What is your first memory? A magical Christmas morning, baking with your mother, working in the yard with your father? Most have memories that come to mind of love, happiness and joy – but this isn’t my reality. The first memory I have is one of hunger, fear, and uncertainty. When I was about three years old, my sisters and I were left alone in our room for three days while our parents partied with their friends. There was no bathroom, so I was forced to go in the closet. My sisters were both in diapers and wore the same soiled diaper for days.
We had no food or drink. One night, I climbed over the baby gate and was caught by my father eating ice cubes out of the freezer. Instead of showing concern, he grabbed me by the throat and threw me to the floor. He beat me with an extension cord for coming out of the room without permission. The next day, my parents put a dead bolt on the door so we couldn’t escape.
A few years later, we had been locked in the same room for multiple days when my father came in with a pistol and grabbed me. He told my mother that if she didn’t give him his drugs, he would kill me. I heard the gun click as he pulled the trigger, but it wasn’t loaded. He let me go and ran out to get ammo. My mother grabbed us and ran to the neighbor’s house. I heard sirens, and the house was surrounded by cops. My father hid inside, and when he finally came out I watched him fight the cops in the yard. My mother dropped all the charges and got him out of jail.
My parents moved us to hide from the authorities. We moved into an old, rat infested trailer with a huge hole in the floor of our bedroom. The power and water were cut off shortly after we moved in. My sisters and I were freezing. We would bundle together under a cover to keep warm and keep the rats off of our heads.
We were rarely taken to school, but I remember one of the few days we went, my sisters and I were infested with lice. Instead of providing treatment, my parents shaved our heads. Shortly after, we were placed with a foster family. We thought the worst was over, but the emotional, physical and often sexual abuse continued for almost a year before our grandmother found out and we went to live with her. After about a month, she asked me if we would like to live at Big Oak Ranch. A few weeks later, we moved to the Ranch. It was difficult being separated from my sisters, but I knew they were safe.
I moved in with my houseparents Matt and Amy Maurer. They expressed genuine love and care that I had never witnessed or received. For once, I felt like I belonged. School was a unique experience, since we hadn’t ever gone regularly. My houseparents and teachers were amazingly considerate and accommodating. I spent my first year trying to catch up and had to learn how to read and write in the fourth grade.
One of the most difficult concepts I had to learn at the Ranch was trust. It was a huge change for me to realize that when an adult told me something, it was actually true. Each morning we had a nutritious breakfast and a devotional. I was given a loving goodbye in the morning and asked how my day was when I got home. I had to get used to things like sleeping in a bed and having food to eat. I was taught basic hygiene and to brush my teeth at 9 years old.
My first Christmas at the Ranch is one of my most cherished memories. The gifts were nice, but the individual, personal experience is what I will forever be grateful for. We played games and had a scavenger hunt. The experience was priceless! That same month, I went on my first hunt at Cedar Lake Farm and met Jeff and Melissa Gunnells. I learned hunting safety and responsibility for protecting nature. Most importantly, I learned there were good, genuine people outside of the Ranch.
The next year at the Ranch was the best year of my life; however, my story doesn’t end there. In January of 2006, my biological parents signed me and my sisters out of the Ranch. At first, we thought things were going to be better, but they quickly turned from bad to worse than it had been before.
While at my grandmother’s house for a visit, I talked her into letting me call for help. We were eventually signed back in to the Ranch. My grandmother and uncle drove us back to the Ranch. I remember my dad was passed out in the car and had to be carried in to sign us back in.
Once back on the Ranch, the home I had been in was full, so I was placed with Mike and Kim Perkins. They became more than my houseparents, they are my family, my Mom and Dad. I have learned so much from them, how to be a man, how to treat and love my family with God at its center. I used to sit on Mom’s kitchen counter and talk while she cooked. I learned work ethic from my dad, Mike. I learned that from working with him laying sod, cleaning chicken coops, and collecting fresh eggs. These are all memories I share with my son. My son knows Mike and Kim as his grandparents, his “Gami and Pops.”
I went back to Cedar Lake Farms for a hunt, and Jeff and Melissa Gunnells became my resource family. I have learned numerous life lessons from them. Hunting is a big part of my life, but it isn’t all about the hunt. It is the fellowship with friends and family. The Gunnells are family, and I will ensure my son knows and loves them as well.
It is important my son knows those that had such a positive impact on me. I was able to receive my education, met and married a beautiful, Godly woman, and worked to obtain my plumbing license that allows me to work in a job I enjoy. We are blessed with a two year old son who will never experience anything like my childhood. All of this would never have been possible without Big Oak Ranch. There are endless negative possibilities for how my life could have turned out, and I can’t thank everyone at the Ranch enough.
I met Brodie while at the Ranch, and I’ve always looked up to him. Gaining him as a friend has truly been a blessing. Mr. John and Mrs. Tee will always have a huge place in my heart. I am forever grateful they went above and beyond to turn me into the man I am today. Thank you to my family and my resource family. My brothers and sisters I gained at the Ranch have also been the best support I could have ever asked for. Thank you all!