Janice and Clarence Moncrieff have been married for a quarter century, truly a love for the ages. They were heavily involved in their community, church and the local schools. Hand in hand they organized and headed many organizations and community based programs. Mentoring, motivational speaking and spiritual advising; the Moncrieffs made their mark on their world offering their time, money and services to enrich the lives of others. The deeply in love spouses offered couples’ counseling to people at the crossroads in their relationships. They fed the hungry, outfitted them and offered job training and placement. Many lives had been touched and changed for the better since the Moncrieffs arrived in Central Florida some twenty-five years prior.
The couple received awards and accommodations through their generous acts of giving and philanthropy. They were celebrated in Orange County Florida for their humanitarian efforts and charitable foundations. None of the honors they’d received over the past two and a half decades were quite as prestigious as the one they were about to receive. The Moncrieffs were being recognized by all of the counties of Central Florida for the great work they’d done and all of the lives they’d touched. There was to be a parade and Clarence and Janice would be asked to deliver speeches.
Before their big day they were to be interviewed for a piece that would run on the local news. The Moncrieffs were very humble people; they didn’t do what they did for recognition. They were just doing what they were called to do. Their interviewer would be a young ambitious reporter new to the network. Her producers felt that it would be nice to introduce her to the general audience through a feel good piece about to staples of the community.
Brandy Bradley didn’t sign up to do feel good pieces on old people who donate their time to the poor and disenfranchised. She could appreciate what the couple had accomplished but she aspired to report on much larger issues. This was a chore to her. Ambitious to a fault the young lady didn’t appreciate the opportunity fully but she knew that she had to do what she was told if she were to retain her new employment. While driving to the Moncrieff home she vented to her best friend.
“Brenda I didn’t come to this swamp land to report on old people volunteering. I came here to report and write meaningful stories, groundbreaking stuff. Now they’ve got me out here doing a fluff piece. God I miss New York.”
Brenda did her best to comfort her disappointed friend.
“I know Brandy but we all have to pay our dues. Look, just do a great job on this story and there will be many more to follow. You’re going to do an awesome job like you always do. Then you’ll get recognized. Who knows, this may be the defining report of your career. Just stay positive about it and put your best foot forward.”
Brandy sighed, resigned to the thought that what her friend was telling her was true.
“I guess you’re right Brenda. Thanks, you always know exactly what to say. Well I’m pulling up to the house now. I see the camera man and van parked out front. I’ll tell you how it all goes.”
“Alright, break a leg!”
“You’re so silly.”
“Talk to ya later.”
Little did Brandy know, she was about to be told the tale of all tales. A love story that she could never have dreamed up on her own. This opportunity was a gift in disguise and all she had to do was help to tell the story. Brandy parked her car and was greeted by the small camera crew.
“Yes, good morning gentlemen.”
The men each extended their hands, Brandy shook them with a warm fake smile. She was trying to be positive but still resenting being there.
“Hi, I’m Tommy and this here is Steven. Now from what I understand the suits want us to shoot a warm piece about this elderly couple who do a lot of good deeds. I thought maybe we should start with how they met and what brought them to Central Florida. What do you think?”
Brandy nodded and smiled but inside she was somewhat indifferent about what direction the interview took. She readily agreed.
“Sure Tommy that sounds great. I’ve got a list of questions I guess we can just cut in and out with most of it. I want them to feel warm and comfortable.”
“Okay, great. I know you’re new but they’re really high on you and it seems like you have some direction and vision. That’s wonderful, you lead the way Brandy and we’ll follow.”
She smiled and nodded at the two gentleman.
Despite being unhappy about her first assignment, Brandy was still a perfectionist who loved doing what she did. Suddenly her energy level raised and she became very focused and in tune. She rang the door bell and after a few moments she was greeted by a smiling brown skinned elderly lady. The woman’s eyes seemed to smile wider than her mouth behind her bifocals.
“Hello, hello. You must be the television folks. Please come on in.”
Brandy was quick to cordially introduce herself and her staff with a smile and a hand extended. Mrs. Moncrieff was having none of that. She pulled the young lady in and gave her a big hug. Then she hugged her two man team.
“I’m a hugger y’all. This is the south we have to show a little more hospitality than most. All guest in my home are greeted with a hug because if you’re invited inside these walls you’re considered a friend. Please have a seat can I get anyone a glass of sweet tea or maybe an Arnold Palmer?”
The three declined, anxious to get to work. Just then Mr. Clarence Moncrieff walked into the room. On his face was a smile almost identical to his wife’s. It would seem that after all of the years of being together the loving couple had grown to look more like one another. Smiling eyes, bifocals, hug, same. The two had truly become one. The Moncrieffs sat down beside one another on the love seat as Brandy prepped them for the show.
