Heart to Heart with Mary Grace

Thursday 6-25-15
The Town Clerk called me early in the morning to let me know Attorney Downs had come in and submitted the petition for guardianship. She told me I should get to her office ASAP so I could sign it for Judge Jerry Pow’s approval, which I did.
On my way to the hospital for the meeting with the social worker, I received a call saying the petition had been granted, signed and faxed to the Social worker. Meanwhile, I called the hospital and talked to a nurse about making sure a guard was aware that I did not want Tyler coming to Mary Grace’s room making a scene and getting Mary Grace upset.
Two social workers, attended the meeting and told me that Department of Human Relations Services (DHRS) had been notified because of Tyler’s involvement. Authorities later informed me that Tyler had been to DHRS offices in Centreville to try to gain custody of Mary Grace. DHRS would have to interview hospital social workers, me, and Mary Grace before she could go home with me. DHRS was scheduled to come to the hospital on Friday, June 26.

One thing Tyler did not realize was that John could not just “give” him custody of Mary Grace. If I had not been there, or no other family member had stepped up (which they would have), Mary Grace would have been a ward of the state. Tyler said in the podcast that I just left Mary Grace at the hospital and that she was just waiting for someone to get her out. Well, because of him, I could not get her out. I had to wait for DHRS to release her. Of course she wanted to leave, but she was enjoying walking the walls or sitting at the nurses’ station with them and coloring. I have attached some of her coloring book sheets.

I realize now, that since she has left the her house, Mary Grace does not like to be by herself. Even now she wants someone in the room with her. And when I reflect on her time in the hospital, I think about how good she ate. It was one of the things the nurses mentioned to me: that she ate everything they put in front of her. I believe there were times at home she went hungry.

OK, back to the story. It is so hard not to get side-tracked.

After our meeting, I asked the social workers and the hospital chaplain to go with me and Charlie to Mary Grace’s room to explain what was going on. From the beginning, I made a point of having a witness for everything I did.

I explained to Mary Grace about police catching Tyler on the property and trying to load up stuff. She was very upset and stated that “Tyler had no business on her property. He was John’s friend, and now John was gone”. I explained that I was here to help her in any way that I could. I asked her if she trusts me, and we talked about being family and how family took care of each other.

I told her she would not be able to go home but that she was going to a friend’s house. She knew the friend and her family, so she was happy about spending time with her. Then we talked about plans to bury John Brooks.

Mary Grace wanted the funeral to be held at the funeral home and asked for Brother Corley to handle the service. I explained that it would be easier on her if we had just a graveside service, and she agreed. I explained that I hoped having a graveside service would enable us to bury him sooner. She was fine with me going to the funeral home and taking care of the arrangements.

I left the hospital and went to the funeral home. They asked me to try to find John Brook’s burial policies, bring clothes for John Brooks, write an obituary, choose the color of the coffin, and tell them how many death certificates were needed. It was at this time that the funeral home director asked if I knew about John Brook’s nipple rings and all his tattoos, which I replied “Really?”, I did not know that. I asked if I could view the body, and they declined because it was not prepared for burial. I told the director that I wanted the nipple rings. The podcast stated that I had bad dealings with funeral homes in the past. That is not entirely true. It is just that I have a lot of experience with funeral homes; I have lost way too many loved ones. In all my dealings, we never had loved ones buried with any type of jewelry, including eyeglasses. The lesson I learned here: Think about the way you word things when you are being recorded (more on “nipplegate” later).

We left the funeral home and went up the street to order flowers for the coffin. I think Tyler would have been caught off guard with all the expense for a funeral. I guess he thought Mary Grace had the money to cover it. The coffin and major expenses had been prepaid which was a blessing. After the podcast, I realized Tyler thought John and Mary Grace were worth millions. And that is what John Brooks wanted people to believe.

We stopped by Lowe’s to buy bolt cutters to remove the padlock Tyler had put on the house. Later we replaced it with a new lock. We then met with the person who would dig the grave and the person in charge of overseeing the site at the Greenpond cemetery where John Brooks would be buried. I am telling you these details so you will know I had other things on my mind besides looking for “treasure” or taking valuables from the house.

We went to the Woodstock Police Department and asked Officer Jerry Lightsey, the on-call deputy, to follow us to Mary Grace’s so we could look for policies and get John Brook’s clothes. I wanted someone to witness the condition of the house when we went in for the first time. ( At this point I was not aware that Tyler and Lightsey were friends.)

