ODESSA — The baby was a day old.
"Guess what I named her?" said the mother from her hospital room, guarded by police waiting to take her back to jail.
She handed the baby to Easter Morris, who at 61, had mothered seven children and hundreds of foster children, including at one time the new mother.
This would be her last foster child.
Seventeen years later, baby Easter has blossomed into a spunky, hard-working senior at Alonso High School.
"This last one is special," Morris says.
Easter is hard of hearing, and proud to be part of the deaf culture. She has an interpreter for her classes and communicates through texts and e-mails to hearing friends and family members who don't know sign language. In school plays, she signs her role while another student translates.
At home, Easter is tidy and helps her family.
She calls Morris mama.
"Mama calls me Easter Egg," the girl jokes.
• • •
Easter Morris' home was always full. At one time she had 18 foster kids, she said.
Unfit parents and a cruel system dragged down some of the kids she fostered. You could see it in the way they carried themselves, Morris said, hunching into herself to demonstrate.
She didn't want that for Easter.
At 5 months old, Easter came down with spinal meningitis. A doctor told Morris the baby would be brain damaged and deaf. One leg stopped growing; a shoulder turned inward.
Easter was a year old when her birth mother, Lillian Riggins, was released from jail and came to live with them, Morris said. She left after two weeks, Morris said. They never saw her again; nor could they find Easter's father.
Morris didn't give up on baby Easter.
"God blessed me with her," she said. "I knew God had a plan."
She drove Easter to weekly physical therapy and doctor appointments. She took her to Orlando for healing prayer. For the past 16 years, she has driven her to speech therapy twice a week. She learned to sign some words and can understand Easter when she speaks slowly. Sometimes she texts her.
She dips into her own pocket for extras that foster care doesn't cover, cute clothes and school lunches.
She recently paid $70 for a computer battery, one of the ways Easter communicates with the hearing world.
Morris has other things to worry about. Her husband is blind and was in the hospital a few days ago.
Her home needs upgrading, but she doesn't have extra money.
She just wants to see this child through.
"That's what's pulling me real hard," said Morris, 78. "I don't want Easter to fail. I try to give her what she needs if I have to let myself go without."
• • •
Easter longs to go to college.
She hopes to go to Hillsborough Community College and then transfer to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, which has the world's largest technical college for deaf students.
She wants to help people, but she's not sure how. Maybe as a photojournalist, interior decorator, actor or nurse.
She would like to work with kids.
For now, she loves spending time with friends.
Her drama teacher says Easter gained confidence through acting in several school plays. Her drama group is going to New York City this spring. The trip costs $1,200. Easter wants to go to the state competition with her classmates, too. Another $350.
She sees all her foster mother's sacrifices and wants more than anything to take care of her. She dreams of a new home for her mother.
She also wants to show people that she can earn her own way.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.