RUSSET-HAIRED AND RADIANT IN her hospital bed, Edye Smith mulls over wedding options with Tony, the man who was once, and may once again be, her husband. To remarry or not? “I don’t know—he hasn’t asked me yet,” she says with a needling giggle.
At her side, Tony is equally evasive. “We haven’t had any time alone,” he protests. “All we’ve done is talk to the media.”
Four months ago the gently playful scene would have been unthinkable. In the days after their sons Chase, 3, and Colton, 2, were killed in the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Smiths became national symbols of mourning. Divorced last December after 4½ years of marriage, Edye, 23, and Tony, 29, comforted each other bravely as their only children were laid to rest, hand in hand, in a single white coffin, surrounded by their favorite stuffed animals. Just last week the monument at their grave was to be unveiled: a 5-foot-high sculpture of their beloved Barney the dinosaur, adorned with photos of Chase and Colton.
Now the Smiths are starring in a moving tale of renewal—of love rising from the rubble of tragedy. Despite the coy scene in the hospital, the couple announced they intend to remarry soon. Then on Aug. 24, Edye underwent surgery to reverse the tubal ligation she had following Colton’s birth. The exceedingly delicate 3½-hour operation was performed pro bono by a team under the direction of Dr. Christopher Seeker, a specialist in obstetric gynecology, at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. “I expect her to have a 100 percent chance to conceive,” Seeker told PEOPLE immediately after the surgery. The next day Edye sounded like a prizefighter predicting an early KO: “I’ll be pregnant by Halloween,” she declared.
She and Tony, a self-employed heating and air-conditioning contractor, haven’t been shy about sharing their joy. Last week they appeared on NBC’s Today show and Leeza (a daytime talk show hosted by Leeza Gibbons) as well as CBS This Morning. “I want to have five kids, maybe 10,” Edye gushed on Today. She says she is considering an offer from the National Enquirer to pay for the wedding and honeymoon. Yet skeptics soon surfaced. In the high court of call-in radio, some Oklahomans have criticized the Smiths for rushing back into marriage and parenthood before mending the rifts in their relationship.
All of which riled Edye’s mother, Kathy Graham-Wilburn, 41. “I can’t tell you how hungry we are to hold a baby in our arms. If you never had your kids snatched away, you don’t know the heartbreak,” she says. “If every couple waits until they have everything ironed out, then there’d be no babies.”
One does get a sense that the Smiths haven’t quite thought things through. At one point Edye announces that the remarriage will take place in Hawaii on Sept. 9. At another, she says, “Oh, we might not get married at all. What’s a piece of paper?” Wed or not, the couple have yet to decide where they will live.
The Smith romance began when Edye was a high school senior and Tony was working as a mechanic at a local filling station. “She came by each night and eventually asked me out,” he recalls. “We dated for quite a while, about three months; then we went and talked to her parents. We were married 6½ months later.”
As Tony, the oldest of four brothers, puts it, the marriage was a union of opposites. “There is a huge difference between me and Edye,” he says. “My father abandoned us when I was 9. Her father is a preacher, and her mother always sees the best in people.” Edye, though, downplays the disparity. “He thinks I had a real sheltered life, but I didn’t,” Edye says. “Though I grew up in a Christian home, my parents split up when I was young. I drank and did drugs.”
As to the cause of their breakup, the Smiths are vague in the extreme. “It was just some small argument, and it escalated,” Edye says. “I don’t remember what. Something silly.” She does suggest that the final straw might have come the weekend Tony went camping with his family and she opted to stay home alone—at first. “I was mad,” Edye says with a mischievous grin. “So a girlfriend and I went to a male strippers’ club.” Shortly thereafter, Tony ordered her to leave. “He said, ‘Get out,’ and I said, ‘Okay,’ ” Edye recalls. Says Tony: “She packed all her things in less than an hour.”
They were divorced last December, though Edye says, “I wasn’t really sure why.” The couple say they continued to see each other and even went out on a few dates. “It was always my intention to get back together,” Tony insists. “I thought I’d teach her a lesson. I thought a couple of months on her own and she’d learn about life. Instead she’s moving in with her parents and living a better life than I’m living.”
On the morning of April 19, Tony was dressing for work when he heard news of the bombing. “Immediately I knew my kids were dead,” he says. He remembers racing to the scene and brawling his way through a police barricade, punching one officer and tripping another. “I told them I would kill to get to my kids. Later I found out that one had been found on a park bench and the other in the rubble.”
Tony briefly comforted Edye at the hospital that day. “He came in and gave me a hug, then left,” she says. “I don’t think he wanted to hear more about the boys. It was more than he could take. He seemed to want to be alone.” But that isn’t quite the way he remembers it. “The media had all her attention,” Tony says. “I felt abandoned. She left me alone.”
Even so, the two soon began seeing one another more seriously, though both insist the bombing was not the catalyst that brought them together. “It might have strengthened our relationship, but we were never really apart,” Edye says, chuckling. “He asked me to be his girlfriend. Then last week we began discussing marriage. I don’t know why, when we could live together.”
This return to togetherness made Edye more determined to have her tubes untied, provided she could find the money. Her route to an operating room in Austin was circuitous, paved with the kindness of strangers. It began several weeks ago, when Dr. Seeker’s wife, Ann, was visiting her parents in Oklahoma City. Her father, Art McCarthy, remarked about hearing reports that Edye was looking for funds to reverse the tubal ligation. “I said, ‘I know somebody who can fix that,’ ” recalls Ann, who made an emotional plea to her husband. “With your wife sobbing and crying,” says Dr. Seeker, “what can you do?”
Ann contacted Edye with the help of Anne Nelson Sweat, an Austin portraitist who had painted the Seekers’ young children—and who was then working on a posthumous portrait of Chase and Colton for the Smiths. Back in April, the artist had seen the bereaved young mother on television. “She was holding the boys’ special toys,” remembers Sweat, herself a mother. “I cried forever.”
No matter how many more children they may have, the Smiths will never relinquish the memory of Chase and Colton. Tony, always stoic, still cannot bring himself to reminisce about the boys, though he has become freer with his emotions since the bombing. “He cries now, and I think that’s good for him,” says Edye, who, unlike Tony, has sought counseling.
“Edye knows that the children are with God,” Tony says. “But the way I look at it, the kids are dead, and it’s all over. We were robbed.”
Says Edye, wistfully: “I think that’s very sad. I don’t see how he couldn’t believe. But he’ll see one of these days. I know I’m going to see Chase and Colton again.”
BOB STEWART in Austin