When we got inside and started looking around, Lightsey showed us the freezer in the basement and said, “This is where the gold should have been, but it was not there.” I did not even know the house had a basement until John called one day and said he had been cleaning it out and organizing it. He had a lot of school books that had belonged to family members. We took pictures of the basement with our cell phones. SEE ATTACHED:

I got John Brooks a shirt and a pair of jeans. The glasses I saw earlier were now missing. There was a padlock on Mary Grace’s closet, which we cut off and later replaced. We looked for the burial policies but could not find them. We could not find a purse for Mary Grace or a billfold for John Brooks. Mary Grace did not have any clothes or shoes decent enough to wear. We also did not find any medicine. You could not stay in the house for any length of time because of the flea infestation. John Brooks owned 13 dogs at this time. Charlie and Officer Lightsey then went behind the house to look in the 18-wheeler trailer, where they saw tire marks in the grass, and put a lock on the trailer. See pictures

Buses and Trailer

Charlie and I were living this crisis 24 hours a day. If we were not planning, we were on the phone with attorneys, police, the funeral home, friends, or family. There was no escaping it.

Having temporary custody of Mary Grace put a whole new light on the matter. I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I took the responsibility seriously. I had to find her a place to live, bury John, and get the dogs placed. They had no money, and I knew nothing about their income or their bills. I also knew nothing about how Tyler played a part in all of this.
I had to get this puzzle put together FAST. I did know one thing: Mary Grace was NOT going back to that filthy house. If need be, I would take her home with me, so be it. Papa would have to pick a room. We’d have one more person moving in, and believe me, she would keep us entertained.

Ok–Let’s keep talking


Finally make our way to the house !!!

We meet Chief Price leaving the property but when he saw us he turned around and came back, as any officer would. We found that a pad lock had been put on the front door. Chief Price said it might have been placed there by Tyler Goodson and gave Charlie his phone number, which made me wonder who was Tyler and why Chief Price had easy access to his phone number. Tyler said he was on this way to see Mary Grace but, he would turn around and come back. He was back within 5- 10 minutes. He walked up to the porch where we were and said he had just talked with Mama and she did not want anyone in the house until she came home. I said I understand and told him why I was there, to pick up a change of clothes, purse, personal items and medical information. Tyler did not offer any explanation as to who he was or why he was taking charge. I don’t remember a introduction but it would seem likely. Then the confrontation started. There was no screaming, no getting in anyone’s face as portrayed in the podcast. He said he was going to get “Mama” from the hospital and bring her home. I ask who is MAMA??? And he replied Mary Grace. I told him no you are not bringing her home, but he said yes he was. So I asked him, would you bring your own Mother to live in these conditions and he said yes. I stated you are not bringing her back here to live in this mess. He was quick to change the subject as to why we had not been to see Mary Grace, and he was very defensive.
He said Mary Grace was wondering why we had not been to the hospital first to see her–Charlie told him it was not any of his F—— business. He stated that he could not believe that we went right by the hospital and did not stop to see her. I said , it is none of your business but, the route we traveled did not take us though Birmingham where Mary Grace was in the hospital.

He left for the hospital and so did we, without getting into the house or any of Mary Grace’s belongings. We asked Chief Price what he thought we should do and he suggested that we talk to Attorney Boozer Downs. Chief Price stated that police department did not get involved in Domestic disputes. Really, I thought that would be under the title of Trespassing . WHATEVER !?!?!!

When we arrived at the hospital Tyler and his girlfriend Cami were already there. Tyler was sitting in a chair next to Mary Grace, who was also in a chair. I took a seat next to Cami on Mary Grace’s bed. Tyler seemed to be protective of Mary Grace, and he was so close to her you would not be able to get a eyelash between them.

I told Mary Grace that I was so sorry about John Brooks and she said, you have never had kids, how do you know how I feel?? I replied, no I have not had kids but I knew how it hurts to lose a loved one. She was very cold and distant towards me which was unlike her. I asked if she knew who I was and she answered: yes Reta.

I said I was going to the bathroom but went to the nurses’ station to get some answers. They explained to me Tyler had already told Mary Grace I was coming to get her and take her to Florida, which may have been why she was so cold and distant to me. Tyler had told the nurses he was Mary Grace’s adopted son and he was given the code to call in and check on her condition.

Back in the room, we just talked about things in general and Mary Grace was telling us old family stories, this lasted a few hours. Tyler mentioned that he took Mary Grace a biscuit for breakfast every morning, they would sit on the porch and talk. He mentioned his and John’s fishing trip and he even bought John’s lunch. He let me know he had been with John recently to get new eye glasses. I remember seeing them in John’s bedroom a few days later.
Tyler was talking about a little black & white dog named “PIPSQUEAK”, he and Mary Grace argued
over–each claiming ownership, which later turned up missing.

All Tyler could say was “Mama we will be all right”, “Mama we will buy you some new shoes”, “Mama the girls will pick you fresh flowers every day”. I asked Mary Grace if she wanted Tyler to move in with her and take care of her and she said “yes”. I asked Tyler, where is everyone going to sleep and what about your kids? I reminded Mary Grace that Tyler had 3 kids and she said “I don’t want any kids there”. I asked Tyler if he knew what he was asking for, taking care of a elderly person 24/7—he said “not a problem”. Before the conversation got this far, Mary Grace had not mentioned who Tyler was, what Tyler had done for the family, etc. NOTHING. I believe Mary Grace felt that she had no choice at this point, and in all the drama I should have realized that she was not capable of making these decisions.

