Young boys mother works hard to keep him ever present in her life

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 29, 2006

This is the Fourth in a series highlighting roadside memorials in the Miss-Lou, the tragedies that caused them, the people they represent and the families and friends who created them.

Lawanda &8220;Pennie&8221; Alexander has surrounded herself with reminders of her son.

Pictures of him fill his mother&8217;s walls &8212; from a smiling infant in a tin bathtub to a student posed in front of bookshelves.

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His name is on her license plate. She even has a tattoo of his name near her heart, a permanent reminder.

But even though he&8217;s everywhere, there is a gaping void in Alexander&8217;s life. And there always will be.

Ryekeem was riding a bicycle near Frazier Primary School when a car collided with him Nov. 14, 2003. He was 15 days short of his 11th birthday.

Soon after his death, Alexander and her father placed a wooden cross by the roadside where he died &8212; a public reminder. Ryekeem&8217;s birth and death dates are painted across the arms in baby blue letters.

Alexander tends the grave site at the cemetery, but it&8217;s important to keep up the marker, too, she said. She pays a little more attention to that memorial.

She wraps balloons around the marker on his birthday and places toys and trinkets she thinks he would have enjoyed.

&8220;He had just gotten into rodeos,&8221; she said, pointing to a picture of a stuffed horse she made for him. &8220;He loved that kind of stuff.&8221;

He loved to dance, too, she said. The morning before he died, he dressed in his best to perform in front of family.

&8220;He said, let me show you how to dance this new dance,&8221; she said. &8220;He showed us in the middle of my mom&8217;s living room.&8221;

The 10-year-old was showing his skills on his bicycle that day, too.

&8220;He blew me goodbye kisses&8221; as he rode past, Alexander said. &8220;He was telling me goodbye, and I didn&8217;t know it.&8221;

While it&8217;s important to have a reminder of Ryekeem at that corner, Alexander said she was thinking of replacing the wooden cross on George F. West Boulevard with a carved slab.

&8220;I put stuff up there, but every time I put something up, it gets taken,&8221; Alexander said.

The theft is painful, she said, as is the memory of Ryekeem lying crumpled on the corner.

A relative knocked on the door and gave her the news gently, she said. It didn&8217;t sink in right away. But now, the child&8217;s image is deeply ingrained.

&8220;Not a day goes by that he doesn&8217;t cross my mind,&8221; she said. &8220;I ask the Lord to take the image out of my head of him lying dead on the street and replace it with one of how he was.&8221;

Alexander said she hopes Ryekeem&8217;s memory will affect others, too. She said she hopes people will be more cautious when driving in school zones and residential areas.

&8220;People should look out for kids, on bikes and walking,&8221; Alexander said. &8220;Kids don&8217;t think about it, they might go after a ball they dropped.&8221;

She also said speed bumps should be installed on George F. West Boulevard.

&8220;There&8217;s no way to go 20 miles an hour on that road,&8221; she said. &8220;There&8217;s hill after hill, and you pick up speed.&8221;

Holidays are especially difficult for Alexander, she said. But recently, her family life has taken a happy turn.

Earlier this month, Alexander was reunited with her 16-year-old son, Gregory Alexander, who had been living with his father in California.

&8220;I haven&8217;t seen him in eight years,&8221; she said. &8220;It&8217;s good to have family for the holidays.&8221;

Gregory will never replace his younger brother, who would now be 14 years old, Alexander said.

She wonders what Ryekeem would be like today, if he would still like horses and dancing. She wonders if he would be learning how to drive if another car had not taken his life.

The pictures start as a baby in a tin bathtub and progress to a smiling boy in an elementary school picture. No graduation pictures will join them. Ryekeem&8217;s wedding pictures will never grace her walls.

The pictures, the tattoo and the roadside memorial are constant reminders of the son she lost, the son she will not see grow up.

But, she said, everyone who has heard his story and who walks in that house or past that memorial will remember her son.