“We were thinking on having you give us some background on how you met and what brought the two of you together. How do you feel about that?”
The couple looked at one another, holding hands. Briefly, silently they spoke to each other’s soul. Then Mr. Moncrieff spoke up.
“I’m not sure there is enough time in this show for us to share how we came together. It’s starts innocent enough but a lot of deep dark things happened before we were Blessed to be together. Do you have the time for us to share our story with you?”
Brandy lit up. She knew that she might be on to something here.
“Most certainly Mr. and Mrs. Moncrieff; we appreciate you taking the time to share with us and we’ll do our best to report it with the integrity it deserves. Your memories are priceless, it’s your history.”
The couple nodded and smiled at the bright young lady. Tommy was already rolling as Steven handled the boom. Janice Moncrieff chimed in.
“Well we both grew up in Philadelphia. I was raised mostly in West Oak Lane, he was from Mount Airy and Germantown. The two parts of town pretty much spill into one another. We both had family in North Philly and that’s how we were connected. I guess Honey you should start with what went on in your family when you were young.”
Mr. Moncrieff looked down pausing to reminisce on past tragedies and the affects it had on his family. He looked up slowly at his interviewer and took a deep breath. His loving wife rubbed him on his shoulder coaxing him along.
“You see I grew up in Germantown with my mother, father and baby brother. That was, before the war. My father such a loving, gentle man was sent off to Viet Nam to sacrifice his body and sanity for a senseless war. Our family has always loved and respected our troops, we still pray for them. But my father was sent to a needless conflict and his life was forever changed. He returned a shadow of himself and more than just a little off his rocker. Mama couldn’t take living with this strange man. He wasn’t the man she married and he wasn’t the man she loved. Eventually he had to move out and get a place of his own. The night terrors, paranoid behavior and drunken rages followed by uncontrollable weeping wore thin on her.
My brother was no longer a baby he was now an angry nine year old who didn’t understand this man or why he kept coming around after Mama put him out. Daddy rented a room from a nice lady in Mount Airy and he drove a gypsy cab to pay the rent. He would stop by and give us a few bucks or buy us ice cream but Jay would never want to take it. I visited my father at his place from time to time but Jay never did. He just grew more and more angry and ashamed of our father.”
Clarence paused to compose himself. Brandy could tell that he was leading up to something big so she neglected to ask him if he needed a moment. She simply remained quiet until he continued on.
“Sometimes Daddy would drink too much and come by to see Mama. He would start off pleading with her to be with him to no avail. He told her that he knew why she didn’t want him anymore. It was because he came back from that war less of a man than he was before he left. He would tell her that it’s the leg! Just say it’s the leg! You see I’ve neglected to tell you that my father lost his left leg in Viet Nam. So he came back broken emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.
My father was mad at God for what had happened to his life. He left here a man of faith, a Believer and he returned as man who had lacked faith and lost his religion. On those drunken nights he would tell Mama. I may not have my leg but I can still dance, remember how we used to dance? He would grab her and try to twirl her around and she would fight to get free. Sometimes I would try to get in between them and talk Daddy down.
One night it got especially physical between them and Daddy actually slapped Mama after she had shunned his advances. Jay, now eleven, grabbed Mama’s gun from the closet. I rushed over to try and stop him. I struggled over the gun with him and eventually wrestled it out of his hands. As I turned with it Daddy was lunging towards me and the gun just went off.”
Mr. Moncrieff paused once again. This time he was trying to push back the tears. Again his wife comforted him. He continued on.
“The shot hit him right in the heart and he bled out with his eyes open. I locked eyes with him as he fell to the floor with a stunned look on his face. I didn’t break contact with his dying eyes until Mama rushed over and took the gun out of my hands and hugged the two of us. The police refused to prosecute after learning the nature of my parent’s relationship and the fact that I was a good kid who have never been in trouble. It was ruled an accidental shooting but it still haunts me till this day.
The shooting affected Jay too. He understood that he was the reason that the trigger was pulled on that gun. He also understood that our father’s unstable behavior placed that gun in our young hands. Jay was glad Daddy was dead; he told me as much. That awful night, the night of our father’s death was the night my younger brother transformed into a criminal. He was in and out of the juvenile detention center for first petty crimes and eventually armed robbery when he was seventeen. I worked at a young age to help my mother out and eventually I found a job at a repair shop in North Philly. I guess you can take it from here sweetheart.”
Janice rubbed him on his back, smiled, then cleared her throat before she began telling her part to this wonderful saga of love.
She shook her head, smiling thinking back to the old days.