Charlie and I walked out of the room, I told Charlie well, if Mary Grace wants Tyler to live with her and he wants to take care of her I am not going to fight this. We will stay for the funeral and then go home
NOTE: Mary Grace was wearing the same clothes she had on when she got there Monday night and this was Wednesday. Her clothes were dirty and her shoes were so bad I had to throw them away. When I got to the hospital Thursday she was dressed in a pair of the nurses scrubs and her new shoes, which is what she wore home Friday.

The Social Worker came in before we left and she asked Tyler a lot of questions he could not answer. The name of Mary Grace’s doctor, name of her home health care, and if she was on any medication (he said just vitamins, which in fact she was on multiple prescriptions). Tyler said he had been taking care of Mary Grace for the last two years. After investigating Mary Grace’s case the Social worker left the room.
When I left I gave Tyler my phone number in case he needed anything, and I wished him good luck. Cami told me not to worry they would take good care of Mary Grace. Tyler said his grandmother was going with them to make the funeral arrangements. At this point I was not considering the total seriousness of Mary Grace’s mental state, sure she wanted to go home, which is only natural for an elderly person.

When we reached the hotel everyone called me at one time. That afternoon Cami called me and said they would not release Mary Grace to Tyler, and I needed to sign a form. I told her I could come back now and do that. On the other phone the Social worker called to let me know they would not release Mary Grace to Tyler and asked if I could come to the hospital on Thursday at 11AM for a meeting. I said sure, I will be there. Attorney Downs was returning my call, and others from the community were trying to get in touch with me. We had the hotel phone and both cell phones going at one time. What a mess!!!

During this time the Police Department called to say Tyler and Jake (Tyler’s brother) had two trucks and two trailers going to Mary Grace’s house to load up stuff. By the time we got there the Police had intervened and Tyler was already gone but, we got to meet Jake. He seemed like a nice guy, until he said, “I thought of John as my Father”, I told him, Really??? I said I don’t want to hear that. I thought to myself, it appears that you are stealing from your father before his body was in the ground. (At least that is how it felt to me) I was wondering why they needed two trucks and trailers to get a sack of tools that John said belonged to Tyler. It was then I realized that someone needed to make a stand for Mary Grace’s sake. She was not in a state of mind to take care of herself, and it feel like Tyler was only thinking of himself and not what was best for Mary Grace.

It is then when I asked the police officer what do I need to do to protect Mary Grace’s assets, he suggested I look into to getting temporary guardianship over Mary Grace. I called Faye Gamble (the Town Clerk) to ask her if she could reach Judge Pow to help get a temporary guardianship over Mary Grace.

Ok, Let’s keep talking

Year 2015, where the story begins


New Year’s Day, when we all look forward to a new start, hoping for the best year ever. It didn’t take long to realize life may not work out that way.

In February, I had surgery. Everything went well, and I was recovering on schedule.

In March, a dear friend who lived in Tuscaloosa took a turn for the worse in his battle with lung disease.  We got approval from my doctor and headed to Alabama. We were there one week before he passed then stayed to help his wife with the service and burial arrangements. We headed back to Florida after the Funeral.

In May, my father-in-law got up during the night for the bathroom then fell and broke his hip. It was an awful experience. It took a few minutes before his voice got loud enough to wake us. Charlie can sleep through a train going through the house. (I don’t understand how he can hear an armadillo digging in the yard in the middle of the night, though.) Bless his heart.

Anyway, Papa had hip replacement surgery and was in rehab for a month. That brings us to June. Our anniversary is in June, so we decided we needed a break. We asked my brother and sister-in-law to stay with Mr. Lawrence so we could have a mini-vacation. We were gone four days and returned home the Thursday before Father’s Day on the 21st. I remember because I felt guilty feeding Charlie and Papa tuna casserole for Father’s Day lunch. Not just casserole, I served crackers, too.

The following Tuesday morning, while I was taking my morning walk, Charlie got the call from a childhood friend about John. When he told me, my first words were, “We have to go. Mary Grace has no one else.” I called my friend back, and she told me what she knew. Mary Grace was in the hospital and doing good under the circumstances. Since John B. committed suicide by drinking cyanide, the police felt it would be best if she was checked for contamination.  Also, the house had to be cleaned and cyanide free.

We not only had to pack but make arrangements for Papa, who, by the way, was doing great since his surgery. We thought we would be going to a funeral, checking on Mary Grace, and only be gone a few days. (I’m not sure why I was not thinking about Mary Grace’s long-term care. I guess I thought John had made arrangements.) We had to go to the store and get food that Papa could fix in the microwave, buy snacks, prepare medicine, and talk to our neighbors about checking on him. It was after lunch before we left home, so we drove to Troy, Alabama, for the night and drove the rest of the way Wednesday morning.

