma McGee had misunderstood and Ellen felt foolish. They were sitting down to eat when Nora came into the kitchen. Ellen jumped up and ran to her side. Nora held Ellen close as she made her way to the table, and to comfort her, Nora lightly stroked Ellen's hair.
"Sister," Grandma McGee's voice was sharp. "What did I tell you earlier? You stop being such a big baby, and leave your mother alone."
"She's fine, Mama."
"Well, she can go play while you drink your coffee. Now that you've had some rest we need to talk about yesterday. The sheriff wants a statement from you first thing this morning," Grandma McGee said as she pulled Ellen away from Nora's side. "Now go outside, Sister. You can talk to your mother later."
Ellen wanted to cry but she knew she would be in trouble if she did. As she left she carefully closed the screen door and sat down on the porch. She could still hear her mother and Grandma talking inside.
"Nora," Grandma McGee asked. "Are you going to tell the sheriff that the shooting was Thornton's fault?"
"No, Mama. You can be sure the truth will come out someday."
"Don't do it, Child," Grandma McGee pleaded. "Don't ever be afraid to tell the truth."
"Mama, please. I have the children to think about."
"He'll go scot-free, Nora. Is that what you want?"
"Oh, Mama. I just want to be free of all this trouble."
"Of course you do, Child," Grandma McGee's voice faded. "Of course you
Ellen stood up and walked toward the barn. She promised herself she would remember her daddy's murder, the way it really happened, and someday she would tell the world.
Today was Saturday and they were going to town. Ellen's wish was coming true but her daddy would never know what she had wished for. Going to town had always been an exciting adventure that the family looked forward to. Today, however, the very air they breathed seemed heavy with the anguish everyone was experiencing and no one talked.
Uncle Willie drove them into town and let Grandma McGee, Ellen, Jimmy, and Gennieve out at the funeral home. Carrie stayed with Nora and Uncle Willie and he drove them to the sheriff's office.
It was cold inside the funeral parlor. The room seemed postage-stamp size, with only two chairs and a homemade bench that had support from the wall it leaned against. Colors from stained windowpanes boldly bounced off the shiny, just-waxed floor.
A tall, thin man came into the room and walked over to raise the lid of Oscar's coffin. Ellen caught her breath as the man lifted the lid of her daddy's coffin. She didn't want to get close, so she stopped just inside the doorway. As she stared in fascinated horror at her daddy's body, she thought of how eerie and cold he looked. He was so still and stiff looking that she became afraid and looked away. When she finally had the courage to look again, Grandma McGee had picked Gennieve up.
Grandma leaned Gennieve over the casket and told her to kiss her daddy good-bye. Ellen's body shuddered in dreadful apprehension. She turned away from watching her baby sister kiss their daddy.
"Come here, Sister." Grandma McGee motioned for Ellen but she shook her head and refused to move.
"Come on little girl. I want you to kiss your daddy good-bye."
Grandma grabbed Ellen's arm and pulled her close.
"What's wrong with you, Sister?" Grandma McGee asked as she picked Ellen up to leaned her over Oscar's face.
"No!” Ellen screamed as fear took control. She just couldn't kiss his frigid, stone-looking face. Grandma McGee took her outside and shook her until she stopped crying. But Ellen refused to go near the casket.
Later, the funeral procession and burial seemed like a child's make-believe play to Ellen. Then as the day faded away, Uncle Willie drove them home. On the way Ellen fell asleep in her grandma's arms and when she awoke it was morning.
Ellen was the last one to the table, but there was plenty food left. Everyone was busy talking and not eating. Uncle George and Grandma McGee were telling Nora it would be best to get out of Mr. Thornton's rent house as soon as possible.
"I know," Nora answered. "But, Mama, I'm so tired. Can't we move tomorrow?"
"Now, Nora, you'll be just as tired tomorrow. Let's move today while we have John and Willie's help."
"All right, Mama. Whatever you say."
"Good! Let's get the kitchen first. Sister? Hurry up and eat so we can clear the table."
Suddenly, Ellen was no longer hungry. She jumped up from the table and ran outside. She could hear Grandma McGee's voice calling after her but she was looking for Jimmy and didn’t want to answer. She saw Jimmy leaning over the well drawing up a bucket of water. Ellen ran to him and asked if he knew they were moving.
"Yes, Sister, I know." Jimmy answered sadly. "Now, let’s go help Mother."
Ellen watched as Jimmy poured the fresh-drawn water back into the well. As he turned away from the well, she took note of his manful attempt at courage. With his head held high and shoulders squared back Jimmy walked stiffly toward the house. When she saw that Jimmy was going to be heroic about moving, she decided to be brave also.
Jimmy and Ellen ran errands and tried to help keep up with Carrie. They were moving to town - to Grandma McGee’s house.