- In Vanessa Davis Griggs'
eagerly anticipated sequel to Promises Beyond Jordan, Pastor
George Landris is back, but this time he's sharing the spotlight
with a family of strong-willed, true-to-life women who must struggle
to overcome wounded spirits and severed ties. Richly populated
with complex, unforgettable characters, Wings of Grace is a fresh
and engaging novel, Griggs' finest to date.
- EXCERPT (Prologue
& Chapter 1)
Get wisdom, get understanding.
- Willie B (His story)
- I had a hard time believing that one
baby was my child. Yet they were twins, born December 4, 1935,
while I was away on business. A boy and a girl: the boy looking
as though I had spit him out. Didn't need no wife to carry him
for nine months. Just puckered up my mouth, stuck out my tongue,
blew hard, and literally spit a miniature me out. But the girl
was a mystery to me. Couldn't find a hint of Mamie or me in her
nowhere. Possibly the nose, but who can be sure just yet?
- Mamie kept emphasizing that they were
"fraternal twins." Her explanation of why they weren't
a matching set. More like an overdone pound cake. That's what
they reminded me of when I saw them the first time at ten days
old lying side by side: a dark brown crust next to a golden light
yellow. Like a hand: dark on the back, light in the palm.
- "Mamie, I got something to ask
you," I said, realizing there was no other way to say it
but to say it. "Are you sure you've been totally faithful
to me?" That seemed to arrest her attention right away.
I never was no count at sugarcoating things.
- "Willie B, how can you even question
such a thing? Frankly, I'm offended you have allowed a thought
like that to even form inside that big old head of yours."
She picked up the baby girl and began to nervously, but gently,
bounce her to quiet her slight fussing.
- "Then, why that one baby there
got so much white in her?" I looked down at my dark chocolate
hands. Rugged hands responsible for building countless, artistic,
beautiful, and expensive furnishings in and around wealthy homes
from Asheville, North Carolina, to parts of New York. I studied
my hands; my eyes not wanting to bear witness to what her eyes
might end up confessing, and in the process, betray what her
mouth might otherwise refuse to admit. In that moment, my hands
demanded my attention. Back. Forth. Light. Dark. Light . . .
dark . . . light . . . dark.
- "Willie B," Mamie said in
a tone more of surrender than anger. "I do have something
I suppose I need to tell you. I vowed not to reveal this to another
soul, but it's not fair or right to keep a thing like this from
you. You're my husband. But more importantly, I believe you have
a right to know the truth." She laid the baby down and slowly
eased into a chair conveniently away from me. Both babies remained
- Here it comes. What I've known in
my heart for a while. I've seen
how Mister V at the house where she works looks at her. Anybody
with a grain of grits sense can see it. Mister V loves her, loves
him some Mamie. I caught the way he looked at her the first day
she started working for him. It didn't matter that she was dark-colored
as they come and him white as light. He treats her as though
he would give her the world were it in his power. Not own her.
Not possess her. Not abuse or misuse her. But love her as Christ
loves the church. One who'd give his life for her if it came
down to it. Loves her the way I love her. Only Mamie's mine.
- Or is she?
- So I steeled myself, hard, to hear
those possible, dreaded words: "You are not their father."
The only part I can't seem to wrestle my brain around no matter
how I grab at it is: How can that boy there be the spitting
image of me and not be my blood?
- Mamie (Her story)
- There are times when it's not the answer
that is the problem, but the question that was asked. I noted
how Willie B looked at the twins. I knew then he would eventually
have questions, with Junior looking so much like him already
and Memory (that's what I named the baby girl) looking so white.
- My answer could have shown my disbelief
and hurt that he would dare question my faithfulness to him or
our marriage. But he had commented too many times on how Mister
V seemed undeniably in love with me. Had seen how we were around
each other. It was just I knew how to handle Mister V, whereas
most folks didn't dare even try.
- I knew Memory's light skin and too
silky hair would spark questions, what with Willie B and me both
being so dark skinned. Just never expected it to be so soon.
Still everybody knows the blood that flows through our Negro
veins can, at any time, produce many shades of color no matter
how dark or light we might be.
- But the question Willie B asked was
about my being faithful to him. And that question renders an
entirely different answer than the one-I'm sure-he truly seeks.
Now the question I must ask myself is: Do I answer his question?
Or do I answer the question he should have-but did not-ask?
- Sarah (My story)
- Ransom was his name, although as far
as I knew, no one ever personally told him why. I, for my part,
concluded it was because he had a way of holding a heart hostage.