Before we go any further, I need to make something clear about Tyler. At this time, I did not know Tyler, I had never heard the name Tyler, I did not know Tyler was a friend of the McLemores, I did not know Tyler worked for John. I mean, I knew nothing. Once while I was visiting them, John told me he had hired a couple of kids who were down on their luck and was helping buy Christmas for their kids. But he never told me their names. Also, at this time I had not heard the podcast. Actually,  I did not  know what a podcast was.

For years, we had been aware of the living conditions at the house. I knew John was in the process of remodeling the home to its original structure. A few years back, he had mentioned that he had invested a lot of money in the house. When he took me to his room to show me his computer, I noticed how filthy his room was and that his sheets were so soiled they looked like red dirt. The living room area was closed off and without any furniture except a piano, which was covered with a blanket. Most of the windows were broken. There was one filthy recliner in the kitchen — no other place to sit or eat. At one point in the dining room (the only room finished),  was nothing but bags of dog food. Mary Grace’s room was closed off, so I could not see in it. John told me he had boarded her windows so she could not get out; Mary Grace had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Later, John said she did not have Alzheimer’s but had been over-medicated. She did have dementia, though.

Regardless of my disapproval, you just don’t go into someone’s home and tell them how to keep house. Especially John B. Later I would ask home healthcare why they did not report the conditions. The reply was, “We kept her clean and John kept her fed.” They did mention to him about buying new sheets, but he said he would not spend his money on that.

One other thing people should know: Since I grew up in Woodstock, I knew most of the people or their parents. I went to school with Faye, Woodstock town clerk, graduated with the current mayor, and was closer to John and Mary Grace than you think. John and I emailed and talked on the phone. I had been unable to get them by phone in a while then learned they had turned the ringer off. The last few times I had visited Alabama I did not go over there because I always called first, and with no answer, I did not feel that John’s was a place where you just showed up. Now, after the podcast, I’m sure it wasn’t.

Wednesday 6-24-15

Since we knew Mary Grace was in the hospital and being taken care of, we decided to go to city hall to see what was going on. We needed details. At this point, I did not know if the house had been cleaned, where John’s body had been taken, or if they needed information from family.

We got to Woodstock between 9 and 9:30 a.m. and went straight to Woodstock Town Hall to talk to Faye Gamble and Police Chief Len Price, who filled us in on what happened. John B. talked to Faye and told her he was going to kill himself and she should not try to stop him. He told her where some money was hidden to pay for the dogs to be euthanized. He told her Tyler’s tools had been put out by the shop/porch so he could pick them up. (Don’t you think that meant Tyler had just a few tools?) He also told her there was gold hidden in the freezer.

John B. died while talking to Faye. She called Woodstock Police. Mary Grace was in her room, and they told her she needed to check on John. When she saw him on the porch, she told me she did not know he was dead. She told me later that she had heard something but thought it was the dogs. She said it must have been when John fell. She also later asked me what happened to the boy who was in the house the night John died.

No one at Town Hall mentioned Tyler Goodson.  John had sent Faye  a list of people to call.  She said some were out of the country, so she was unable to contact all of them. I did not see the list. As a matter of fact, I never saw the list until weeks later when one of John’s friends pulled it up on his phone and showed me. I do not have a copy.

We told the police chief we were going to see John’s attorney, Boozer Downs then go to the house. Still no mention of Tyler, who was supposed to be so close to John and Mary Grace.

We went to see City Attorney Boozer Downs to see if he could shed some light on the situation, but he was in court. At this point, I was not even thinking about a will, power of attorney, or any other legal stuff. I was hoping Boozer could give me guidance on what was needed to handle the burial of John and long-term care for Mary Grace. (I would have thought that if John knew he was going to take his life, he would have made plans for this mother. More on that later.)

We left there and went to Mary Grace’s house. I needed to get her some clothes, her insurance information, medicine, and her purse. And make sure the house had been locked.  I knew they never locked their house, as a matter of fact,  I asked John once about keeping those valuable clocks he worked on in his shop with no security. He said all the dogs were his security system. Besides, not many people knew there was even a house back in those woods.

Ok–Lets keep talking,






No Girls or Dumb Bastards Allowed


My great-grandparents are Daniel Zadock Carroll (1852-1933) and Lida Margaret Miller (1870-1958). He was the mail carrier, of course by horse and buggy.

I know what you are thinking, and, no, she was not kin to Brooks Miller.

Daniel and Lida welcomed nine children, one being my Grandmother Beulah Carroll, born May 28, 1897, and one being Aunt Daisy, born Oct. 1, 1889. Aunt Daisy was the mother of Mary Grace. When she was born, Daisy weighted 2 1/2 pounds. I remember Mother talking about how she could fit in a quart jar. Not really sure how they knew that; I’m sure it was never proven.

