Meredith and Matthew were beautiful children. I loved them very much. They were ideal. I don’t remember any problems out of them. We had lots of fun together.
I remember one time Matthew was eating some food from a paper plate on a metal folded chair at the Academy of the Arts. An African-American kid asked him if he was coming back to the Academy next year. He told the kid that he could not. He was going to another school. I was standing behind him listening to him talking to his friend, two 6-year olds having a chat. He was going to begin the first or second grade at Summit Elementary. I did not respond well. My heart was sinking by the moment. My son was changing schools; I could do nothing about it. It was a sad day..
The first summer or maybe the second summer after they left I went to the circus with them at the old Greenville Braves Stadium parking lot on Mauldin Road. The kids were there. I began to rub Meredith’s back. She was six or seven years old. She was wearing a bra. I did not respond well, again. I said some unkind words to her mom. Unfortunately I can say dumb things. I’m not sure what happened after that. It didn’t get better, that much I remember. It was another sad day for me. I could see what was happening and was helpless to do anything about it. My kid’s lives were spinning out of control from my perspective. My heart was bursting. Divorce is twisted. Life goes sideways when one is divorced and never seems to straighten out.
About four years after the split I asked the kids what one thing they wanted in all of life. We were staying with Mama Grant in Wingate, NC. We were walking around the campus of Wingate University. It was a summer night. Matthew told me that all he wanted was for his daddy and mommy to get together again. That was his dream, his desire. That ripped my heart out.
Sometime later I asked them what they thought about me dating again. A year or so after the divorce I wanted to start dating, but I didn’t know how they would respond to that, particularly if I got married and had other children. I think it was Meredith that said that she just wanted me to be happy. That was very releasing. I think, for the most part, they have not been jealous of my new wife and new kids.
Matthew Justin was born on December 12, 1983. The Dallas Cowboys were playing the Washington Redskins that day. As an immature 22 year old I was torn between going to the delivery room and keeping up with the game. Fortunately the game was on a TV not too far from the delivery room. Also in those days the dad didn’t have a priority like they do today about going into the room where the kid was being born. Matthew had no complications and was born on time. He was my boy! This filled out our family perfectly. It was a good time for us.
Mother bought Meredith a large baby doll so she would not feel left out with all the hoopla about Matthew being born. I remember one time when somebody came to the door to see Matthew and Meredith answered the door and immediately said, “He is in there.” She said this w/o the guests asking anything or saying anything. I struggled with that because I felt like Meredith felt she was moved to the backseat and didn’t matter anymore. My first tension as a dad with two kids. I soon realized that Meredith loved Matthew and there was no jealousy at all. They became best buddies and did everything together.
This was right at the time when I became fascinated with cameras and bought a Canon AE1. I went to a class and began taking lots of pics. Some of my favorite ones were of Matthew sitting in a chair playing with an old Brownie Camera.
I remember one time when Matthew walked up on the church steps at Grace Baptist Church and there was a dog on the porch-type-area. Matthew started petting the dog and said, “Puppet”. Our pastor was standing there and we both looked at one another and laughed real hard. Matthew was in Awanas or was familiar with it and we did puppet programs a lot. I was the Puppeteer at the time so he was growing up around puppets.
Probably my biggest disappointment with Matthew were the lost expectations. I planned to throw the ball with him and teach him how to play sports. Him leaving at four years of age was an incredible blow. It was even more difficult to watch another man teach him how to play ball. As I went to his games and watched him run the bases and swing and miss and sometimes hit and interact in the dugout ripped my heart out. At one time I helped his step-dad in practice as I fielded balls. I tried to pretend everything was okay. At one moment he was mine for four years and two years later he was playing ball with another man who would get drunk and verbally abuse him. I don’t know if he ever hit Matthew. I felt lost in it all. I cannot even imagine how Matthew felt. I remember asking him one time that if he could have anything he wanted what would it be. He said to have his daddy and mommy together again.
