05 June 2020

Ashes to Ashes

My grandmother (Mayre) passed away at the end of May five years ago. She did so in the house that she and my grandfather built themselves, room by room, after WWII, on a piece of property that was two doors down from the house she grew up in (and her mother). My dad grew up in that house and it was the place I woke up every Christmas morning when I was growing up.

The last couple of years of her life, she had declined physically and mentally. At one point, one of her sisters (Betty) decided to move in to "help." Betty brought along her boyfriend who had oft been in prison, and a rotating collection of characters she picked up here and there. When my mother or I called, Mayre would sometimes tell us that she didn't know who was in the house, and more importantly, she didn't want them there. My mother had seen Mayre at Christmas, and the night she spent in the house was not a good one, with strange people hiding out of sight in the second story of the house and Betty trying to keep a lid on Mayre.

I had gone to visit in January of 2015. I went with the intention of trying to get Betty out of the house. You have to understand that Betty had established quite a pattern. After her second husband died, she refused to allow any of his children to have any of what he left behind...not the house, not the money, nothing. And when her older sister moved in after her very wealthy husband died, Betty also did her best to keep that man's sons from getting any of the estate (I don't think they were very successful). Betty also took the house of her second husband's mother. And mortgaged and lost her home that she had owned with her first husband. We don't know what she did with all the money she had, both in cash and what she got from selling the properties, but she was broke. And now she was after my grandmother. At one point, Betty had said to my mother, "I thought Mayre would have more money!" Nope. Just the house and my grandfather's tiny pension and some social security. And Betty would bring home all these stray people to stay in the house. Sigh.

So, I went to try and figure out how to get my grandmother to a safe place. And, dear reader, if there are any of you still reading this blog, I have to tell you that I failed. I hired an attorney. I took pictures. I got my grandmother to sign a release for her medical records and the doctor's office still refused to turn them over, saying my grandmother was just sad that her husband and son had died and there was nothing wrong with her (yes, she was sad...but there was still a lot wrong with her physical and mental health, too). We filed what paperwork we could, but to no avail. A few months later, Mayre was gone.

My mother and I went back to Kansas City a few days later, hence the Mustang in the picture from the tweet from this day (full list here). We went to try and retrieve some things from the house that we'd been promised by Mayre. But Betty had one more trick up her sleeve. When we walked in, she produced a document that she'd had Mayre sign (and someone notarize) that the house and all of its contents were hers. This was not Betty's first rodeo, remember? She'd taken a lot of property from a lot of people, and unfortunately, we were next. Betty did decide to let us have some small things...and some junk she'd pulled out of the attic. While my mother distracted her, I grabbed a variety of things and hid them out in the car. I ended up with a couple of piano player rolls, a book, some art glass, and some fabulous jewelry that we made Betty hand over.

I wish I could tell you it's the end of the story. It's not.

Just before Christmas 2018, I got a message through Facebook asking if I was Mayre's granddaughter. The person contacting me was a woman my age who, as a girl, had played with me when I would visit my grandmother. Her family had lived next door to my grandmother for years, and now her son lived in the house. She wanted me to know that my grandmother's house had burned a couple of months prior to that and was about to be razed. Betty had been living there with her collection of people, one of whom got mad at her one night and started a fire upstairs.

Betty had told the neighbor family that my mother and I were dead...that we had been killed in a car accident several years ago. She told other lies, too. There just seemed to be no bottom to it all. I reached out to my dad's cousin, the daughter of the another sister to Betty, who said that last she heard, Betty was homeless and living in some sort of shelter...but still trying to scam her last remaining sibling out of home and money.

My mother visited the address that Christmas. The house was in bad shape and unsafe to go into. She took a few photos. This past Christmas, it was just an empty lot. You'd never know there was a magical home there for decades and three very happy people who built every part of it and lived in it.

The whole thing has been awful.

I do, however, wear my grandmother's jewelry quite often. I had all of her crystal restrung and rebuilt into new pieces. I see those few items I was able to save from the house and smile. The big tree trunk you can see in the "after" photo above is the spot where all of the ashes from my grandfather, grandmother, and father are scattered. It's a black walnut tree, and yes, I have a walnut from it. So, it's not a total loss. Some things will live on. And I am not sad to think that Betty will not be one of them.


Jenny said...

Wow. I don't really have anything more to say. That is such an astounding story. It would be fascinating fiction but must be so difficult, even now, in reality.

anne_mayre said...

I'm sorry that you and your mother had to deal with this during a delicate time or rather any time. On a more positive note, what caught my eye was your grandmother's name. My first middle name is Mayre, passed through my maternal grandmother's family. I have never encountered another person that has known that name!