Mary Grace, born Nov. 29, 1926, was an only child and is quick to let you know she liked it that way. She says she got all the attention and didn’t have to share her toys. She was a daddy’s girl, for sure. She suffered a bone disease called osteomyelitis when she was a child. I found the following write-up when I was cleaning out the house: Page 1

Page 2Page 3This has left her with an open hole in her leg that we have to watch closely. When she was in the hospital after John’s death, it was infected. But, she tells you it does not cause her any pain.

Mary Grace went to elementary school in Woodstock then attended high school at a private school in Birmingham called The Misses Howard’s School for Girls. She would catch the bus at the general store in Woodstock and return home every day. She says Aunt Daisy walked her to the store every morning and would be there every evening to walk her home. I recently got a call from someone who said that some days Mary Grace would get off the bus at his house and teach his sister piano lessons. Afterwards, they would drive her home. You will not be around Mary Grace long without her talking about Misses Howard’s School. One story she tells is about how other kids would have to stay late because they would not have their lesson books up-to-date, but not her. She will say that Miss Pearl was a hard teacher, and you always wanted to do what she said. She also talks about how Miss Howard wanted to be buried in England and wonders if she was.

Uncle Brooks bought Mary Grace a new red T-bird. We think it was either a 1959, 1960, or 1961. It was still on the property when John passed.

I don’t have a lot of childhood memories of Mary Grace because of the age difference. I do remember her coming by the house often and having a cup of coffee with Dad.  She always wore bright colored clothes–this was before they became fashionable. And hats, she loved her hats.

Mary Grace says she met Tom McLemore at the Presbyterian Church in Greenpond, where they were later married. The reception was at the home of my Granddaddy Holdsambeck.

I was 8 months old when she got married in 1952. For years I have had a picture of their wedding in my hallway. I love this picture, not only because it was a beautiful wedding, but because it included my father as an usher, my aunt as a bridesmaid, and my big sister as a flower girl.Mary Grace Wedding

I am sharing all of this so you will understand the controversy of the podcast; I was not just the lost cousin from Florida but a member of this family who I grew up with, loved, and cared about.

Mary Grace and Tom moved to Indiana and lived there for 12 years. She worked at a library and has a few stories about that, too. From some of the pictures below, it seems that Uncle Brooks and Aunt Daisy visited often.  Brooks, Daisy & Tom

MG & Parents in Indy

Aunt Daisy was diagnosed with breast cancer while Mary Grace lived in Indiana. I remember hearing that my mother and my mother’s sister would sit up with her and took care of her. Aunt Daisy was a great seamstress. I asked Mary Grace not long ago if Aunt Daisy made her wedding dress. She said no, but she made my graduation dress; it was white.

After the death of Aunt Daisy, Mary Grace and Tom moved back to live with Uncle Brooks. The house was remodeled:   Before pictures:Pics of Miller house before remodel

After Pictures:Pics after house remodeled


While she was in Indiana, they got a bird named “Romeo.” The “Miner” bird was huge, black, and could talk. When I would visit as a child, it was amazing to me. Mary Grace says the bird could call John B. and that it sounded just like her. John would come in the house want to know what she wanted, and she would say, “Nothing, it was Romeo that called you.” That would make John so mad. LOL.

There were times when Mary Grace would call me at work, and I would put her on speakerphone just to share her unique voice with my co-workers. She would end the conversation in mid-sentence with, “Love you, bye,” and would be gone before you could say good-bye yourself.

I mostly saw John B. as a child when he came to visit my granddaddy. I remember his red hair and that he was hyper and walked on his toes. Most of my stories come from Mary Grace. We all know about his love for tearing up things and putting them back together. Once when John was 6 or 7, they were visiting Aunt Gertrude and she mentioned that her clock was broken and would cost $200 to fix. Well, John fixed it. And when Aunt Gertrude jokingly asked him what she owed him, he told her $200.  Mary Grace laughs when she tells this story.

While Brian Reed was recording S-Town, he kept wanting to hear stories about John’s childhood. I was 14 years older. He was only 3 when I graduated high school, then I went to work the next week and got married four years later. He was 8 when I got married. Anyway, I finally told Brian he needed to talk to Mary Grace because she would be the best one to share stories about his childhood. I made the arrangements with her caregiver, blindfolded Brian, and took him to see Mary Grace. Just kidding about the blindfolding.

I introduced them and told her he was a friend of John’s. After we talked for a while, I explained to her that Brian was doing a story about John and would like to ask her some questions and record her. She said, “Sure, John is my favorite subject. I love to talk about him.”

The story I remember the best and thought was the funniest was:

Mary Grace: You know I always wanted a boy. And I told the doctor that if I had a girl, he could keep her. And I always wanted a genius. I prayed for a genius.

Brian: Why was it so important for you to have a genius?

Mary Grace: Well, I didn’t want a dumb bastard! … John was always tearing up something and putting it back together. I was fine with it; that kept him out of my hair. (Then she laughed.)

I so wanted Brian to put this in his podcast. I thought it would have been a great way to end it. But, he was afraid people would have trouble with her credibility because of dementia.

