Shortly after I moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, I decided to go to this quaint little restaurant that I heard about for lunch. It sits on a side street corner in downtown Beaufort as if it owned the entire block. As you walk inside, it’s southern… it’s charming… it’s Gullah. My friend used to say that the only thing that makes food Gullah is the spices and okra, otherwise, you were eating regular soul food. The restaurant had this southern mixed with African décor that mesmerized you. And, if you let it, it very well would take you to another place and time. It quickly became one of my favorite restaurants.
For quite some time I was the only black patron in the restaurant, which was very interesting considering the type of food served. I don’t remember noticing that, before. I’m not sure why I noticed it, today. There were sailors, business people, and college students, but it did puzzle me as to why I was the “only one.”
Now, on the one hand, it could be because it is still early in the lunch hour, around 11:00 am. I came early and had plans to perch here for several hours to write. And, on the other hand, maybe there is a story as to why there were no black people patronizing this restaurant. Maybe, there had been some scandal involving the restaurant. Like, maybe the original owners of this corner were a black family whose family member was murdered and the restaurant was swindled out from under them by the grandparents of the present owner; or maybe, it was sold at auction due to foreclosure; or even, acquired as payment for a gambling debt and the new owner promised not to change the name. Then again, maybe the restaurant was being boycotted, in protest, for not hiring black chefs and management. Only if you weren’t from this area, like me, you wouldn’t know what really happened. No one seemed to be concerned or excited by me being there, so I decided maybe it was just too early or the wrong day of the week.
Then just as I was looking at the menu and happy that pork wasn’t in everything, in walked two black women who did not have that “lovers-of-excitement-and-adventure” look about them, but they just were here to eat after a very boring church board meeting. Then the mailman, black, dawned in his raincoat and safari hat, which covered jheri curls, walked in. He politely walked through nodding to the customers, including me, delivered the mail and left. The music was excellent. Bowie, Bon Jovi, Roberta Flack, Phoebe Snow and the Elton John style music, is just what I needed.
Later, a business-looking couple walked in. They were prim and proper. He took her umbrella and held the chair for her. I was thinking you don’t see that much anymore. They didn’t speak to anyone and barely spoke to each other. Maybe they were making a very serious decision. Maybe they had just left a very important meeting to purchase property to build a chain of private owned shops. Or, maybe they are breaking up a relationship… an affair that is getting to serious and he’s worried that his wife knows. He can’t divorce her, because she owns 51% of his business. His cellular phone rings. It’s his wife asking him where he is and of course he says he working through lunch. The reason she called is to let him know that she will be working late as well. Wonder if he knows that, while he is breaking up an affair, she has started one?
So, as it is my custom, I am sitting, enjoying my tea, and imagining the lives of the people that walk in and out. And, I am thinking, something here will make a great book.
I was so busy watching this one and that one trying to decide who they were and why, that I didn’t notice the restaurant was packed. There were no seats – not even at the bar, which is understandable, because this restaurant is very popular. And, I was no longer the “only one.”
I was sitting close to the entrance of the restaurant. A conversation taking place between the host and a woman with a desire to have lunch caught my attention. The host informed her that it would be a wait for a table. I had not yet placed my ordered. I told the host, if she didn’t mind sitting with a stranger, I would share my table with her. She was very grateful. We started chatting. I introduced myself and I told her this was one of my favorite restaurants and she said she had only been here one other time a little more than a year ago. I told her that I come here often to write, because the atmosphere is so thought provoking… to say the least. She asked me about my previous books. I told her I’m sure she had not heard of me, unless she has read self-help books on personal growth, self-improvement or problems in dysfunctional, trying to be Christian families. I told her, “I’m starting a new book, but at this point, I’m not sure what to write about. I normally write a combination of fiction and non-fiction, because I’m a psychologist and have only written within my field… scientific, empirical studies and research etc.; however, I decided I wanted to just write about something intriguing and fun. So, I’ve been people-watching and making up stories about them to see where my imagination takes me.”
