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Wings of Grace
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)
Wings of Grace by Vanessa Davis Griggs
Get wisdom, get understanding.
(Proverbs 4:5)
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 quiet.
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.
Mamie. 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.
(Psalm 138:8)
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 was empty.
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 you."
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 to wait."
"Hmmm. Interesting. Strange, but interesting."
"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 a
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 and see?"
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! She thought.
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 begun.
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 reserved it?"
"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 to her.
"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 following me?"
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
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Book 5 of the
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. . . where it all began!
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Wings of Grace by Vanessa Davis Griggs

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Book 1 of the
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