Over the river and through the woods…

To Grandmother’s house we went!

We had a family emergency this weekend. My grandmother is suffering from mid-range dementia and has been for several months. She’s been falling a lot, having trouble with word choices and train of thought, and has been hallucinating for at least two months. She sees her own mother, who has been dead for 30 years. She asked me last week if I’d been there (I hadn’t). She also has been seeing people in her house who go up and down the stairs, sleep on the upstairs beds, drink beer and go in and out without talking to her. My mother and sister have been planning to go in July and spend several weeks cleaning out her house, selling and giving away furniture, and then selling the house and driving her to Temple, where my cousin has found an assisted living facility near their home, one of her daughters, and that branch of the family.

Well, turns out that while the visions of me and Nanny weren’t real, the other people very much were. My mother oversees her bank account and pays all her bills online (after the Great Jamaican Lottery Scam of 2008, she took control of everything), and she found a series of checks written for cash. There were checks for $20, $40, $60, and a lot of them. The check images showed that they had been made out in someone else’s handwriting and signed by Grandma. Friday, we caught her on the phone at the same time that an unknown woman was in her house, and we could hear her talking, so we knew she was real, and Grandma couldn’t explain who she was. Assuming this was the check-writer, my sister kept Grandma on the phone while my mother called the police. When the police arrived and knocked on the door, the woman realized it was a cop and ran out the back door before Grandma knew what was happening. Mom put Grandma’s maid, Martha, on call to come over periodically to watch for suspicious activity. The police said they would patrol more frequently, in addition to the welfare checks they’ve been doing.

Then while we were at Winstar for my mother’s birthday Saturday, we got a series of disturbing phone calls from her maid that comes once a week. First, she found that all of Grandma’s good jewelry was missing from her dresser. The large upstairs TV was downstairs on the kitchen table. Then, her giant keyring was missing (with keys to the car, house, and storage shed). Then, and this was the most disturbing thing, she found “a bag of cocaine” upstairs on one of the beds, or at least that’s what we got through her broken English. My mother had her call the police, and they came and found burned spoons and other paraphernalia. They did a test, found drug residues, and took it all into evidence. The frustrating part was that Grandma not only had no idea what was going on, but she didn’t see the problem in any of it. I don’t think she understood that these people were criminals; I think they “befriended” her and convinced her to supply them with cash, all the while turning her home into a crack house and emptying it of valuables, presumably to buy more drugs.

We spent the afternoon amongst the slot machines, formulating a game plan. Mom coordinated with Martha, the maid, to have one of her trustworthy friends spend the night with her to ward off the criminals while we decided how to proceed. I think it was at this point that we got a call from Martha saying that a big, mean butch lady came up to Grandma, who was sweeping on the screened-in back porch, and started yelling at her. “Hey, Jane, you bitch, you owe me $20 for cleaning the garage yesterday!” The woman saw Martha just inside the door and, thinking she was Check Lady, started to come in. When she realized it wasn’t Check Lady, she ran off. Martha described the woman to the police, and they knew who she was, so apparently they’ve had problems with her before.

Lindsey convinced us to leave that night, as once the drugs were introduced to the equation, things got a lot more dire. We were afraid that once they realized their drugs were gone (and we weren’t certain if there had been a significant amount or just the residues), they would retaliate and hurt her. So we drove home from Winstar, packed clothes and a couple of guns, and my parents, Lindsey, her boyfriend Shea, and I left for Harlingen around midnight. It was a miserable night in the car. There was no traffic, and we stopped only 3 times, so we made it in 8.5 hours. Mom called Grandma in the morning and let her know we were around the corner so she could unlock the doors and let us in. We met the woman who had been there overnight, but she spoke NO English, so we got no information at all regarding anything that may have been going on. My mother paid her, and someone picked her up. As Grandma got ready for church, Mom explained why we were there, and that we were going to pack up her house and take her home with us. It was heartbreaking to see her face fall when my mother told her to tell her friends at church that she was moving. It’s hard to tell, even now that we’ve got her home, how much she understands about why she has to move, the danger she was in, and the fact that she’s not going back. Since we got back, I’ve gotten out of her that she woke up one day without her rings, which means they were stealing jewelry straight off of her fingers while she was asleep. We’re all a litte shocked that this was all going on without her understanding, and that there was no violence taken against her.