She really does not have much of a problem remembering the past. I have called my aunt in California to verify some of the relatives I didn’t know, and she would confirm Mary Grace was correct.

Mary Grace told me that one of John’s professors said that he was so smart. “He did not have to tell me,” she said. “I had him tested when he was young, and his IQ was so high they could not grade him.

Ok–Let’s keep talking,













Life in the big city

Wow, this was a culture shock. Woodstock did not even have a red light and had only one 4-way stop sign. I did not know it was possible to pick up take-out and have it stay warm until you reached home. We had always worked at least 45-60 minutes from home.

How in the world would I ever adjust to living so close to strangers? And in a condo, of all places?

I did not work the first few months living in the Sunshine State. The only nice thing was, I didn’t know anyone, so I didn’t feel the need to wear makeup. OK, and most days, no bra, either.

My biggest adjustment was leaving my family. Especially my big sister Jeanne and my two nieces. Jeanne and I were always close (I mean, within a few yards) and always there for each other.  We still talked every day, if not two or three times a day. Our visits became so special because it was quality time together. After my Grandmother Reynolds passed away, I purchased her house from my aunt. (The house that now belongs to Cheryl Dodson). We fixed it up so Jeanne could move there after her divorce. She loved it there, and I know it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Jeanne was at our house in 1997 but had to leave on a Monday morning for a routine colonoscopy on Tuesday. I was at a managers’ conference when I called to get her results and heard the awful “C” word. She had colon cancer and would have surgery the next day. I went home, packed, and as soon as Charlie got home, we headed to Alabama. For the next two years, we would battle her cancer together. On Feb. 21, 1998, Jeanne turned the big 5-0. She loved her birthday, always counted down the days, gave out cupcakes, and wore a hat or pin that said: “Happy Birthday to Me.” That is one area we differed; I just want to stay in bed and not have my “special day” acknowledged.  Anyway, a few months earlier she had  another colonoscopy and was told no sign of cancer. Now that is one birthday that needs to be extra special, right? I arranged  for a surprise party in the fellowship hall at our home church. It was kind of a roast since she had a great sense of humor. I remember waiting to call and invite Mary Grace after I arrived in Birmingham because I did not want word to get out. All I will say is that John got his talking skills from Mary Grace. Sure enough, she called Jeanne and asked how to get to the fellowship hall for the party. During my speech, I mentioned that Jeanne and I were so different that I thought she was adopted. Sure thing, who would speak out and let the crowd know that was not true?

Pictures from the 50th Birthday Party:

I am the Old Man with my Sister Jeanne

Reta & Jeanne - Bday party


Mary Grace and Jeanne                                                            MG & Jeanne

Mary Grace @ Bday party


We later learned that Jeanne’s cancer had metastasized to her liver. No need to say, I spent a lot of time in Woodstock over the next few months as Jeanne got sicker. She lost her battle on Jan. 8, 2000. She was just 50 years old.    Jeanne had this card designed to hand out at her service and Bulletin I had printed.

  • Jeanne's card
  • Page 1 Bulletin

Page 2 Bulletin

I returned to Florida thinking, OMG, I lost Mother at age 36, Daddy at age 54, and now Jeanne at 50. What is in store for me at age 47?    Well, so far so good.

Ok, back to Florida.

I worked for an automobile group for 22 years, until one day I had enough of the long hours and stress. I picked up my purse and said good-bye. The funny part about that is I had ridden to work with Charlie, so I made my grand exit then realized I had no ride home. I hung my head and headed to the service department. The service manager was kind enough to let me drive the customer van home, then Charlie returned it the next morning. Just short of a year later, Charlie decided the same thing.

Luckily for us, we had purchased our retirement home in 2003 in an old fishing town on the St. John’s River. By the way, nope, we do not fish. (Go figure.) We had permanently moved there in September 2006.

My mother-in-law passed away in 2005, and in 2007 it became apparent that my father-in-law should not live by himself, we seemed like the best option.

At that point, the three of us were living “happily ever after” — until Woodstock became S-Town.

Ok, Let’s keep talking,


Growning up in Woodstock

I not only know where Woodstock is located, I had the privilege of growing up there before it was labeled S-Town.

I was the second child born to Eugene Holdsambeck and Billie Ruth Reynolds.  I was lucky enough to have a big sister named Jeanne, who was three years older. My mother kind of pushed us into music:  Jeanne playing the piano and me singing and of course the dog howling.  We recorded a record (see picture below)  and even sang on the Birmingham morning show called:  County Boy Eddie.

Recording record

As with everyone and everything, it was  simpler times.  Sundays were for visiting neighbors, friends and family.   Woodstock was a beautiful small town where everyone was willing to lend a hand to help neighbors, where neighborhood kids were able to play outside, walk the railroad tracts, ride our bikes anywhere we needed or wanted to go, without  the worry of danger.  There was no town hall, no police dept., no mayor or city council. We played outside more than inside. There were no cell phones,  (we shared a 8 party line) no microwaves or even street names.  When you got your driver’s licenses you made up the street name.  We used Church Street because right on the hill from us was both the Methodist and Baptist Church.

