I am so very proud to have Veniece Wesson on our team. Veniece also known as "V"
is an accomplished writer and Forum Facilitator. Veniece has written a book entitled: Conversations in the mind of a Diva:
I’m a Grandmother, I Can’t Be a Parent Again, I’m About to Go on Vacation!
(The Story of My Great-Aunt)
By Veniece Wesson
It was the summer of 1990 in Oakland, California and Jennifer (a woman in her early sixties) was preparing to go on a cruise to the Caribbean. She was ecstatic about traveling as she had not been on a vacation in years. Not since the horrific death of her husband Earl, and her two oldest children who had all died in a fishing accident several years prior. That time had been grueling coping with the death of her two children and husband, while still raising their three children that survived the accident. In addition, she also lost her beautiful five-bedroom home, and had to move to a small two-bedroom townhome. But as time passed, she learned to embrace the new chapters of her life. Now she was entering the point in her life where she could reap the rewards of all her hard work and sacrifice as a widow and single parent she thought. Her remaining three children were now grown and were all parents themselves.
Jennifer shrieked with joy, “I am finally free to do what I want with no obligations! In a few days I will be basking in the sun on white sand beaches!” She pulled the suitcases from the back of her closet, then turned on the radio and began singing a freestyle melody,
I know I haven’t seen you in ages,
But that time has passed,
The kids are grown and I am back!”
She began to dance and just as reached to put the first article of clothing from her neatly stacked clothing on her bed, the phone rang. She saw from the caller ID that it was Jacqueline Pittman. She recognized the name, as it was her twin sister. By that time Jennifer was feeling ecstatic, she giggled. picked up the phone and answered the phone singing,
“This is Jen your girl,
About to travel to another part of the world,
Jacqueline responded in an anxious assertive tone, “Jen?” Jennifer abruptly stopped singing, she could feel it in her heart and hear it in her twin’s voice that something was deeply wrong. Nervously she asked, “What’s wrong Jackie?”
Jackie replied, “Jen… sweetie, I hate to have to call you like this. Especially when you are about to go on vacation, but things have gotten out of control. No, they are beyond out of control! They are intolerable! You see I stopped by your girls’ (daughter’s) house and…” Jackie hesitated. “Well, there is no easy way to say this but.... There is NO running water, and I mean no water at all! The bathroom is so grotesque, I have never seen anything like this, the entire house looks like something from some drug movie! Your girls are strung out on crack and they have strangers who are strung out on drugs living there with them. Your grandchildren are filthy, hungry, and from what I understand have not been to school since who knows when. They don’t even know what day of the week it is. You know that I would never give you an ultimatum unless it was serious, but if you do not come and pick your grandchildren right now, I will be forced to call Child Protective Services!”
That unsettling phone call from her twin sister Jacqueline changed the trajectory of her life forever.
Jennifer was scheduled to begin her shift at work in about 90 minutes. But when she hung up the phone with her sister, she immediately called in sick to work. After which she went to her garage and cleared out the trunk of her car to make room for her grandchildren’s belongings. She then began the twenty-mile drive to her daughter’s home not really knowing what to expect. A myriad of thoughts raced through her mind, “How did it get to this point? Did I fail as a parent? I should have seen this coming. Why did I not see this coming? What am I going to do? How am I going to take care of four young kids? How am I going to help my girls get better?” She could feel the tears beginning to burst like a sudden downpour of rain. “Okay, Jen, get a hold of yourself. You cannot go into the house like this. She said a quick prayer and then began to devise a plan, “I’ll gather my grandbabies and what I can today and then I’ll rent a U-Haul and pick up the rest of their things later.”
When she pulled up to her daughter’s residence, she gathered a small glimpse of what she would expect when she entered. A man was laying on the porch and the once immaculate yard that could have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens was now a jungle of weeds and trash. She got out of her car and walked through tall dead grass to get to the front porch. That is when she realized that the man on the porch was sleep and snoring, his clothes were soiled with dirt and he smelled like an alcohol brewery. To get to the front door, she would have to step over him as he was blocking the entrance. The man opened his blood shot eyes for a moment and mumbled, “Excuse you, dumb lady, you better watch where your stupid *** is walking.” When she entered the house, it reeked of foul smells and looked just like Jackie had said, like a crack house from a drug movie.
As Jennifer made her way through her daughters’ three-bedroom home, there were crack pipes, trash from fast food restaurants, empty bottles of hard liquor, beer cans, and used condoms randomly laying around and dirt was embedded in the carpet. She went to one of her daughter’s bedrooms where she saw her daughter Cheryl half naked and passed out the bed laying with a strange man who was complete naked. Jennifer shook her head both in heartbreak to see her daughter this way and disgusted that her own daughter would subject her own children to this. She looked for a sheet or blanket to cover her daughter with but there was none. Jennifer lovingly touched her daughter’s mangy hair and said softly, “Babygirl, I remember when your daughter was born, and you told me Mama, I will do whatever I can to give this precious gift from God a great life. What happened Cheryl?” Jennifer held back the tears, and said, “I will come back and rescue you and your sister later.”
Jennifer closed the bedroom door, turned around and then saw her other daughter, Felicia, stumble out of the bathroom. The stench of urine emanated so strongly that one could smell it as soon as the bathroom door opened. Jennifer said, “Oh, my God Felicia!” Her daughter’s lips were severely chapped and crusty. She noticed that she was wearing the blue floral dress that Jennifer had gotten her for Christmas. But the white flowers were barely noticeable and looked more greyish black. Coupled with the fact that Felicia had lost so much weight that the dress that once framed her beautifully was now hanging off her body and had rubber bands and safety pins to keep it from falling off. Felicia was so high and unaware of her surroundings, that she walked over to Jennifer and kissed her on the cheek, gave her a big hug, giggled like a little girl, and said, “Hi, Mama.” Jennifer stood there frozen in shock. “Bye Mama,” Felicia said as she went into what was once her niece’s bedroom. She then slammed the bedroom door in her mother’s face.
