By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
The little girl was 6 years old when her daddy left.
Confused and sometimes sad, she watched him marry another lady. She watched her mother marry one man, then another and another.
The little girl knew about the hurt feelings that caused her parents' divorce, but, in her eyes, the shouting was about anger, not hate.
'My parents loved each other so strongly that they couldn't get along,' said Gayla Rogers of Belton - that little girl now 32.
Throughout the 25 years when her father was 'just someone who showed up on Christmas and birthdays,' Gayla believed that mom and dad would one day rediscover the way to each other's arms.
And they did. Jimmy and Pamela Wilson of Belton married for the second time on Aug. 19, 2006.
When the Wilsons divorced, 'everybody thought it would be forever,' Pamela said. 'I did too. But Gayla always thought we would get back together. Gayla had faith it would happen. She was the only one who did.'
Jimmy agreed, adding that he thought the harshness of the 25-year split would thwart any attempt to rekindle any sort of relationship.
But the wedding rings the couple now wears prove Jimmy and Pamela wrong. So do the pictures of the happy couple that hang on their living room wall.
Gayla had been right all along. They love each other.
It makes sense for Gayla to have been 'the one in the know.' It was their love that gave her life.
Jimmy and Pamela got married the first time on Aug. 20, 1973. Or rather, they eloped.
She was 15, and he was 17.
'We were crazy young,' Pamela said. 'But we were crazy in love.'
There was no fancy ceremony. They didn't even swap rings. That happened six months later after Jimmy earned enough money to afford them.
They exchanged vows at a preacher's house in Talladega, Ala., with another couple. The second bride was Pamela's best friend from childhood.
'So there we were with the preacher and his wife. Five of their six kids were in diapers,' Pamela said. 'I was wearing a pink dress and white mini-loafers.'
Jimmy and Pamela said they were 'so eager to say 'I do.''
'It had to be love,' Jimmy said, remembering that day. 'Or what I thought was love. We both wanted to make a family.'
Their original plan was to have 12 children.
'But after Gayla, we wanted six,' Pamela said. Gayla was born 18 months into their first marriage.
'And after Rodney, no more,' Pamela added. 'Two children suited us fine.'
Rodney Wilson, 28, is Jimmy and Pamela's youngest child.
Their first task as man and wife was to appease their angry families. Their relatives were hurt because they did not have a chance to be a part of the wedding.
'My mom was mad. His mom was mad. My sister was mad. There was screaming and fighting,' Pamela said. 'Everyone said we were too young. But they ended up supporting us.'
After the reconciliation, Jimmy and his new wife relocated to Texas.
And for a time, Pamela and Jimmy lived happily.
But then they said the stress of 'growing up too quickly' got to them.
They tried to describe what ended the marriage without reliving the pain. But they couldn't find the words, so their daughter, Gayla, helped their memories find voice.
'They ran our home like it was two households. One was constantly undermining the other and that made it hard for everyone,' Gayla said.
'Bad decisions were made,' Jimmy said. 'One bad decision after another.'
Jimmy and Pamela divorced after eight years of marriage.
Gayla was 6 and Rodney was 2 when their daddy's face faded from their everyday lives.
'Luckily, she remembers only the good things,' Pamela said about Gayla. 'Just a few fights here and there. But Rodney - he didn't know his daddy at all.'
Then life happened. Rodney and Gayla grew up and had children of their own.
'We had some growing up to do too,' said Pamela about herself and Jimmy. 'Mom was right. We were too young when we got married.'
Jimmy and Pamela handled the split in different ways.
'He found a woman to marry and was determined to make that marriage work, no matter what happened and no matter how bad he felt,' Pamela said. 'And I went from husband to husband.'
She laughed as she described her series of short-lived marriages.
'Something always lacked,' Pamela said. 'I didn't know what it was, but I wasn't happy, so I ended it.'
Jimmy, however, was the opposite. He was married to his second wife for 21 years.
'It was fulfilling,' Jimmy said. 'There were a lot of hard times.'
Pamela said Jimmy wasn't himself in that marriage.