I remember in the 80’s when everyone got health conscious  and me and Jeanne  started walking for exercise.  Everyone thought if you were walking   your car must be broke down.  (lol)  So you were not able to keep up a good pace.  Actually it was nice that people were so concerned. That is just the way it was in Woodstock.

I was a lucky child because I lived about the same distant between both sets of grandparents.  The Holdsambecks to the east and the Reynolds to the southwest.  My grandparents Reynolds owned  the local grocery/gas store.  I guess what we now would call a small 7-Eleven except, you could buy on credit without a credit card.  Your word and hand shake was enough.  Of course there were no fountain drinks either.  They had 5 grandkids so, I don’t think they made their profit on ice cream or candy.  We thought it was so neat when we got old enough to work the cash register.  I never could get the hang of weighting meat and charging the right amount per pound. Once I charged a customer something like $12.00 for a pound  of bacon.  Of course, she didn’t say anything, just told grandmother and her account was  adjusted.

(Hard to believe I ended up  working  in accounting)

It was just as exciting to visit my  Dad’s parents  the Holdsambeck’s.  We would sit on their stairs and play school, when you  passed your grade you got to move to the next stair up. They had a big garden, coon dogs and a old swing hanging in the tree for us kids.  Besides, my Granddaddy made the best SWEET TEA  EVER.

Their property was joined by The Miller’s, as in Brooks Miller, Mary Grace’s family.  Remember my grandmother Beulah and Mary Grace’s mother were sisters.

We often walked the path though  the woods to Aunt Daisy and Uncle Brooks house.  I can picture Uncle Brooks out on the porch swinging in the most unusual chair.  I always thought it was so peaceful and quiet there.  I also remember the original house where the bedrooms were outside the main house,  they had a outhouse and  no  one ever thought of  peeing in the sink.

I  attended Woodstock elementary school through 6th grade.  We had  outhouses and 2nd/3rd grades shared the same room, taught by the same teacher and the same for 3rd/4th grades. The best part of school was our lunch break because we knew we would get homemade rolls made by  Mrs. Burns.

June 1963 tragedy  stuck our family.  My Dad, Mom, Sister Jeanne , Cousin Beverly  and family friend went to a local business on Sunday evening  to get a milkshake; it was beginning to be a nightly event.  Their car crossed the intersection and was hit by another car.  My Mom died shortly after arriving at the hospital, My Dad was in critical condition and stayed in the hospital for several long months.  Others got cuts and bruises.  At the time, my cousin Deborah and I were with my Grandmother Reynolds.  I was 11 years old.

This  town was in no way S-Town.  My family would not have made it without the support of friends, neighbors and of course family.  My dad was not able to work for years and always suffered head and neck pain.  I know it was a financial burden on my grandparents and family.

See, we all have things that happen  (hard knocks)  in our childhoods that impact us for the rest of our lives.  WE are the ones that have to shake it off and make the best of a bad situation.

The only good thing that came out of this tragedy was my singing career was short-lived.

In 1970 I graduated from West Blocton High School  and  got a job in Birmingham working for a mortgage company.  I remember back then I didn’t even know how to get to Birmingham, so my Grandmother Reynolds went with me and  waited in the car while I was on my interview.

Four years later I changed jobs and worked in Bessemer for the next 10 years. In 1974, two weeks after I changed jobs,  I married my best friend Charlie, who worked in Tuscaloosa.  Good thing Woodstock was located about halfway between the two employers.  We put a lot of miles on our vehicles back then.  It was nothing for me to leave work , go home, change clothes,  then go to Tuscaloosa to buy groceries.  (Go figure)

We purchased our first home in 1978.  The house  originally was owned by Charlie’s grandparents, who would not sell to family because they thought it might cause hard feelings.  So we purchased from the family that bought it from his grandmother. The house is located next to Charlie’s parents,  which made us feel real fortunate to have the house back in the family.

At that time we thought we were set for life, we both had good jobs and were remodeling our home. Well, a few months later Charlie’s employer,  Gulf States Paper  mill decided to close and he went to work with a paper mill in Birmingham.  In 1983 they also closed their doors .  Charlie went to work in Florida a few months later.

And that, my friends, is the reason we ended up in Jacksonville Florida in 1985

Wait a minute, one more story from Woodstock.

Four  years after  my Mother died,  Dad remarried a lady who was 38, had no kids and had never been married . No need to say there was a whole lot of adjusting going on.  Everything went pretty smoothly until  my Dad died of a massive heart attack while getting dressed for work  in  April 1980.  He was  54.  I was 28.

