Cate Bailey’s life can be divided into four distinct segments. Her childhood was, in a word, idyllic. Her parents loved each other for 73 years before her mother died, and Cate and her two younger brothers never doubted that they were part of an unbreakable bond.
Both of her parents were school teachers, and Cate was the first family member to leave the school when she finally graduated. Life was school, church, music lessons, basketball games, Christmas at Daddy Tom’s, and trips to Mississippi to see Mama’s family. Cate graduated with honors and won some nice scholarships. She got married a week after receiving her diploma. Now begins phase two.
Cate’s first marriage was to a man whose aims were lofty. He was going to become a minister, and he needed three more years of college to do that. Cate finished three semesters of college before their first child was born. She then had two more babies in the eight years before her husband finished his Ph. D. and accepted his first faculty position in Florida. Five years later, after the birth of their fourth child, the family moved to Iowa where a job promotion seemed to be an answered prayer and proof that working hard would eventually pay off.
About that time, Cate began to see behaviors that made no sense to her, and she realized that her husband was developing a mental illness that doctors and meds ultimately could not manage. Preparing to take care of the kids herself, she took a few courses at a time and finished her bachelor’s degree. Then, twenty years after they got married, Bob filed for divorce and ten days after the divorce was final, he died in a drunken car crash.
A year later, Cate married Don. He knew the whole story of Bob’s illness and what her children had survived. Phase three consisted of nearly 27 years of stability, security, and peace before cancer took Don from the family. Cate’s three younger children were still unmarried when Don joined the family. The teenage kids began to relax. They laughed a lot. They had friends who visited and invited them out. They forged their own relationships with Don and they loved his daughter and grandchildren. When the younger son started college, Don retired. He moved with Cate to Kentucky, only 26 miles from her parents’ house in Tennessee. He became Cate’s dad’s best buddy. They had a decade of Friday night and Sunday noon dinners with love in every single bite. When cancer won its ten-year hold on him, he was at home and his last words to Cate were “Happy Life.”
The unexpected fourth phase of Cate's life began two years later. When her best friend from childhood lay dying of cancer, she asked Cate to marry her husband so he wouldn't be so lonely. Cate told her no way, but she was right. Danny and Cate grieved together and decided there was too much living to do, and they should do it together. So Cate gained another son and daughter, and their families. Danny had stepchildren who are also her cousins. They can hop in the RV and visit any of nine states and find children or grandchildren. They go to bluegrass festivals, elk hunts, gospel singings, and any place that their hearts desire.
Through all of these stages, Cate believes the one constant in her life has been her assurance that God has been with her every single step of the way. She says, “I am amazed at how he has never deserted me, never stopped listening to me, never stopped caring for me. Gratitude is the overwhelming feeling in my heart.”
To read more of Cate's story, purchase her new book, Twig Benders
- a memoir of her life.