Jennifer had to remember her mission was to get her grandchildren, then she could help her daughters later. As Jennifer walked down the hall, she saw a couple of people lying on the dirty carpet. When she walked into the kitchen, she found her three grandchildren seated at the kitchen table eating ketchup packets from fast food restaurants. Their clothes were so filthy that they were black in color and it was obvious that they had not washed their faces or brushed their teeth in some time. When they saw their granny, they ran to her and hugged her like it was Christmas. The oldest grandchild said, “Granny, we’re starved.” She hugged them and told them that she was taking them to her house. She asked if they had anything and they each said, “No.” That is when Jennifer realized that she did not have to clear out her trunk and that she could forgo renting a U-Haul for there was nothing of any value left in the house. The television, and all appliances including the stove and refrigerator had been sold to procure drugs. On the ride back to her house, she stopped at Jack in the Box and got the children something to eat, the children were so hungry that they ravished the food like starving puppies. That is when she learned from her grandchildren that her daughters Cheryl and Felicia had sold their own children’s clothes, shoes, and toys for crack.
When Jennifer got to her house, she ran hot soapy baths in both the bathrooms in her home and immediately went to go wash their clothes. When their clothes came out of the wash, they had been so embedded with dirt that they were no longer dirty black, but more of a washed out grey, but definitely not fit to be worn. She called Jackie and asked her to stop at JC Penny and pick up her grandchildren some clothes, underwear, and flip flops just so that they would have something to wear for today as she could not leave them alone to go to the store and she could not take them in the store looking the way they did. Once they were clean. The children wore T-shirts that belonged to their deceased grandfather while waiting for their Aunt Jackie to arrive with the clothing. Jennifer then went to comb their hair, but one granddaughter’s hair was so matted that she had to cut off her long ponytails. The other grandchild’s French braids had turned to dreadlocks and had to be cut as well.
That night she sat in a chair and watched her grandchildren fall asleep peacefully in the nice warm beds in her home. She realized that it was the first time that they were clean and felt at peace in a long time. She sat in that comfortably in that chair for a while lovingly gazing at them and thinking of her own children. Her thoughts shifted. She suddenly sprung up out of the chair and hastily made it out of the room to the living room, flopped on the sofa and began to sob uncontrollably. What am I going to do? I’m not ready for this! I have plans! I had plans! She became angry with her deceased husband for dying! She became angry with her twin sister for having a child who was not a drug addict! She became angry with the drunk man who cursed at her on her daughter’s front porch! She became angry at daughters for being so irresponsible! She clutched one of the throw pillows on the sofa as if it were a life saving flotation device and she was alone at sea. She fell asleep quietly sobbing clutching that pillow.
Jennifer arose the next morning still holding that pillow, but she was clear headed. She assessed the situation, called her sister and they both agreed that it would take more than one day off from work to fix this mess. She then called her job and advised her manager that she had a family emergency. She requested to use not just the one-week vacation time for the Caribbean cruise she had planned. But also asked to use her other three weeks and any sick days as well to ensure that she would still get paid while dealing with the emergency. After she hung up with her boss, she thought, “I hope I can get a refund on for the cruise I was going to take next week!”
Jennifer only got a partial refund for the cruise. Instead of basking in the sun on white sand beaches as she had planned. She spent the next couple of weeks filling out tons of paperwork, securing medical insurance, taking her grandchildren to the doctor and the dentist, enrolling them in school, procuring clothing and a few toys, and all that entails taking over the role as parent of grandchildren because of the disheartening fact that her own grown children were drug addicts and were no longer competent to care for their own children.
In addition to dealing with the psychological and physical challenges that each child was experiencing after living in such trauma. One child had developed a severe stutter, another child had anger management issues and began bullying classmates and starting fights at school, and another had health issues with stunted growth. Jennifer worked painstakingly with each of her grandchildren individually to help them overcome their challenges, while still working full time, and never taking a vacation.
The years went by and the grandchildren began to flourish in a stable home environment. The years brought trials and triumphs along with pain and joy. As the grandchildren continued to excel under their grandmother’s care. The stutter disappeared and a confident talented young lady blossomed. The other grandchild learned to deal with her emotions instead of using her fists to talk. Sadly, Jennifer’s two daughters lost their home to foreclosure. However, they both eventually went through a drug recovery program, and one became a drug counselor. Unfortunately, the years of using drugs and consuming alcohol wreaked havoc on both Cheryl and Felicia and they both died from health complications brought on from drugs and alcohol abuse. Cheryl died abuse many years ago, and Felicia died recently.
Whereas Jennifer’s grandchildren continued to thrive. One of her proudest moments was witnessing each of them graduate high school and then go on to college. Today one granddaughter is a well-known Southern California designer who is featured in magazines. One grandchild is working on his third degree in college. Another grandchild is married and a parent of three. While the other granddaughter is an Obstetrician-gynecologist and is now a grandmother who is assisting her daughter in raising her grandchild.
Jennifer is now 91 years old and has ten great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Although she never anticipated that she would have had to raise her young grandchildren in her early sixties. She is grateful that she was able to step in and be there for her grandchildren when her children could not. Although she missed her Caribbean cruise vacation in 1990, she was able to travel extensively later in life. She also has visited the Caribbean often as one of her grandchildren bought a vacation home there. Jennifer happily resides in Northern California with one of her grandchildren.
(This is an actual account of my great aunt. Some things such as names and locations have been changed for privacy.)