'It was like he was wearing a mask, hiding how he truly felt about everything,' Pamela said. Jimmy nodded as he took her hand.
Dad rejoins family
Just over a year ago, Gayla and her husband bought the house next door to Pamela's.
'I went to see if they needed help getting settled in,' Jimmy said.
But it was more than a father wanting to help his daughter move furniture.
Jimmy was recently divorced from his second wife, and he said he realized 'a lot of stuff.'
'God had laughed me when I made plans for a future that didn't include Pamela and my children,' Jimmy said. 'That was a mistake.'
Jimmy said he never stopped loving Rodney and Gayla.
'Daddy came straight to me,' Gayla said. 'He needed to reach out to family, and I was the first person he thought of. I was so touched to know that he needed me.'
As the days progressed, Gayla said she started to feel some of the father-daughter closeness that she remembers from childhood.
And Rodney - he and his dad got to know each other.
'To be able to reconnect with my children has been awesome,' Jimmy said. 'I thank God for it everyday.'
Wedding bells again
So Jimmy was back in the children's lives.
It was inevitable that he and Pamela would, at some point, cross paths again.
But she didn't wait for a chance encounter. She called Jimmy up and invited him to her house.
'I decided that for my own peace, I needed to have a forgiveness talk with him,' Pamela said. 'So that way, we could all be in the same room with each other.'
Talk of forgiveness floated like a song through Jimmy's ears.
'Her forgiveness is the greatest gift I could have ever asked for,' Jimmy said.
The first civil conversation led to dozens of friendly get-togethers, which paved the way for six months of dating.
Jimmy proposed to Pamela the second time in February 2006 - at the Oasis Bingo Hall in Harker Heights.
Playing bingo had become one of the couple's favorite pastimes.
Jimmy said, 'In the middle of what was a regular bingo night, the bingo caller said, 'Pamela, I think Jimmy has a question for you.''
Pamela poked Jimmy in the ribs as he told the story.
'I don't like being in front of a large crowd,' Pamela explained. 'I was so embarrassed as I walked up there.'
Jimmy just grinned as his wife complained.
'So I proposed right there in the bingo calling station,' Jimmy said. 'I asked her, 'Will you marry me again?''
Flushed from embarrassment and excitement, Pamela said yes. After a long kiss, Jimmy led her by the arm back to her seat.
Pamela and Jimmy married again on Aug. 19, 2006, at Pamela's home in Belton. She was 48, and he was 51.
'It was a big, wonderful party. A love luau,' Pamela said. 'Our families came. It was beautiful.'
The couple said they planned to marry as close as possible to their original wedding date of Aug. 20.
'We'll have a double-year anniversary,' Pamela said. 'If we would have stayed together, we would have been married for 33 years.'
The Wilsons are again a family of four plus the grandkids. Pamela and Jimmy said they are close with all of the stepchildren they've acquired over the years.
'We need more branches on our family tree,' joked Pamela as she pointed to the tree painted on her kitchen wall. Above each branch is a family member's name.
As for Rodney and Gayla, they said they're thrilled at their parents' reconciliation.
'The kids are always at the house,' Pamela said. 'Sometimes, Jimmy and I'd like to have some time alone, but I remember that the kids didn't have a mom and a dad growing up. Now they do. That's something for us all to enjoy.'
Afraid her life is now too good to be true, there are some times when Pamela thinks she's dreaming.
'When he touches me, I have to wonder whether it's really him,' Pamela said. 'I look up, and it is. Jimmy's here, and I'm so glad.'
'The greatest gift of all is love.' The verse from Isaiah 41:10 is painted in black letters at the root of the Wilson family tree.
Pamela found that love in Jimmy when she was 14.
'It's all in the kiss. You don't forget that,' Pamela said. 'It was wonderful and awkward. There was a peach seed in my mouth that just wouldn't come out.'
Jimmy remembers that night too.
'We were out on the porch,' Jimmy said. 'I told you that night that I'd marry you.'
'And again and again,' quipped Gayla. Jimmy sighed, rolling his eyes at what is now an old family joke.