Meredith Nicole Thomas was born on September 03, 1981. She was named after Meredith Baxter Birney, a movie actress I was infatuated with. Her mother’s water broke late one night while I was watching Quincy, the medical show with Jack Klugman. I asked her if we could wait till the show was over before we went to the hospital. She did. What a jerk.
Meredith was born at Presbyterian hospital in Charlotte. She was pre-mature by about 5 weeks. Everything went well and her lungs developed and she was fine. She was the child of my dreams. A beautiful kid. We had so much fun together. I took her everywhere, played with her constantly. Everyday was an adventure. I remember when she was three I dropped her off at Bible Baptist Tabernacle School to stay in the daycare. It was before dawn. I can still see her standing in the hallway crying her eyes out as I was pulling away. I was looking through the plate glass door. It was a horrible experience for a dad. She wasn’t thrilled with it either.
Meredith was a sensitive kid. She had a tender heart. One night, after our move to Greenville, we were having our family devotions around the kerosene (Kerosun) heater in the kitchen. It was winter. I remember talking about hell that night. I didn’t realize it, but Meredith was looking at the orange-red glow of the flame and heating element in the heater while I was talking. Either that night or the next she came into my office and asked me if she could be a Christian because she didn’t want to go to hell. I put her off that night and told her we would talk about it later. The next night she came in again and asked me a similar question. I don’t remember if we talked that night or if I put her off again, but she was persistent and was not going to let it go. I was hoping this would be the case. I told her how to become a Christian and she prayed to asked Christ to save her. She was five years old. Shortly after that she was baptized. It was a thrill of a lifetime. I truly loved that girl. We were buddies.
The day they left was w/o doubt the worst day of my life. I cannot even imagine how difficult it was for them. What went through their head, I have no idea. I still can get angry at times in my soul when I think about this time in my life and how that devastated our family. It was a dark time, the clouds of which are still not too far off.
We dated on and off for about 2 years I suppose. I was 19 when I got married. I think she would have been 20 by that time. I do not remember the date of the wedding. We eloped to South Carolina. To get married in SC you had to give the Justice of Peace a 24 hour notice. We drove down one day and talked to the Justice of the Peace (a lady) and then went down the next day to get married. It seemed like it was in an old small house that had been converted into an office. Again, it is hard to remember at this point. I remember more things from the 3rd grade than my first marriage, interesting.
On the way down Hwy 601 the first time to SC we passed a mobile home trailer business on the left. We stopped in and eventually bought a trailer. Our marriage was actually more pre-planned that that. I began buying furniture when I was 15 before I moved out of my parent’s home to live with my grandmother, Mama Grant. I had a room full of furniture and other things. I was buying things for my eventual house all along. By the time we got married we had a house full of things from furniture to plates and more. There were not a lot of things we had to buy after marriage and all of these things were paid for.
I approached my other grandmother, Bubber, and asked her if she would be interested in selling some of her land to me. I was 17 at the time, maybe 18. She sold me 3.42 acres on Helms Pond Road. I bought and paid this off before we were married as well. I let one of the local farmers farm the land and give the proceeds to Bubber (grandmother) as an additional gift. I’m sure it wasn’t a lot. I never asked. I cut out about 1.5 acres where I could begin working it to get it ready for us to move our trailer onto it. I cut down the bank out front, had someone come in and cut a drive in, place the concrete culvert in, sowed grass and eventually bought a John Deere riding lawn mower, glory! Now that was the real deal. I was in hog heaven. By the time we moved on the property everything was paid for but the single-wide mobile home.
We went ahead and got married before we bought the trailer. We lived with Mama Grant the first few months until we got the trailer on the property, hooked up the septic tank and ran an easement across my parents property for the city water. I don’t remember how long that took to accomplish. It may have been 9 months or so. It wasn’t too long before we moved out of Mama Grants and by the time I was 20 we were set-up on our new property, new single-wide mobile home, living the American dream. Could it get any better than this? It was a mere four years from my time in jail to my own place…sweet! I made it.