Any heart. Many hearts. My heart. His mama probably took one
look at him, whispered, "Ransom" and the midwife mistook
that for his name. Or maybe she'd said "Handsome,"
as I, myself, have declared about him under my own breath. In
any event, that's what he did with my Southern belle heart. Held
it ransom. "Sarah, I'm taking your heart. It'll cost much
if you are ever to get it back" is what he should have said
to me, but didn't. And instead of my heart being released or
rescued, it has remained forever in his possession.
- No, this is not a love story.
- The year was 1935. I was twenty, young,
and impressionable. As for all that was to happen to me over
the next 66 years, one might peg me gullible, unsuspecting, trusting,
an idiot for believing things would get better or that family
would never do anything deliberately to hurt those they claim
to love. But insane?
- Never insane.
- That much I am sure about. In love,
naïve, too trusting of those charged to love me but never,
I don't care who alleges differently, was I insane. Never should
have been sent away. I just believed the wrong would right itself
someday. Only someday never came. Today, May 16, 2001, I celebrate
my birthday-well aware that for me, time is winding down.
It seems the older I get, the more I think about Mamie. We were
like sisters, even though folks maintained it wasn't right for
coloreds and whites to be that close. I never did get to see
Mamie's babies. "Twins," Mother said when I pressed
her. Mamie sent word to me she had something important to tell
me. Then, suddenly, I was sent away.
- "Memories," I say when people
ask what kept me pressing on in life in spite of all I was forced
to endure. My memories. Not heaven, not yet anyway. You see you
have to die to get to heaven. And honestly . . . I'm not ready
to die just yet. Somehow I believe truth will eventually prevail.
Memory-yes memory: my wings . . . my saving grace.
- Chapter 1
The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.
- The chime of the doorbell interrupted
Theresa Jordan. With two months left before her baby was due
to be born, even Theresa wondered how much more her body-only
seven months ago misses-size-8-could possibly expand. Since moving
into her newly built, two-story home in Atlanta, it usually took
more than one press of the doorbell from an impatient visitor
before she eventually reached the door. Looking out of the side
window, she saw it was an elderly woman. No one she knew, though.
"Who is it?" Theresa asked.
- "I'm sorry to bother you, but
I'm looking for a Lena Patterson," the woman said.
- Theresa cautiously cracked open the
door, mainly to get a better look at the inquirer. "Lena's
not here. Would you care to leave a message for her?"
The woman looked down briefly at her feet as though the answer
were scribbled somewhere on her runover, worn-out shoes. "Can
you tell me when she might be back?"
- Theresa thought for a second. "I'd
be glad to take your business card or let her know you stopped
by," Theresa said, opening the door completely now. She
wasn't about to divulge information about her mother to some
total stranger. But since Lena was planning to stay with her
until well after the baby came sometime in September, Theresa
didn't want to be rude to a possible friend or guest of Lena's.
Lena must have given her this address, Theresa thought.
How else would she know to come here?
- "I don't mind waiting," the
woman said. She looked at Theresa and for some reason began to
squint, like she was memorizing some complicated mathematical
equation etched on Theresa's face.
"I'd really hate for you to do that since I can't say how
long Lena will be. Sitting in your car, in Georgia's July weather
at that, can be dangerously hot." Theresa was seven months
pregnant, home alone, and not about to take a chance on some
stranger scamming her way into her house: old, woman, or not.
If you wait, it will definitely be outside.
"Thank you. But as long as it's okay, I'll just hang around."
The woman grinned crookedly at Theresa then glanced at her stomach.
"So, when's your baby due?"
"September eleventh," Theresa said, feeling even more
uneasy about the visitor. There was something sneaky about her.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather tell me your name? It
truly might be a while before Lena's back. I'd be happy to give
her a message."
- The woman smiled again. "No. But
thanks just the same." She turned and walked away. When
Theresa reached a window near the driveway and looked out, it
The front door opened and closed. "Theresa!" Lena said
as she struggled with two large bags into the den. "Theresa,
are you in the kitchen?"
- Theresa made her way into the den.
"Did you just see a woman out there?"
- "A woman?"
- "Yes. Outside. When you came in.
There was a white woman, I'd guess in her sixties, here to see
you not five minutes ago. She said she was going to wait for
- Lena shook her head. "There was
no one out there when I came up. You say she asked for me?"
- "She asked for you. No one I know
or have ever seen before, though."
- "A white woman? And she asked
for me? Specifically? By name?"
- "Yes. She asked for 'Lena Patterson.'
I tried to get her to tell me her name, but she insisted on waiting
for you. I let her know it could be hours, but she still wanted
- "Hmmm. Interesting. Strange, but
- "Maybe not. Who have you told
you're staying here? Since we've only been here a month, it would
have to be someone you told, wouldn't you think?"
