Copyright © 2016 by Mike Yarbro
All Rights Reserved.
Dedication: This book is dedicated to the greatest man I’ve ever known, Edmund Buck Yarbro, who ended his daily prayers until his dying day with, “And Dear God—Lead, Guide, And Direct Us From Evil, and Protect The Afflicted No Matter Where They May Be.”
In the 1880’s hills of rural western Tennessee, an eleven year old boy named Edmund Buck Yarbro and his ten year old sister, Alice Delilah, survived a cruel, life changing experience that no child should ever endure. Through trials and tribulations and support of each other, they endured harsh elements and heartbreaks and became closer than most of us can imagine and eventually became shining beacons for others to admire and follow.
Much of what is written here was told directly to Edmund Buck’s only grandson, this author, who spent many summers with him after his wife died. Countless hours were spent as he reminisced and the grandson listened intently while the two were alone. His deep love for his sister was obvious as he talked about her often in the twilight of his life, and few things exceeded that love except the love for his savior.
This is their story.
Heads hung low and tears fell as four men lowered the wooden casket into the ground. Milton Jasper stood with his five children, filled with sadness and many questions, gazing over the edge of the grave. Each mourned their loss, holding hands as the sun shone bright on this warm June day in 1884. On a Tennessee hillside, they watched until the last shovel of dirt fell over the pine box, burying a wife and mother.
The last words of the preacher’s eulogy resounded within them, “Dear God, Minerva Yarbro is now in her heavenly home. Thank you for giving her to us for the time she was on this earth.”
“What are we going to do without her?” Alice asked her brother Edmund. “She was the best mother in the world. Daddy can’t work the fields all day and take care of five of us too.”
“I know,” replied Edmund, trying to restrain the crack in his voice that was about to come. “I will keep helping him. We will have to take care of each other the best we can.”
Alice motioned with her head towards her father, “But look at Daddy with tears running down his beard. He will be as lonesome as us. I’ve never seen him cry before.” Reaching for Edmund to pick her up, her arms wrapped around his neck as he pulled her to him.
As friends and neighbors walked toward their horse drawn wagons, a plump gray-haired lady said, “We’ve all brought food for your family, Milton. We’ll leave it in your cabin. If there’s anything we can do to help with your children just let us know.”
An older, short bald man said, “If I can help you with your crops just ride over the hilltop and yell.”
“Thank you, friends,” Milton managed. “Thank you-all of you.”
After she climbed onto the wagon’s wooden seat, the plump lady fixed her eyes on her husband. “He can’t take care of five young children and work the fields.”
“Oh my goodness,” the husband replied sarcastically, “I can hear the wheels turning in your mind already. You hill women think that we men folk are helpless without you. What have you got in that conniving mind?”
Gently, he popped the long leather driver’s reins and said, “Giddy up horse.” Instead of answering, his wife firmly tapped the ball of her right foot on the floorboard in rhythm with the wagon’s movements as they left the grave site.
He persisted, “Woman, whatever you are thinking, get it out of your mind now.” She looked straight ahead for a while then looked upward into the clouds as if her mind was in a full gallop.
“Stop that. I don’t like that look on your face.” Trying to dissuade her, “Milton is a good man and he will take care of those children.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” she finally spoke with conviction. “It’s a horrible thing for children to be without a mother, especially in these hills. Something is telling me to keep a close eye on that family. I also know that the only thing Milton can cook is rabbit stew. Children can’t live on rabbit stew forever! He doesn’t know pooh squat about cleaning or washing clothes either.”
“Yep,” interrupting her rant, her husband popped the reins once again, “I knew something was on your mind. Now out with it! Spit it out, old woman.”
“Okay,” she said, with a sigh. “Every woman in Decatur County knows he is going to need a new wife.”
Her husband shook his head and replied, “I can see that you women started gossiping before she was even buried. You sure don’t waste any time. Lord, please protect Milton Jasper from the onslaught that is about to come.”
The following week was difficult for the family trying to carry on as usual. Milton, a rough-hewn man of six foot three, rose early each day and worked his corn and cotton crop, and even toiled in his garden.