She looked at me with this sorrowful glare and I felt as if I needed to apologize. I asked her, “Had I said something wrong?” She said, “How would you like to write a true story about a dysfunctional almost-Christian family from the south?” Now, I’m just looking at her. I asked her, “What do you mean, a true story?” She said, “My life, for the last few years, could only be believed if you read it in a paperback on a long flight.” “You don’t know anything about me,” I said to her. “I might be a National Inquirer reporter, for all you know.” She smiled and said, “I doubt that, you have good eyes and I don’t think you will discredit me or this story.” “Besides, once you hear it, you will be happy to write it.” I smiled, and said, “I’m all ears and could I record while you talk.” She said, “No problem.”
And, so she talked. I listened and made notes.
Meeting #1: “Guess Who I Saw Today?”
As our food arrived, Lizanne began her story…
“My name is Lizanne Martin and I almost lost the best second husband a woman could ever ask for. The last time I was here was a little over a year ago and that day my world started to crumble around me and you know what, it was my fault.”
Lizanne laughed, as she said, “Well, I guess like any great story, I’ll start in the middle.”
Lizanne began to talk. “Do you know the song ‘Guess Who I Saw Today’ by Nancy Wilson?” I said I knew who Nancy Wilson was. She recommended I listen to the song as soon as I got a chance.
About a year ago, I was sitting at a table on the other side of the bar, enjoying an early evening cocktail with my sister-in-law, when I noticed a couple come into the restaurant and sit over there. Lizanne gestured to a corner near the bar where, instead of tables, there were lounge chairs and small round tables where customers could meet, chat, have a drink and hors d'oeuvres. As she continued, I could see distress in her expression.
At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing and then the Nancy Wilson song started playing over the intercom. This restaurant has always played good jazz, but they could have picked any song but that one to play that day. My sister-in-law Maria turned around to see what I was looking at and the look on her face confirmed what I saw. It was my husband, her brother, and another woman we did not know. She started to jump up and run over there immediately; I stopped her.”
"Maria was so distraught that she started speaking in Spanish and lucky for me I speak Spanish. I’m not going to tell you what she was saying.”
“I told her not to move, because I know her. She would have gone over there and started screaming at him in Spanglish and hitting him or something, because that’s what older sisters do – they are twins; however, she came first, so she lets him know that she is the oldest whenever it suits her.”
“I wanted to think it was an innocent meeting. A new contractor… although, I would have known about that since I’m the company’s contract manager, maybe an old friend, anything that doesn’t resemble mistress. He had not mentioned anything about an upcoming lunch meeting. To be honest, I had not asked. And, to be even more honest, until that day, I didn’t really care what he did. You see, I had neglected him for quite some time. After my first husband James died, I developed the ability to shut people out of my life when they started getting too close.”
“So, I made Maria sit still to ensure he did not see us. It was a good thing we were about to leave when they walked in and that we were sitting in an area where he could not see us. I made her promise not to say anything to anyone, especially her husband, his best friend, until I figured out how to handle the situation. Maria was furious, but she agreed.” She kind of sat there for a moment, as if she was sorting out her emotions… as if she could feel everything now that she had felt that day -- the confusion of should she care, be angry or just pretend she didn’t see him.
“I tell you what, when I got home, I had no clue what I would do or say. My emotions were all over the place, because even though I was neglecting him, it didn’t dawn on me that he would find someone else to show him affection. And ironically, when I turned on the radio, you will never guess what was playing… “Clean-Up Woman!!!” I just laid on the floor and cried for a minute. I did get myself together before he came in, because Maria called to find out if I was okay and what was I going to do; and I didn’t want him to see me prostrate whimpering. I told her I decided not to say anything to him and although it was killing her, I made Maria promise again not to say anything to anyone. I needed to think.”
“Well, as life would have it, the next day was work and the day after was work, and then it was the weekend and the next week and so on. I finally convinced Maria that the affair was nothing and I wasn’t going to worry about it. I fell back into my “job more important” mode and although I didn’t forget it, I didn’t feel the need to ask him about it. I had other things to worry about, like how to keep our business afloat and be angry with him, because his brother put the business in jeopardy which is why I was in “neutral” with him… not in love and not out of love… just neutral, which is the worst place for a marriage. I even decided that if he is having an affair, good for him, because I wasn’t interested… another bad place for a marriage to be.”