That was the first time I really saw “greed” in action.  I will only say that  I got nothing that belonged to my dad, which included “The Holdsambeck” home place which belonged to my Dad.  Even worst  the stepmother would not even give me my mother’s cedar-chest.   There were a few years of disappointment, betrayal and confusion that followed.   It was during this time that Jeanne and I realized  these things are just material things.   In the grand scheme, they are not important . We have our family, our health and a relationship only shared by SISTERS.   I have always been a big believer of “What goes around comes around” and you only have to account for your actions, no one else’s.


OK,  Let’s keep talking—-



Family and Friends


Sorry, no names.

I would first like to educate you on how my family and friends fit into this story.

Without their support, I would not have been able to stay sane. Some were there to help physically, and some were miles away to help mentally.

Remember, I was raised in Woodstock, so many were neighbors, childhood friends, and high school classmates.

Let’s start with my relationship to Mary Grace. My Grandmother Beulah on my dad’s side and Mary Grace’s mother – my Aunt Daisy – were sisters. That makes me a second cousin to Mary Grace and a third cousin to John B.

Mary Grace has two first cousins: one lives in Alabama and one lives in California. I know many questioned why I became the guardian of Mary Grace. Well, the cousin in Alabama had her hands full.  She has a special-needs child and her husband is in bad health, taking dialysis at home four times a week. Because of the distance, it was not feasible for the cousin in California to handle this responsibility.

Even though Mary Grace’s first cousins were not able to become her guardian, I worked closely with them and continue to communicate with them today. They were aware of daily activities and gave written permission to conduct a lot of necessary business. This family makes a good TEAM.

I have two double first cousins who live in Texas. Double first cousins mean sisters married brothers. Neat, right? So my mom’s sister married my dad’s brother. We are really more like sisters than cousins. When I worked in Jacksonville, I had some ladies come in my office one day and ask me, “Reta, you’re from Alabama. What does double first cousins mean?” I replied, “Well, not only do I know what it means, I am one!”  (I know the jokes about people in Alabama marrying cousins, but this has nothing to do with that.)

I also have a first cousin who lives in Orlando. He is actually on my mom’s side. He is not a double first cousin but is more like a brother. He was my rock and, of course, still is.

I have several special childhood friends, and, boy, did they step up to the task at hand.  One took Mary Grace into her home when she had no place to go. She also called me about John’s death and kept me updated on Mary Grace’s condition until I got there.

Another childhood friend also made a great sacrifice. It just so happened  she had recently sold her home and was looking for a place to move. She agreed to leave Alabama and move to Florida and live with us to help take care of my father-in-law. It could not have worked out any better since we had to visit Woodstock quite a lot.

There are new friends, too. Some have found me via private messages on Facebook, one I met at John’s grave, and others were John’s friends who I now consider my friends.

I will talk later about the Lawrences.

I really can’t name them all – just want to say thanks for all the help and support.

OK,— let’s keep talking.



#1 Introduction

It’s time for me to tell my tale of S-Town: Behind the Scenes.

The purpose of this blog is to share my experience living in S-Town.

You have no idea how intimidating it is for me to expose myself to the public via the computer. I am not computer savvy. This blog is not about proper English, proper sentence structure, correct punctuation, or correct spelling. I have even given up on spell-check; I use the voice search on my cell phone, whom I nicknamed “Shirley.” She has become my best friend.

Please just concentrate on the content.

From the time John B. passed, my life, my family, my retirement, and — most importantly — the way some people perceive me changed forever.

Since the podcast, I have read the same newspaper articles, Facebook postings, and discussion group comments and have watched and listened to the same interviews you have. I have been judged, laughed at, called names, criticized, and kicked off most discussion groups, all while trying to hold my tongue. It has been hard to keep silent. The whole time, all I could think is: These people do not know the real person I am or want to be.

I realize that everyone has an opinion, and I respect that. I realize that I do not have to answer to anyone concerning my actions. But it does bother me that people have been misled about many issues. This blog is not about trying to change anyone’s opinion or to get anyone to like me or to have sympathy for me. I hope to answer questions and shed light on some of the situations that occurred.

Are there things I wish I had handled differently? Yes. But at the time, choices are made based on circumstances at hand.

This blog is also about me finding closure to this life-changing experience.

To say that these past few years have been challenging is an understatement. It has been a mental and physical nightmare.  Would I do it again? Absolutely. You know why? Not only because it was the right thing to do, but because of Mary Grace. The lady who is a part of my family and who I love, the lady who just lost her son, the lady who had no one, the lady who deserved better.

Seeing her today compared to then makes it all worthwhile. I hope you will be able to see that my main concern then and still to this day is Mary Grace.

This blog will include personal stories and pictures (if I can figure out how) that I hope you will find interesting. I want you to feel free to comment, and I will try my best to answer questions and remove doubts and shed some light on all the details. It is going to be hard to focus on the day-to-day events and not get ahead of myself, but I will try.

Before I got kicked off the discussion groups, I made notes of some of the questions, comments, and concerns.  I will address some of them.

SPOILER: There will be no nipples cut off.

Ok, Let’s start talking,