Sniffles and plaintive whines were often heard in the cabin as each child continued their assigned duties around the homestead. At nine years old, Alice tried to take the place of her mother, making morning biscuits and cornbread each night. She would soon become a good cook and housekeeper. As the oldest at ten, the strapping Edmund worked with his father and hunted for food. He was an excellent marksman, and rumors spread that he was one of the best shooters in the county. Tom, Henry, and Mary were the youngest of the five.
As hard as Milton tried to comfort his children, the place was just not the same without Minerva. The family didn’t realize how much she had done while caring for them.
One night after supper, in an effort to comfort and console the children, Milton told them to gather around to listen. It was only now that Milton confessed to his children that Minerva was his cousin.
“Children,” he motioned them to sit on the floor in front of him. He began, “You need to know about your heritage and your ancestors. Our forefathers were Danish people. They fought with William the Conqueror, who launched the Norman conquest of England a long time ago in 1066.”
Milton sat up straight, doing his best to imitate for them a proud conqueror. “One of our forebears was actually given a seat in Parliament. He became good friends with William the Conqueror, after William became the first Norman King of England.”
He bent forward and used inflections in his voice as a storyteller would to arouse curiosity, “One night, he was gambling with the King, who lost a great sum of money to him. In order to pay his gambling debt to our forefather, the King came up with what he thought was a good plan. He owned vast tracts of land,” Milton waved his arms out, “practically the whole Earth—and he considered the continent, now called America, to be nothing but trash land.” His hand motioned again, this time as if throwing something away.
“The king and his people had never visited America, and they had no intention of ever coming here. It is a worthless place, they thought, a dust heap and wasteland. So, the king gave your forefather a piece of land in America!”
Milton raised his arms to signal amazement. “Years later, your forefather sailed on a ship from England to the eastern coast of the United States. From there he settled and his family eventually migrated into North Carolina and Tennessee. That’s how we got here.”
Very confidently, his finger pointed towards them to listen, “Your relatives from long ago were tough and diligent people. We must accept the fact that your mother was one of them. She is in heaven now with them and will not be coming back.”
Young Henry spoke and asked, “But God can do anything, so can’t he send her back if he wants to?”
Then Mary spoke, “Why does God want us to be without Mama?”
Tom answered for their father, “Because he wants her to be with him.”
“That’s right son,” Milton said with a smile, “Remember that one day, you will see her again when you get to heaven.”
After this series of questions and answers, the children, for the first time since Minerva died, felt a small sense of understanding.
A couple of days later, the children were in the cotton field hoeing weeds from the rows. The sound of horses’ hooves coming toward them got their attention and one asked, “Who is that?
Another spoke, “I think that is the old widow woman who lives down by the swamp. But what is that she’s carrying in her arms?”
As she came closer, they could see her face under her bonnet. “That’s her,” said Edmund.
“She sure is fat,” replied Alice. “I wonder how she got on that horse by herself while holding those two baskets.”
The woman rode up to the cotton field just a few rows away from the children and asked, “Can you kids help me off his horse?” She lowered the baskets to them first, “Here, hold these.”
Henry, Tom, and Edmund walked to the left side of the horse and helped her down. Her feet hit the ground, kicking up dust with a thud.
Where is your Daddy?” she asked.
“He’s out behind the barn sharpening tools,” Edmund answered.
“I brought you all something, just a few leftovers.”
“What is it, ma’am?”
“Oh, nothing much. It’s just a little of this and that.”
“It sure smells good,” Alice said. “You must be a good cook, ma’am.”
“I am good at anything around the house,” the widow woman said, “And you be sure to tell your Daddy that I brought his dinner.”
Hearing the voices, Milton walked from around the barn to the field. He removed his hat and held it at his chest as he approached her. “I’m Lula Mae Walton, Mr. Yarbro,” she said. “I thought maybe you folks might need something to eat.”
“Well thank you, Ms. Lula Mae,” Milton said. “That’s mighty nice of you.” Everyone smelled the delicious aromas coming from the baskets. “Alice has been making biscuits and cornbread while Mary has been cleaning the cabin.” Milton explained, “But they probably are getting tired of my rabbit stew.” Pointing at the baskets, “By the way, what is that?”
“Oh, it’s not much,” the widow woman said. “Just an apple pie, two loaves of fresh homemade bread, fried chicken, potato salad, pickled pig’s feet, boiled eggs, and two boiled pig ears.”