“Growing up in West Oak Lane we had a good life. That was until my daddy ran off with his secretary. It was just like the movies; she was a young girl in her early twenties. Mama was in her mid forties, mother of two. Worked to put her man through school and he deserted her for the first young girl to bat her eyelashes at him. Daddy did leave us with the house… and all of the bills. Mama sometimes had to work three jobs to keep it together. My older brother Ray refused to see my mother killing herself just to survive. He got into the drug trade and quickly became successful in the streets. People followed him because he was smart, tough and believable. He could make his corner buddies believe that they could conquer the world. His enemies he made fear the sight of him. Not many were even brave enough to talk bad about him after he beat down a few so called tough guys in front of crowds of people.
My brother has never been the best of people but he did provide for me an even paid for me to go to prep school. When I was sixteen Mama got sick, cancer. It was devastating . The cancer was so aggressive. She was gone home to Jesus before my eighteenth birthday.”
Clarence handed his wife a tissue and she dabbed the tears from her eyes. The woman took a sip of her sweet iced tea. The graceful lady composed herself then continued sharing the history of her life.
“My brother didn’t see the point in paying for that big ol house for us to live in so after he received his inheritance and I finished school, he sold the house and moved us to North Philly closer to his drug trade and connection. We lived in a nice big house but it was way cheaper than living in West Oak Lane. I got my cosmetology license and started doing hair at one of Ray’s friends’ wife’s beauty salon. I met this guy on his second job as a delivery man.
She pointed her thumb over at her husband , smiling as she spoke. He shared in her bliss.
“He would always try to talk to me when he dropped off a package of product or supplies. He had the prettiest smile but I couldn’t let him know that I liked him. If he wanted to be with me he would have to court me for a while, and he did. Clarence was such a gentleman, bringing me flowers, cards and candies. Eventually I agreed to meet him up on this hill where I would go to think and write poetry. We watched the sun set in each other’s eyes. I believe we fell in love that very night.”
Mrs. Moncrieff paused and looked over lovingly at her husband giving him the cue to pick up the story where she had left off. He smiled and obliged.
“Around that time, Jay was fresh out of prison after a two year bid and Mama threw a party for him. Before the party he went out and got pissy drunk then staggered into the house knocking things over, digging his hand in the cake and ruining the party before passing out. Mama was devastated but I wouldn’t let the party die. I grabbed her and took her on the floor and we danced to Al Green.”
Clarence paused, shaking his head.
“Within weeks Jay was back up to his old tricks hustling, burglary, grand theft auto and armed robbery. Some way or another he hooked up with her brother in North Philly.”
He looked over at his wife now shaking her head sadly remembering the past.
“Come to find out, these fools were planning a bank robbery. She got wind of it and told me. So I confronted that fool brother of mine and of course he denied it. I slowed him down and he got to the robbery late. I guess he botched it for everybody and her brother and his crew gave my brother a real bad beating. So like always, trying to look out for my brother I found Ray and beat him senseless. Janice and I had plans to runaway together but all of our brother’s criminal nonsense ruined that. I felt like I had to be there for my mother. She needed my support. Mama couldn’t handle Jay on her own. I must say it didn’t make Janice too happy.”
The couple squeezed each other’s hand for encouragement to continue on. They weren’t sure who should finish their story.
“Go on Clarence, you tell them.”
Clarence cleared his throat, took a deep breath then slowly began again. It was obvious to anyone watching how difficult this was for the couple to share with the rest of the world.
“We both had very odd relationships with our siblings. I always felt indebted to my little brother; it was my job to protect him from this cruel world. The only thing is… I couldn’t protect him from himself. He never matured into manhood. He was constantly running from under Mama’s dress to the streets and eventually the jailhouse. Then he would get out and repeat. He stayed a boy in a man’s body, emotional, volatile.
Janice felt like she owed her brother for always taking care of her. He practically raised her, at least financially. She didn’t agree with his lifestyle but she loved and respected her brother. He loved her too and would do anything to protect her. I think that is part of the reason he didn’t retaliate against me when I got the best of him that day. Ray knew that hurting me would hurt her.
Little did I know my dear little brother had revenge on his mind. One night he got drunk and went up to North Philly to where Ray and Janice lived. Ray had just left the house with his girlfriend to get beer and cigarettes. Two of Ray’s thugs were sitting on the porch and my sweet Janice was upstairs in her bedroom.”
Again he paused and sighed in an attempt to push through in sharing his pain and fear.
