The lives of Tom and Susie Belcher bear similarities to fairytales.
They overcame childhood obstacles to become gracious adults.
Tom rode up to Susie on a white horse.
Though not all at once, their house has held 19 children -- five of their own, plus 14 they have fostered.
That's a lot of shoes.
"When we were building our home, we stamped a ‘5' on the dining table and floors to make it look rustic. I'm glad we didn't stamp 10," Susie said.
Strength can come from adversity. It is Tom's and Susie's experiences of childhood that allow them to relate to children with their own troubles.
When Susie was six years old, her mother committed suicide. Her father died of cancer when she was 20 years old.
Tom used to come home from school and check the dresser drawers.
If they were empty, it meant his father had left Tom, his siblings and their mother, yet again.
Then, the six of them would pile into their old station wagon and follow.
It is how Tom wound up a teenager in California.
He was still living at home, but a family in the neighborhood took him under their wing, especially the dad.
"We both liked sports. He got me playing football. Later he got me working laying steel in swimming pools. That was his business," Tom said.
Often, a foster child will cry, ‘You don't have any idea what I feel like,' but Tom and Susie do.
Hindsight gives them the perspective that "God has a plan."
"Unless you feel that sense of abandonment that Tom and I experienced growing up, you aren't going to relate to these children," Susie said.
Their first son, Cole, was a toddler and Susie was pregnant with Chans when the couple first considered fostering.
Tom saw a bus full of boys heading down the highway back to a boys' home. The thought that those boys would have to spend Christmas in an institution made him heartsick.
Susie said she had always wanted to have a home where she could take in children and animals ...
"Non-stop," Tom interrupted. The two shared a look and a laugh.
Their first foster parenting experience was with three sisters.
One night, Tom came home from work and they came running down the stairs yelling ‘Daddy's home! Daddy's home!'
"I was in shock," Tom said.
So, they all sat down and discussed the fact that "Daddy" is a strong name. They came up with "Big Bear," as a substitute.
Big Bear and Susie received a call from one of the sisters a few months ago announcing she had a child of her own.
Fostering is a "life path" for the Belchers.
"These children give us so much more than we give them," Susie said.
When the children are not in school, Susie keeps them busy with the animals on their property in the hills northeast of Payson, or Tom keeps them busy on the sports field. He has been an active coach in Little League, basketball and football programs for a decade.
"In my yearbooks, friends wrote I hope you get your dream of children and animals," Susie said.
"I thought I was your dream," Tom interjected.
"You are," Susie replied. The couple shared a smile across the table.
They met at Kovac's Korner in Apache Junction. Tom road up on a white horse and tied it to the hitching rail.
Susie thought, "Who is that cute cowboy?"
She continued to watch him as he led his mother, who had had polio, onto the dance floor.
"He danced with her in front of all his friends. When he walked her to the car, he opened the door for her and belted her in," Susie said.
Tom had been watching Susie too, for when he came back inside the restaurant, he pulled up a chair beside Susie and her brother. When he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him.
They fell in love over Rocky Mountain Oysters at Kovac's.
"That's before I knew what Rocky Mountain Oysters were!" Susie said.
Arizona Public Service recently promoted Tom, and the family is relocating to Flagstaff, with one foster child in tow.
"Payson was good to us, but we are looking forward to the next change in the Belcher's lives," Tom said.
ABOUT THE BELCHERS
Name: Susie and Tom Belcher
Occupation: Tom is a supervisor with APS. Susie is an equine therapist. They are foster parents.
Home state: Susie: Ohio. "It's a good place to be from." Tom: Oregon.
When did you move to Payson? 1996
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Susie: "The best peace is finding your purpose in life. When you find it, it is not rocky. It is a smooth path."
Tom: "Don't grow up too fast."
Three things you want people to know about you:
Susie: "I'm honest, caring and sensitive."
Tom: "If you're my friend, you'll be my friend for life. If you know me, you'll like me. I try to be so fair when coaching."
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Susie: "A barrel racer." Tom: "A basketball player. I wanted to be on TV. I know a lot more about basketball than I can play. Now, basketball is my least favorite sport. I like football and baseball better."
Song: "Cross My Heart" by George Strait
Sports: barrel racing, football, baseball
Vacation spot: St. John's, Virgin Islands (as a couple), Colorado as a family.