- Lena cocked her head to the side. "See,
that's what's bothering me a little. No one I know even knows
I'm here except Richard, Beatrice, and of course, Maurice."
She smiled, then shrugged. "Well, let's not dwell on it.
Oh you must see what all I bought for the baby's nursery. We
don't have as much time as we think to finish it up, you know."
Lena spoke as though her mind were far from the mysterious visitor.
But she couldn't help but wonder: Who's looking for me here
when no one, not even my employees in North Carolina, knows my
whereabouts? And why wouldn't the woman leave her name?
- "I've always been partial to chocolate,"
Sarah Fleming said with a thick Southern drawl as she sipped
- cup of steaming, hot cocoa.
- Johnnie Mae Taylor had first met the
white-haired, medium-sized woman in May of 1999 in Selma, Alabama,
when she was working on a nonfiction project. Interviewing some
thirty elderly people residing in an assisted-living apartment
building, Johnnie Mae had been recording the oral history from
this unique mixture of black and white people, along with a noted
photographer named DeRamus, capturing their glory in black-and-white
pictures. Sarah had kept to herself since arriving at The E House,
causing some occupants to whisper of her obvious resentment about
having to live under the same roof with blacks.
- The E-House director contacted Johnnie
Mae in mid-May of 2001 when the eighty-six-year-old, sophisticated
Sarah (who had originally refused to tell Johnnie Mae anything
much about her life) insisted she had to speak with "that
colored author" as soon as possible.
- "I'm sort of like oatmeal,"
Sarah said when Johnnie Mae finally arrived two weeks later.
"Add hot water and it becomes soft and mushy. But leave
it out long enough, it'll turn hard and can be quite difficult
to budge." She then proceeded to tell Johnnie Mae a captivating
tale in such unbelievable detail; Johnnie Mae could only attribute
it to an old woman's delusional, or apparently overactive, imagination.
- Sarah looked into her eyes. "You
don't believe a word I'm saying, do you?" She then leaned
back in her chair. "All right. If it's proof you need, then
I'll provide some. The next time you come, I'll have something
for you. Then will you agree to help me?" Johnnie Mae nodded,
smiled, patted Sarah's hand twice, and later said goodbye.
- A month later, Johnnie Mae stood at
the counter of Dulles Airport in D.C. to check-in for her Houston
trip before finally being able to head home to Birmingham, Alabama
just in time for the Fourth of July. Her thoughts kept wandering
back to Sarah and whether or not she should even bother visiting
her again. But there was something about the elderly woman's
words that continued to replay in her head like a record.
- "There are times when all you
have left are your memories," Sarah had said. "You
reach out. You want to touch something. But when you grasp for
something to show somebody else it really happened, you only
come up with wisps of air. You can see it. You can feel it. You
know it's there. But you can't prove it exists to anybody else.
Yet without it, you know . . . .you realize, a part of you might
cease to exist."
- Can't prove it. Can't prove it. Can't.
Can't. Can't prove it.
- "Excuse me, Miss. I believe you
may have dropped this," a man said, bringing Johnnie Mae's
thoughts back to the present.
- Johnnie Mae glanced down at the white
slip of paper with the handwritten number on it the 5?11? man
held out to her. "No," she said. "No, I don't
believe I did."
- Extending his right hand so she could
get a better look, he gripped the bag he held tighter, then smiled,
flashing pearls of white. "Don't you want to check it out
- Johnnie Mae half-glanced at the paper
before looking without flinching into his hazelnut-colored eyes.
"No," she said. "I'm really not interested in
seeing it in the least bit." She picked up her folder from
the counter, turned, and strolled defiantly away.
- "Okay," he said loud enough
for her to still hear him. "Your loss."
- Johnnie Mae's schedule had been hectic
the past few months. Nothing could have prepared her for the
twister headed her way after being on some of the most popular
shows in the nation. Radio shows; newspaper and magazine interviews;
television; book signings, speaking at luncheons, dinners, and
banquets to business folks, at colleges and expos. Success seemed
to birth more success: things producing more of their own kind.
People recognized her now. She was being pulled in so many directions-flying
from the East Coast to the West Coast many times in the same
day. She'd catch a flight at one o'clock P.M. out of New York
into California, tape a late-night show that afternoon, then
back to New York in time to get maybe three hours of sleep before
appearing all perky on a live morning show. Her internal clock,
weeks ago, had become all out of whack.
- Then someone you don't know stops
you in the airport just so he can "inform" you that
you dropped a piece of paper you know you didn't drop? Please!
