By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
If you ask Meridian mother of four, Marjie Byrne, she will tell you what happened to her Thursday, Dec. 13 was nothing short of a call from God.
Quite literally, it was a text from an unknown number that truly touched Byrne and showed her the meaning of the holiday season.
While cleaning Thursday, Byrne's 11-year-old son Tyler handed over her cellphone, telling his mom she had received a crazy text from someone.
Byrne, who had just received her new iPhone on Nov. 17, stared down dumbfounded.
“LETTER TO MY MAMA- ,” the text read. “Mama I know you loved me and Trevon and Asia. But, why'd you leave us? We cry everyday. Since you left, everything has fell apart. We have no more love and no hope. We try to move on, but we can't. You were my heart. My motivation to keep moving even when its hard. You left me so young. I wish you were here with me.
“I know you don't have to suffer any more, but I'm kind of selfish. I miss your smile, your touch and your kisses. Nobody can ever replace you. I wanted to tell you I got a football scholarship, but you left me. I love you so much mama. It's going to be hard raising these kids! But, I'm going to try my best. I miss you baby girl. I love you!”
Byrne would find out later, the text was sent by Meridian High School senior Jontaidrae Rhone. Rhone recently lost his mother, Tasmika Eason Chaney, to Lyme disease on Nov. 28 and was simply trying to send a letter to his mother's number one final time.
“I just wanted to get something off my chest,” Rhone said. “I was shocked to get an answer. I kept the number in my phone for sentimental purposes. I just thought the number had gone away. I never thought I would get an answer back.”
After exchanging texts back and forth and learning more about Rhone's situation, Byrne decided to make a change in the young man's life. Byrne not only offered to provide a Christmas to Rhone and his two other siblings, she quickly took the family into her life.
Rhone now is like a son to Byrne. The two talk every day, both becoming an important part in the other's life. Byrne has recently collected donations from several local businesses around Meridian and has set up The Rhone Children’s Fund at Great Southern National Bank.
"It was just in my heart, that I got this text message for a reason," Byrne said. "It was divine intervention, I have no doubt. You can't just ignore that and move on like you didn't get that message.
"I feel amazing for being blessed enough to be a part of this, but I'm not amazing. I'd like to think anyone would have done the same thing."
Though it has only been five days since he first talked to Byrne, Rhone said she already reminds him of his mother. From the way she makes bacon egg and cheese sandwiches, the kind his mother used to make, to her kind and caring ways, Rhone said he is lucky to have her in his life. Concerning how they met – Rhone said it was no accident.
“I know God and my mother allowed me to meet this woman,” Rhone said of Byrne. “I can see her coming into my life. She has nurtured me. It is wonderful to have a person like that in my life.”
Rhone made the decision to forgo his final four games, including the Wildcat’s first-round playoff matchup against D’Iberville in order to attend to his ailing mother. The starting cornerback kept the news of his mother’s condition a secret to the team, choosing instead to keep it to himself and prevent extra attention and distractions.
“I just didn’t want them to think it was their problem,” Rhone said. “I felt like it was my duty to take care of my mom. It was really hard to leave all my teammates, because those guys are like a family to me.”
At the time, he figured he had given up the sport he loved as well as the teammates he considered brothers.
Little did Rhone know, his family on the field would step up for him in a big way.
Meridian secretary Angela Turner, who has helped guide Rhone through the process the whole way, advised him to go back and explain to his teammates what had happened.
Not only did his team understand his situation, Meridian coaches sent out a highlight tape of Rhone’s senior season to several colleges.
The tape resulted in a scholarship offer from Concordia College in Selma, Ala. Rhone received the opportunity he thought for sure was lost, a chance to play again.
“He thought since he had stopped playing, his career was over,” Turner said. “When he got that scholarship, he came back and told me, ‘Mrs. Turner, I got it, I’m going.’ I told him, when he gets there to remember what is important in life.”
Rhone said the scholarship will not only provide him with the opportunity to fulfill his dream of playing college football, it also gives him the chance to get an education and build a better future for him and his two younger siblings.
Byrne surprised Rhone at Meridian High School on Tuesday, as the two met for the first time. While the visit came as a shock to the young man, Byrne told him to get used to seeing her in the future. Not only will the two remain close, but Byrne also presented Rhone with a good luck charm to wear when he plays football and said she plans to be in attendance when he suits up to play in his first game.
“For someone to step in and play the role of my mother, it’s been overwhelming,” Rhone said. “If my mother was here she’d be happy, she’d be proud. She would just be exhilarated that someone is trying to take care of me.
“I know (Byrne) is an angel. She is an angel sent from God and my mother.”
For anyone looking to make donations to the Rhone Family, contributions can be made to The Rhone Children’s Fund at Great Southern National Bank, located at 218 22nd Ave. South in downtown Meridian.