“I got word that my brother was headed over there so I raced to that side of town as fast as I could. Jay ambushed the two guys on the porch shooting them to death. One of them made it inside the house but my brother shot him again as he reached the stairs. Janice came to the top of the stairs to see what the commotion was; Jay spotted her and took off after her. When I pulled up I saw the bodies and the front door wide open. Once I got inside I could hear voices upstairs. It was Jay drunk and crying. Then I heard Janis, my Janis! I raced up the stairs; when I got to the top I saw Jay and Janis in the room. Just like I thought he was drunk and crying but he was also holding a gun. He turned to me and smiled talking about us being together forever and how she was trying to separate us. He was delusional. I didn’t know this man standing in front of me in blood stained clothes, snot dripping from his nose, smiling and crying. I tried to talk him down; I did my best.”
Tears streamed down Mr. Moncrieff’s worn cheeks and chin. His wife now wiped his tears and offered words of encouragement and comfort.
“We know you did Baby. You did all you could and I love you for it.”
He slowly composed himself as Brandy looked on. She was literally on the edge of her seat waiting to hear the end of this awesome story. Brandy was both riveted and curious to know how it all played out. Did the cops burst in and start shooting? Did his brother go on the run after committing those murders or is he in prison serving a life sentence? After what seemed like an hour to an anxious Brandy, Clarence was finally ready to finish telling their story of a love never broken.
“Well the more he got upset, the more I tried to calm him down. The whole time he had the gun trained on my love. We started hearing sirens in the distance and he got more agitated. I tried to tell him he needed to make a run for it and he screamed that I was still trying to get rid of him to be with Janice. His hands shook and trembled as he yelled through his tears. Suddenly the gun went off!”
Clarence lost it for a moment breaking down in his wife’s arms sobbing telling her over and over again how sorry he was. She told him she knew then asked him if he wanted her to finish. He agreed, so she did.
“The bullet hit me in my belly and I passed out from shock within seconds. My brave Clarence rushed over to me and carried me down the stairs and out to the street were an ambulance had pulled up. It was like a dream to me I could feel my brother’s presence when he pulled up. I could feel the charged energy in the air from all of the feelings stirred up by all the shooting. Then, before I passed out, I heard the shot.”
Clarence patted her on the knee. It was his time to tap back in.
“My brother Jay shot himself in the head. He was a lost soul but I never waned to see him take his own life. I felt guilty for some time because while he was ending his life my only thoughts were of Janis and saving her. During the moments he was leaving this earth I was holding her. I couldn’t save my little brother this time. But, I thank God that I was able to save my love. I felt guilt about my brother because I’m a Christian and I don’t believe that my brother is spending eternity in Heaven. But, I would make the same decision every time. You see, my brother was drowning emotionally, spiritually. But he didn’t want to be saved and every time I reached out for him he pulled me into those same murky waters he was suffering in. If I let him he would drown me too. But this wonderful women here was my life preserver, my life saver, she kept me afloat.”
He leaned over and kissed his wife on the forehead and embraced her. She pulled his head down and kissed him on the forehead too before finishing the story for him. Brandy and her crew were almost in tears watching these people who had been through so much together still so much in love. She found herself dabbing away a tear of her own.
“When I woke up in the hospital two days later I learned that a lot of damage had been done to my reproductive organs and I would never have children. It hurt… physically and emotionally. It took me many years to get over the fact that I would never be a mother. But I learned that God don’t make no mistakes. If I was busy raising children all these years I wouldn’t have been able to serve our community the way I have. My husband and I have touched thousands of lives over the years. That’s far more people than children I could have possibly raised. Well back to the story. When I finally got out of the hospital Clarence had everything arranged. He got his mother situated and he got us two one way bus tickets to Orlando. He said that we needed a fresh start away from all of the ugliness in Philadelphia. My brother got arrested while I was in the hospital. All of his robbin’ and stealin’ finally caught up with him. I had nothing left in my birth city but bad memories and regrets. The greatest thing that happened to me in Philadelphia was coming with me so why not start fresh? We got married the first month we were here and bought our first small home three years later. This place has been a Blessing to us so we’ve always tried to be a Blessing to it. That is why we serve.”
Brandy’s wheels were turning after her tears dried. This family’s story should be told in many different forms and she would see to it. She had stumbled upon a goldmine and she knew it. When Brandy returned to the television station she pitched turning the simple interview into a two hours special. She also secured a deal with the Moncrieffs to write their story in a biographical novel. Brandy always wanted to write the Great American Novel, now she had the opportunity and the story was already written for her.
Brandy Bradley made her career from that assignment being promoted to top reporter and then anchorwoman. Her book reached the New York Times Best Seller List and eventually she secured a movie deal based on the book. The story of the Moncrieff’s had become one of those Great American Tales and she was credited with bringing it to the world. Eventually she got her own local and then national talk show. Five years later she looked back on all that she had accomplished and how it all started with her first assignment. An assignment she thought she was too talented for. She thanked God daily for the awesome opportunity He’d granted her and where it led her to for that little chore made her a champion.