“Oh boy, I’m sure we will enjoy that,” Milton exclaimed. “Thank you, Ms. Walton.”
The plump lady dusted off her dress with her hands, wiping her rear where she had been sitting on the horse bareback. “I didn’t realize that horse had such a dirty back,” she muttered. Then she pulled her blouse downward to conceal her bulging stomach as she said, “I just live a little piece down the road, so if you need anything, be sure and let me know.”
“That’s mighty nice of you,” Milton said. “I know the kids will appreciate this tonight.”
“Remember if you need anything just let me know.” In an attempt to flirt, she continued, “And I mean anything at all.”
Milton stepped backward a foot and thanked her again as he bowed.
“Daddy, can we eat it now?” Alice asked.
“We’ll have it for supper, children,” Milton said.
Getting his attention again, she motioned for his gaze saying, “Will you help me up on my horse, Milton, sweetie?”
“Sure,” Milton said.
She started walking over to an old stump in the ground. “Pull the horse over there by that stump and give me a leg up.”
“We’ll do it, Ms. Lula Mae!” Tom shouted.
Quickly came the reply, “No, your Daddy can do it.”
She smiled at Milton, who moved the horse beside the stump as she stepped up on it. Pulling up her skirt and raising her left knee, Milton grabbed her ankle and lifted her up. Mounted confidently on the horse, she smiled again saying, “Just remember, anything at all.” She turned the horse riding away, often turning to smile back at Milton.
Edmund said, “Daddy that woman lives three miles away, but she said it was just a little piece down the road to her house.”
“I know, son,” Milton said. “I know.”
Nearly a week later, as they were finishing breakfast, a horse and buggy pulled up to the cabin. They opened the front door and saw a tall skinny woman climbing out of the buggy holding a straw basket.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Milton said. All five children were standing around him gazing at the woman.
“I’m Jane Blackstone, over from the county line,” the skinny woman said. “I thought maybe you all needed something to eat.”
Milton said, “Well, thank you very much. Come in and have a seat.”
As she pulled her dress to straighten the wrinkles, she walked inside the cabin and put the basket on the table. Dirty breakfast plates, forks and knives were still spread across it.
Young Henry walked over, inhaling deeply and saying, “That smells wonderful. You must be a good cook.”
“Oh, gracious yes.” With pride she said, “I cook all the time. I can cook anything except a rock and a board. One winter we were short of food and I boiled down some old shoe leather and made a meal out of it. Of course, I made something better for you. I hope you all like it.”
“What is it?” Mary questioned.
“Not much, just some sow belly, ham hock, and cornbread. We had more than we needed.”
“That’s mighty nice of you, Mrs. Jane.”
“Oh, it’s not Mrs.,” the woman politely corrected him with a smirk, “It’s Miss.”
Alice said, “I make cornbread and biscuits all the time.”
Miss Jane patted her head, “I’m sure you are a good cook, darling,” and immediately began picking up plates, glasses, forks and knives, taking them to the kitchen sink to wash.
Holding his hand up to her, Milton said, “You don’t have to do that, Miss Jane. The kids do that every day.”
“Sometimes children need to play and let women do what we are designed for,” she countered. She turned toward Milton smiling, but started washing dishes like she was at home.
“I’ve got to get started to work in the cornfield, ma’am,” Milton said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am behind on my work. Thank you for coming by and bringing the food.”
“Anytime you need anything just come and see me,” the woman said brightly. “I keep a clean house and wash clothes regularly. I can hunt, skin a deer, milk cows, sew, and I am a good cook. I can cook anything.”
Milton stopped her and said politely, “Except a rock and a board, right?”
“That’s right, sir. I have good teeth too, and I can drive a buggy or a wagon.” She stressed her point as Milton left through the door, “And I’m only 28 years old.” After the woman had cleaned the cabin to perfection, washed the dishes and straightened the children’s beds, she left.
Edmund walked to the cornfield and told his Daddy, “I’ll bet she wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel at carrying wood or working in the fields. She’s got the skinniest legs I’ve ever seen, and I saw something as she was driving away.”
“What’s that son?”
“She dips snuff, Daddy, and spits.” Grimacing, “I saw her stuff it between her bottom lip and bottom teeth when she thought I wasn’t looking.”
“Thanks son,” Milton said with a wry shake of his head.