“Honestly, if he was having an affair, it was my fault. Long before Antonio and I married I decided the only man that truly deserved my love was dead. I had taught myself to be selfish and closed minded, when it came to other men. I learned to contain my emotions so that when the next one, if there ever would be a next one, died, it wouldn’t really matter. I know it was a terrible place for me to be in; I’m sure I needed therapy, probably still do, but that’s where I was when Antonio came along. He and I knew each other many years ago (about 25ish years ago). We ran into each other again about five years ago. I should have just said no the first time he asked me out for dinner, but I was lonely after involuntarily being without my James. I said yes; I was weak that day. I don’t have an excuse for saying yes to dancing, dining, inviting him to dinner and him inviting me to movies and courting and like I said, it was completely selfish. Maybe he may have been feeling selfish himself, at the time. I did warn Antonio and he said he could handle it. He was grieving a marriage broken and so in actuality, we were both on the rebound. Terrible state of affairs to start a relationship on, but nevertheless, that’s where we started – pretty much already doomed.”
She shook her head, as if to shake out the pain that these memories were gathering there. I asked her about herself, her childhood … she smiled and then frowned. She suggested we meet the next day. I agreed.
Meeting #2: “The Websters”
Lizanne began telling me about herself and her family by saying,
“On September 9, 1974 I became an adult.” Me, Lizanne Maria Webster was on a plane for the first time in my life headed to Naval Training Command Orlando Florida for Navy Boot Camp. I had finally realized one of my lifelong dreams, all 18 years of it. It was bittersweet for me, because my best friend was not here to celebrate this transition of graduating from high school and joining the United States Navy. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be in the Navy, be a sailor, well a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) which is what women in the navy were referred to in the ‘70s; but as far as I was concerned there was nothing volunteer about my naval career goals and I was a Sailor and would be one for the rest of my life. I actually enjoyed boot camp; it was a breeze for me, because my dad was a preacher and I could only get away with so much and after my mom died, I lived in quite the dysfunctional household with my father and brother, so nothing alarmed me. She gave a small smile and said “To this date, my favorite military hymn is ‘Waves of the Navy’.”
Lizanne smiled when talking about her parents. “My parents were almost perfect. I even loved my brother, Justin which was a test in itself, because he was nerve-racking and always getting into something. Not street trouble, just stupid boy trouble. He is six years younger than me so sometimes I felt like he was my child.”
“He was full of energy from birth and was what most would identify as an ordinary young boy. We grew up in a small town about 100 miles from Charleston, SC. We were a Christian family and our Dad was the Pastor of our church. My dad’s job transferred him to different churches every four years or so. We were at our current church for about one year.”
“Justin was a pretty happy kid, got along with everyone. He especially loved church, which is unusual for a child his age; and so he developed a relationship with Christ early in his life. He loved the experiences he had in the church, especially the youth programs, the choir and Pathfinders (boy scouts) where he was on the drill team. His goal was to become captain of the drill team. He basically enjoyed his life.”
“He didn’t like that dad’s job moved us from one church to another. It made it difficult to grow up with the friends he made, but he seem to adjust. His elementary school years were in a Christian school and when we moved he started in the Christian Academy near our church. He loved his school and was becoming interested in school extra curriculum activities. “
“I chose to attend the public high school, because they had an excellent foreign language program with the community college. My parents were not keen on allowing me to go to public school, however, despite the moving around I manage to maintain honor roll grades, well most of the time. I was an honor student in high school and actually graduated with honors. My grade point average afforded me an opportunity to go to one of the most prestigious colleges in South Carolina, but I wanted to join the Navy and be an interpreter.”
“While trying to acclimate to his new school and schedule, Justin began struggling in math. His teacher recommended a tutor for him, a "student with outstanding recommendations from the public high school to tutor him. His name was Wade Martin. He lived a few houses down from us which made it convenient for tutoring. Tutoring not only helped Justin in class, but he began to actually like math. I told my parents I knew Wade from school and I wasn’t that keen on him. I saw the students he hung out with and it’s amazing that he was an honor student. I heard he use to get in a lot of trouble, although he managed never to get arrested or sent to detention. It seemed that someone else always went in his place. He was more like an honor hoodlum.”