- Johnnie Mae conceded she had enough
going on in her life already with her fiancé, Pastor George
Landris, being eager to exchange wedding vows, while she was
seemingly the chief holdup.
- "Johnnie Mae," Landris had
said two weeks after she agreed in April to become his wife,
"let's pray." They were on bended knees as they kneeled
together in prayer. He'd taken her hand-the left one to be exact-and
- When he finished, he looked at Johnnie
Mae. She opened her eyes to see him smiling at her with so much
love. He then changed to a one-knee stance.
- "Johnnie Mae," he said, facing
her and gently stroking her finger-the one connected to the heart:
the ring finger. "I love you. My desire is to be one with
you. To be your confidante, your lover, your husband, your friend.
My eyes, may they forever focus lovingly on you. My ears, be
radars for your voice. My nose to know it's you even before you
enter a room. Oh to taste and see how truly good the Lord is
as my heart beats as one with you. J. M. Taylor: Will you become
bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and honor me by becoming
my wife?" He then slipped a three-stone, three-carat, Elara
diamond ring, exactly squared with cut corners, onto her finger.
(Experts' translation: "Fire, brilliance, and beauty set
in platinum: Rare, elegant, sophisticated. The brilliance of
an ideal-round diamond [with 61 facets!] unsurpassed uniquely
in a square.")
- Tears began rolling down her face:
The official proposal. She looked deep into his eyes. Searching?
For what, she did not know. Is this too soon? Am I moving too
fast? Do I really want to spend the rest of my life-the rest
of my life-with Pastor George Landris?
- Johnnie Mae searched frantically through
her purse then in the pockets of everything.
- It was nowhere.
- "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but I don't
show a reservation under any of the names you've given. If you
could provide me with the confirmation number, then maybe I could-"
- "But I can't find my confirmation
number," Johnnie Mae said with a snap. "I told you,
the woman at the car rental counter in D.C. made the reservations
when I rented my car there. Can't you call them and see how she
- "Ma'am, if she reserved it, she
should have given you a confirmation number. That's our best
way of tracking it, for just these kinds of cases."
- Johnnie Mae let out a sigh. Where
did I put that number? It was on a small piece of paper. I was
in a hurry . . . what did I do with it?
- The woman in D.C. had been efficient
enough to let Johnnie Mae know that Houston's rentals were quickly
becoming slim pickings-a huge convention was taking place that
week. She had informed Johnnie Mae that she could reserve a car
for her Houston trip at the same time she rented her car in D.C.
She had then handed Johnnie Mae a piece of paper.
- "Make sure you keep this confirmation
number. Should you have any problems, this number will guarantee
you a vehicle," she had said. "You shouldn't have any
complications, but you never know."
- Now Johnnie Mae knew.
- She remembered sticking it inside her
itinerary envelope along with her Houston airline ticket. Or
so she thought. But now it wasn't there.
- "Looking for this, perhaps?"
A heavy voice loomed as a whisper in her left ear. Johnnie Mae
turned around to look into familiar eyes. Eyes she now realized
she had seen before, though not on him. But who?
- He again held out the paper with a
number on it. Something inside of her insisted that she look
at it this time. It was indeed her rental confirmation number.
Turning to the woman behind the counter, she handed the paper
- "Oh," the woman said after
keying the number into the system. "That's why I couldn't
find it." She smiled at Johnnie Mae, who had yet to thank
the man slightly grinning beside her. "Looks like they hooked
you up. It'll be just a minute now. Then you'll be all set. I
do apologize for the delay."
- Johnnie Mae turned to the man: dark
chocolate; neatly trimmed hair, moustache, and beard. "Thank
you," she said in an even-toned voice. "So, are you
- He laughed, throwing his head back
as though that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "Your
curves appear to be in all the right places, your face seems
pretty tight. Based on your demeanor, I'd guess you're much older
than your look of, say, late twenties, early thirties. But .
. . " he said as he placed a card down on the rental counter,
smiled at the woman working behind it, then turned and looked
again at Johnnie Mae, "you're not that compelling. Just
be thankful I didn't throw that paper away."
- The woman handed Johnnie Mae her paperwork,
thanked her, and smiled first at Johnnie Mae, then at the gentleman
next to her.
- Johnnie Mae had two book signings tomorrow,
then home to see daughter Princess Rose and get some much needed
rest. Next week, it would be Philadelphia, Maryland, then Dallas.
But that man's laugh, for the rest of the day, played over and
over in her ear.
- WINGS OF GRACE by Vanessa Davis
Griggs Copyright © 2005