After a few days, a two-horse wagon carrying an old man and a woman pulled up to the cabin as the children and Milton were washing their hands for lunch. It was a store clerk and his thirty-year-old daughter bringing another basket of food for the family with instructions for heating and storage for later use.
“Thank you, sir.” Milton paused with a nod, “and ma’am. Please step down and have lunch with us,” he motioned toward the house.
The clerk didn’t have time to respond before his daughter excitedly replied, “We sure will.”
The prompt answer from his over-anxious daughter surprised the clerk, but he asked, “Are you sure you have enough, Milton Jasper?”
“Sir, right now we have plenty, so wash up and come on in.”
“This is my daughter, Annabelle,” said the clerk by way of introductions as they approached the door.
After everyone had gone into the house and had a seat at the table, the clerk blessed the food and began passing it. He continued the conversation, proudly telling Milton and the children about his daughter. “She is the best cook in the county, and she can take leftovers and make them taste like they were fresh. She can plow the fields, hitch up the team, ride a horse or mule, and she cleans clothes as good as anybody. She can build a fire faster than I can. She is also a good woodcutter.”
“That’s good to know, sir,” in nice reply, Milton looked at the food on his plate. He didn’t want to look into the face of Annabelle, because she was one of the ugliest women he had ever seen. Her upper two front teeth stuck out from underneath her top lip as if they had never stopped growing. The bottom two front teeth were missing and the rest of her visible teeth were full of cavities and brown spots. She had big moles on each side of her nose, and her hair looked like it had not been brushed or washed in over a month. When she spoke, her voice cracked with an irritating sound, and she talked with food in her mouth. Three times during the meal, food dropped from her mouth onto her plate or the table. Every child at the table stared at her in disbelief.
“Children,” with firmness, Milton had to keep reminding them. “Eat your lunch.”
When they had eaten, Annabelle stood up first and began collecting dishes. With a nod of his head, the clerk said, “She is good in the kitchen,” and waited for Milton’s response.
“Looks like it, sir,” Milton agreed.
At one o’clock, the clerk and Annabelle climbed in the wagon, turned around, then stopped. As the two moles on her nose kept Milton’s attention, the clerk said, “Come over and visit Annabelle sometime.”
Milton, trying to be cordial, replied, “Thanks for coming by.”
As they drove away, Annabelle turned her head back and smiled at Milton until they were out of sight.
Weeks turned into months as the family had more women visitors bringing a wide variety of foods and desserts. One woman, who was as wide as she was tall, offered to live in the barn and cook and clean for them for free until Milton decided whether or not he wanted to marry her. Another widow woman proclaimed herself as the tobacco-spitting champion of the county. She was proud of the fact that she could spit a stream of brown tobacco juice over twenty feet. But every woman who visited the family had one thing in common-they all smelled good, wearing plenty of perfume.
Notification came to the families in the hills of a big picnic and cooking competition to be held on the church grounds. This particular cooking competition was for the women only. Each participant was required to clean and cook their meal in plain sight of everyone without help of any kind. Word soon spread of a new church member who just moved into the area, and she was entered in the competition.
All types of rumors about her abounded, that she cooked the best food people had ever tasted. Others said she was far too attractive for the Tennessee hills. Unwittingly, the woman gave a big boost to the picnic attendance. While the men looked forward to seeing their new neighbor, the women were on the defensive because of her reputation as the best cook in the area.
Milton’s curiosity was aroused, so the Saturday of the competition he loaded the family into their wagon and began the four-mile journey to the church. A hot and dusty day, they stopped twice to let the horse rest beneath a shade tree and catch his breath.
When they were a half-mile from the church, they could see a man staggering toward them. “Good afternoon, Sam,” Milton said. “You are going in the wrong direction aren’t you?”
“Milton,” Sam answered, “I couldn’t stay there a minute longer.” Wincing at the pain, he rubbed the left side of his head, “It doesn’t matter that we’ve been married twenty years, my wife saw me looking at that new woman and hit me on the head with a frying pan. Can you believe she hit me that hard?” He tilted his head to the right, revealing a large lump above his left ear.
“Good gracious man,” Milton said, “you must have really made her mad. That’s one heck of a knot.” The children giggled because they had never seen a lump so large on a man’s head. “Sam, it’s a long walk back to your house.”
