Nichols’ turn heartbreak into joy
Family of the Year
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
The first day that Charles Nichols walked into an Albertson grocery store, Lorraine had no idea that she would become his wife and mother to a child who was abandoned in the back of a pickup truck.
Far from it.
One of Lorraine’s co-workers had more interest in Nichols. She asked that Lorraine find out if Nichols was available. She obliged.
But what Nichols shot back led to the beginning of a family that has become one of the most inspiring stories.
“I said, are you available,” he said, recalling his first gesture to make Lorraine his soul mate.
They aren’t shy about sharing the details of what led to their marriage, either.
What the couple has endured on the way to becoming one of the most admired families has brought them the honor of being named the Capital Outlook’s Family of The Year.
Many of the times that Nichols visited the former Albertson’s on Apalachee Parkway — which was almost daily — he had his three children in tow. He found himself alone with his children – ages 5, 6 and 9 — after their mother unsuspectingly told him “I don’t want to be a mother and a wife anymore” and walked away.
That was a short time after Nichols, a 66-year-old New York native who is retired from the Army, came to Tallahassee to teach the ROTC program at FAMU. At the same time, Lorraine had walked away from an abusive marriage.
“It was the lowest point in my life,” Nichols said. “I felt betrayed. Physically, I was broken. Spiritually, I was wiped completely out.”
A devout Christian, as is his wife who is 20 years younger, Nichols said he and Lorraine living with their adoptive son is answered prayers.
“The love I have for them is out of this world,” he said. “This world will crush you; take everything you have away from you. But when you have a love outside of this world there is nothing you come up with that you can’t win.”
At the center of the family is 9-month-old Caleb. He is the answer to her prayers to become a mother, said Lorraine, a California native. She and her husband had exhausted all possibilities, including attempts to try intravenously.
In part, two breast cancer occurrences hampered her chances of conceiving, she said.
They turned to adoption and had done all of the paperwork when Caleb came into their life one night while Lorraine was on duty at TMH, where she works as a Respiratory Therapist.
Paramedics took Caleb to the emergency room, after he was found in the back of a pickup last May. Lorraine immediately fell in love with the infant that doctors said was about six days old.
“I just stuck to him like glue,” she said. “I changed him, I fed him and I rocked him. We all fought over him; all the nurses.”
She was prepared to make Caleb her son, taking classes to meet Children’s Home Society requirements for adoption. But the Nichols’ weren’t sure how long their wait would be.
Things began to move quickly, though, after Lorraine had a conversation with a Department of Children and Family representative about the possibility of taking Caleb to be her son. She was convincing enough to get permission to take Caleb home after he was deemed healthy enough to leave TMH, while DCF tried to find him a permanent home.
It didn’t get that far. The DCF representative took the Nichols’ appeal to court on a Sunday. The judge ruled they could adopt Caleb.
All along they refused to believe it would work out any other way.
“I would have been heartbroken,” Lorraine said. “I know I would but it was just a chance I wanted to take.”
Her husband added: “I was positive about it. I said let’s get that baby; keep her happy. I’m in the summer of my years and I can’t think of anybody else to live with but my wife and my son.”
Lorraine had plenty of child-rearing experience by the time Caleb settled into their life. When she met Nichols, she assisted with raising his three children. In exchange, he paid for her books while she attended Tallahassee Community College, where she is now a part-time teacher.
She refers to them as her sons and daughter. They’re a close-knit family.
With the older children now grown with successful lives, the Nichols’ have outlined Caleb’s path. Taekwondo is in his future by age 6. College, too.
They couldn’t be happier.
“When I decided to accept this relationship and go on this last journey, this love is not of this world,” Nichols said. “It’s stronger than anything this world could bring forth. This is an opportunity for me to right all the wrongs I’ve ever done; my final exam before I go away. I’m going to get straight A’s.”