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Woodville mom channels grief through art, writing

Tyler County Booster

By Valerie Reddell

Gem Baker White began a journey on Dec. 31, 2012, that every parent prays they won't ever have to take. Her daughter Frankie Rae Baker, 17 — a vivacious senior at Woodville High School — was killed when a pickup crossed the center line into her lane on U.S. 69 and hit her car. Frankie was killed in the collision. Suddenly, Gem's only child was gone. Frankie had just been accepted to the University of Texas. "She was at the top of her class. She had the beginnings of her life planned out," Gem recalls. "She was it for me," White said. "I was a single mom. She was everything." White teaches theater and art at Woodville High School, and she almost immediately turned to those creative outlets to come to terms with her feelings. That love of theater was something she and Frankie shared. "I started writing right after Frankie died," Gem said. She poured out her feelings onto paper. When she couldn't find the words, she painted. "It's unfathomable. In the beginning, you don't even know how you will move," Gem said. Two weeks after the crash, Gem went back to the classroom. "The kids were wonderful — her friends were wonderful. That's why I went back just two weeks in," she said. "We were producing a play for contest. I went back and we put the show together. Some of her friends got into my production class just to help." "They gave me a reason to get up." Back on campus though, she had to listen to the announcements each morning about the activities leading up to graduation. "Sure, it was hard, but I think (the students) were the best thing for me." She adds that she was the beneficiary of one trait the teenagers had that few people see: "They step up when they know they have to." In her journals, she included things her students had talked about as they processed their feelings about Frankie's death. Frankie's cousins channeled their grief into music, paintings and poetry. As Gem began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, she went back through her journals and began to draft an outline, a year later that outline was the rough script of a play. As she drafted the script, it occurred to Gem that there's nothing out there for parents struggling to overcome the loss of a child. "I wanted to share it with other people, make them realize there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Gem said. She also wanted to honor the people that stepped forward to help her at the worst point. Recently, she has worked to establish some happy memories around the Christmas holidays, to help mute the reminders of that tragic night. On New Year's Day, she and Rep. James White were married. "(The date) was intentional," Gem said. "That time of year was difficult for me and anyone who was close to Frankie. You should be able to look forward to Christmas and the New Year. I wanted something for us to look forward to. I think Frankie would have loved it. Theater-goers will also see artwork on display that was created by Frankie's friends and family. Those items are for sale, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. The play includes original songs and poetry created as loved ones came to terms with her loss.

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