“I know, but if I stayed around there any longer she might have shot me. She looked twice at the shotgun in our buggy. I’ve never seen her that mad before.”
“So all you did was look at a woman, nothing more?”
“That’s all I did, but she said I looked at her too many times and the wrong way-whatever that woman-talk means.”
“I would give you a ride home, Sam, but these kids are really excited about sampling the women’s cooking.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll get home all right.” Turning to leave, “I sure hope she calms down before she gets back home.”
Milton gently popped the driver’s reins, making the horse start pulling the wagon again as they waved goodbye to Sam. Topping the last hill, they could see people gathered at small fires burning around the church. Women mingled, all bent over cooking their specialties without help. The wagon descended the hill, and as they got closer, they could hear a woman shouting loudly from behind the church.
All of a sudden they saw a short, fat man running at full speed around the corner of the church. Close behind was his tall, husky wife chasing him with a switch in her hand, and swinging it at him as hard as possible. He turned his head slightly back toward her as he was running away, “Cordelia! Cordelia, what’s wrong with you?”
“You two timing runt, you!” she screeched. “I’ll teach you to flirt with another woman.”
Still running, but now straight through the crowd of people, he pleaded, “I didn’t do anything, honey. I promise!”
“You sawed off runt! You would have done something if you had half a chance. I saw you easing up to that woman and smiling like a mule eating briars. You liked her looks, didn’t you?”
The man and woman disappeared into the woods, still running, with the woman trying to switch him.
Milton continued on down toward the festivities, trying to distract the children, “I don’t know what kind of food we’ll sample today kids, but it looks like an interesting day.”
“What’s going on, Daddy?” Edmund wanted to know.
“I don’t know for sure, kids, but we’ll soon find out.” They tied the horse to a tree and stepped down from the wagon.
Milton’s old neighbor walked up to him, “You are probably the only man here that doesn’t have to worry about his wife getting mad at him.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That new woman has got every woman here upset.”
“What did she do?”
“That’s just it, Milton, she hasn’t done anything. She seems nice and polite, but the minute she walked on the church grounds every woman here automatically disliked her. The women are looking at her, but just waiting for their husbands to mess up by looking at her too.” Milton and the children were not close enough to see the woman’s features, so they began mingling with their friends.
Later, after every dish was cooked, the preacher rang a bell. “Okay ladies, it is time for you to bring your specialty to the table over here and set it down. We will begin judging in just a few minutes before it gets cold.”
Five church deacons had been selected as the tasting judges. Their faces were filled with fear from the pressure placed on them as they approached the long table set with the twenty-two entered dishes.
The preacher continued. “Judges, you are only allowed to take one bite from each dish, then rinse your mouths out with water and proceed to the next dish. After you have tasted all twenty-two dishes, you will decide amongst yourselves the first, second, and third place winners.” He swung his arms up to the crowd as a signal, “Then everyone here will enjoy this wonderful food.”
The judges looked back and forth at each other without saying a word. They glanced quickly at their wives and then at the attractive, curvy, lady newcomer. The judges were required to sample one dish, discuss it with their fellow judges, then walk to the next dish and do the same. They remained on one side of the table, and the cooks stood on the other side directly across from the dish they cooked. The judging began with the first plate of fried raccoon mixed with hot collard greens, then continued down the table from dish to dish. When they reached the eleventh dish, they could plainly see the newcomer waiting and watching them sample her dish of corn casserole.
As each judge was halfway finished chewing, you could faintly hear their low moans of great approval, “Ah. Oh, my goodness. That is so good,” accentuating the so good.
Another said, “That is heaven on earth!”
Continuing their task until they finished tasting the last dish, they then retreated into the woods where they could determine the winner without being heard. One tall, slim judge, looking as if he hadn’t been fed well in the past said, “There is only one winner, and her food was the best I have ever eaten.”
An elder of the deacons with few teeth replied, “We all know which dish is the best, and we all know if we make her the winner, we’ll be in big trouble with our wives.”
Another judge said, “My wife can’t stand her, and she’s never even met the woman. If we let her win or even place third, our wives probably won’t cook for us for a month. So what do we do, men?”