“It turned out that Wade’s story was kind of sad. Unfortunately for our family, Justin liked Wade. Justin talked about his activities at church during one of their tutoring sessions. He learned that even though Wade’s mom went to church, he rarely went with her and she did not make him. Wade was not interested in church or anything dealing with church. Wade’s biological parents divorced when he was five years old and his now ex-stepfather was a deacon in the church and abusive towards him and his mother at home. It was an oxy-moron – deacon and physical abuser. Somehow, those two activities were not supposed to mix, but in Wade’s world it mixed like water and cement mix. Even though he and his father spent time together, Wade felt his father did not try hard enough to protect him and that God was not reliable. As far as Wade was concerned, he managed to survive his horrible life without his dad or God’s help. It was hard for Justin to fathom not needing God, but soon he would experience those same doubts in God.”
“When Justin was nine years old, our own lives begin to crumble around us. Our mother was diagnosed with cancer. We watched her get sicker and sicker. He and mom were very close and he just knew that God would heal her. He prayed every day for her to get better. After a year of surgery, chemo and radiation therapy, throwing up, hair and weight loss and anything else horrible you can imagine about cancer, she went into remission and was better for about a year, which gave Justin an opportunity to show Wade how good God is. Justin did not understand remission so he believed that God answered his prayers and for him our family life was back to normal. After about a year, my dad and I started to recognize signs that her remission might be reversing. A couple weeks after his eleventh birthday while he was still in school, our mom was rushed to the hospital. She was much sicker than before. Because he didn’t understand remission, Justin was confused as to why God would allow her to become sick again. He wanted to believe that God would heal her again. But, she was getting worse as oppose to better.”
“My mother tried to keep her spirits high and she continued to encourage us to maintain our faith in the Lord. She did not want mourning before or after her death. I watched as the cancer slowly dimmed the light in her eyes, however she was adamant that God’s will is always right and that if we lived in accordance to that will we would all be together one day.
One night, I heard Justin bargaining with God to save her. I was in pain for him because it would be terrible if she died. And, she was dying.”
“My dad felt guilty, because he had not paid enough attention to her in the beginning. He stayed at my mom’s bedside caring for her as best he could. I could see both my mother and father wasting away. She was dying physically and he was dying emotionally and maybe even spiritually. As my mom worsened, Justin began to distance himself from her and God. The more reality was evident, the clearer it was that my family will never be the same again.”
“She died, when Justin was twelve and I was seventeen and Justin was devastated that God would allow this to happen. No matter what anyone said, he blamed God and he became critical of anyone who didn’t blame God, including dad and I. It didn’t help that Wade fueled his distrust in God by reminding him that God is not trustworthy. Wade was no longer his tutor. but his ideology still influenced Justin in a negative way.”
“So, the real reason I wanted to leave as soon as possible was because the death of my mom affected us in a negative way and our home was no longer home. My brother and father had evolved into people I could not deal with on a daily basis.”
She stopped talking and took a very deep breath...
“I’m telling you before my mother died our family was perfect. My brother and I were blessed that our parents were in love with each other for real and raised us in a Christian home because some of my friends were really struggling. Their parents were not Christians and sometimes were not parents either. Two of my friends were pregnant and there was no support from their parents or the family of the father. Many of the kids at school didn’t have a relationship with their fathers. My dad wasn’t always home, but at least I knew who and where he was. I would invite my friends to all of the youth events at our church and sometimes my home would host a sleepover and they would play games and eat good food. It was fun times with my mother. My dad tried to be available for family events, but as the pastor of our church, he spent more time at the church and with the church members and did not notice my mother’s declining health until it was too late.”
“It was evident that my mom was the glue that held our family together. When she died, we fell apart. My father threw himself head and feet into the church, my brother left the family and the church, emotionally and I fled to the Navy as quickly as they were able to enlist me.”
“Before I left for boot camp, I advised my dad to keep a hold on Justin and a watch on Wade because although he was grieving, Justin was a boy struggling to understand why God took his mother and his faith was in jeopardy. Wade was a bad influence and he needed to keep him away. Both my dad and brother were angry with me, because I decided to leave immediately after graduation and so they ignored my warnings about Wade and about Justin’s faith in God. My dad realized the problem was a problem, when Justin was standing in front of a judge.”
“So we buried our mother and within a few months, my family was invisible.”
By now The Restaurant had become our official meeting place. Lizanne seemed a little weary today. She said she had a long night, her husband is ill. ”I just needed a minute to myself, so I’m glad we had this meeting planned,” she sighed. We found a table away from the crowd.
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