We got boxes and started packing things up – china, the jewelry they hadn’t taken, TVs, heirlooms, clothes, and medications. Grandma came home, and I went through her entire closet piece by piece, making her decide what to keep and what to take to Goodwill. She’s a packrat, and there were clothes she didn’t even know she had. I got rid of two large boxes full of clothes and bags and packed everything else.  She was incapable of even packing an overnight bag. Trying to get her to pick a pair of underwear, socks and a shirt to wear the next day was beyond frustrating. Dad rented a U-Haul, and we went to Los Fresnos (halfway to Padre Island) to pick it up. Shea, Dad and Lindsey loaded up the good furniture (including the piano!), which was no small task in 100-degree heat, especially the pieces that had to come down the narrow stairwell (PIVOT!).

We spent the night there Sunday. The lock was so old that the locksmith couldn’t replace it that day, so it was a little nervewracking to sleep right in front of a door the criminals could open at will. The next morning, we finished up the packing. There is a man in the neighborhood who owns several properties and who checks on Grandma periodically, and we chatted with him about the possibility of buying the house. We gave him a spare key, and he promised to check on the house every few days and look for broken windows. There’s also a man across the street who has cameras up on his roof to catch criminals in the act and help the police with evidence for their cases. He knew the large woman we described and said she’s just a rotten, mean, nasty person who goes around asking everyone for money and lives in some ratty apartments about a half-mile away. He said he’d keep an eye out and would be happy to look through his footage for any people going into/out of Grandma’s house. We left about 5 p.m., and surprisingly, Grandma didn’t put up a fight at all. Dad drove the U-Haul, Mom drove the Tahoe with Grandma and me, and Shea drove Grandma’s car with Lindsey. I took a turn at the U-Haul for a couple of hours, and it was really scary. With the drivable ones, you don’t have a rearview mirror, and it’s really disconcerting. We had to stop more than usual, and we couldn’t go as fast. We got back around 3:30 a.m., and we didn’t get to bed until after 5. We slept late Tuesday, and I didn’t get up until 1! Grandma slept until about 4:30 – we really tired her out. We spent the day unloading the U-Haul and finding places for boxes.

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It was completely horrible and exhausting, but she is safe, and that was the objective. My mother has been sorting things out – getting her a dentist appointment, getting her broken glasses fixed, finding all her medications, etc. We’re not sure of the next step; there will be a trip to the beach in July, and packing up the rest of the house before and afterward. We’ve really already done the hardest part, so the rest shouldn’t be too bad (relatively).

I’m really proud of my family. In a pinch, we did what we had to to, and we even entertained each other in the process. At one point, my grandmother showed us all how she dries her clean, washed underwear by attaching them to a moving ceiling fan. That was fun. Lindsey cleaned out the kitchen cabinets and gave away buckets of food to the Salvation Army. She also found about 3 large trash bags full of expired food, including about 50 Jellos. That was fun.

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I spent a good deal of time in the car with my dad, the day after Father’s Day, and we plotted kayaking and hiking adventures. We chatted about my future financial strategy – investments, savings, 401Ks, buying property, etc. It was amongst crappy circumstances, but I was thankful to not only have my father still alive, in my life, and married to my mother, but to have a father that is so willing to take cross-state car trips in the middle of the night, replace locks, find U-Hauls, move pianos, and so capably take care of and protect his family. Happy Crappy Father’s Day, Dad! Here’s to a better one next year!

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2 Responses

  1. I am shocked at the craziness that ensued for you and your family with your grandmother. Y’all are so great to team up and take control of such an ugly situation. I can only imagine what her neighborhood folk thought when they saw all the “White” peolpe roll up and clean house.

  2. i’m so glad it all turned out okay. so scary!

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