“This is a very delicate situation,” the fatter of them said. “We’re going to make somebody the winner, and second and third place somebody other than that good-looking heifer. Men, you know that we should do the wrong thing, but whatever you guys decide, I’ll go along with it.” As he spoke, he turned his head in all directions, making sure no woman could hear.
“She looks too good to be a Tennessee hill woman,” one of them said. “Yeah, and her curves are all in the right places. I wonder how old she is.”
“From looking at her, she looks like a middle-aged woman. I would guess no more than early to mid-twenties.”
The fat man replied, “Let’s get this over with.”
The men huddled, mumbled, scratched their heads, and debated for about ten minutes until they decided on first, second and third place. Everyone was tense. The men who were not judging, anxiously kept looking back and forth across the church grounds, alert to the wooded area where the judges disappeared. The women were just as nervous and gazed in that direction, as everyone continued to conjecture the awaited outcome and bragged on their cooking skills.
When the judges exited the woods and returned to the food area, the preacher announced, “Gather around, people. We have the winners.” Suddenly, a buzz was heard amongst the crowd, and it was obvious that each woman thought she would win.
“Thank you all for coming to Mount Carmel church today and bringing such fine food. We are indeed privileged to partake of this wonderful bounty.” The preacher unfolded a piece of paper that the judges wrote their choices on.
“Folks, we will start by revealing the award for third place to Mrs. Eva Lynn Greenbrook, one of our oldest and most faithful church members, for her wonderful dish of fried raccoon brains with gravy.”
Mrs. Greenbrook blushed and curtsied to the crowd saying, “I’m glad you liked it, judges. My aunt Grace taught me how to make that when I was just a child.” Mrs. Greenbrook, a woman of plus years and as wide as she was tall, was well-known in the area to be a good cook, hunter, farmer, and cattle woman.
Clearing his throat, the preacher then announced, “The second place winner is Mrs. Annie Smith from over Reelfoot Lake way, for her wonderful and savory pickled pig’s feet. She is visiting her cousin Esther Jones. Please give her a big round of applause, folks.” Again faint clapping could be heard.
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In the rugged hills of 1880’s Tennessee, an intense family drama unfolds, reminding us that truth is indeed stranger, more harrowing, and more miraculous than fiction. CHILDREN ALONE follows the true-life story of young Edmund Buck Yarbro and his sister Alice Delilah, detailing their struggles to survive against all odds and to emerge victorious over a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At tender young ages, Edmund, Alice, and their three siblings—one of whom is mentally challenged—tragically lose their mother, an event that takes the family on an intense downward spiral into misery, despair…and the ultimate nightmare. As a single parent of a houseful of children, Edmund and Alice’s father Milton Jasper feels the need to remarry, and within a year he has brought home a new wife to serve as a mother figure in his household. But the situation isn’t quite as simple—or as idyllic—as that. Milton Jasper and his children never could have anticipated the living hell his new wife would make of their lives and her evil attempts to tear apart the family forever. Edmund, Alice, and their siblings are soon terrorized by on onslaught of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of their new stepmother. Their formerly happy lives are plunged into a dismal world where survival is key and where nothing matters but the next moment. Little do they know, their situation is about to deteriorate even further. When Edmund and Alice’s stepmother gives birth to her first child, she becomes an even harder, crueler mistress. Even Milton Jasper’s love for his children does not prove valiant enough to save Alice and Edmund, only ten and eleven years old, from being cast out of the family forever. Turned out of the house by their stepmother one cold, frozen night during a bitter Tennessee winter, the young boy and girl are told never to return to the family farm. They are on their own now, and they must make their own choices, forge their own way, and struggle to survive against the harsh elements. At last, they come to a rundown shack on the banks of the Tennessee River, where they set up house and do their best to scrape by on a rudimentary existence. Between odd jobs and foraging for food, Edmund and Alice learn to make do. But while they are sustaining their physical lives, what has become of the emotional, the spiritual? Will young Edmund and his sister forever be broken, victims, haunted by the tragedy that tore apart their lives? Or will they find a deeper meaning, a purpose, a flash of divine intervention that will lift them out of the ashes of their heartache and pain? Witness firsthand this true-life testimony of how God can work through even the most impossible of situations, how He can bring good out of evil…and how he wrought a miracle in the lives of Edmund and Alice Yarbro, making them strong pillars of light, love, faith, and honesty in the midst of a dark and lonely world.