AN ENLARGED FAMILY by Shirley Palmer

There was a family living up our block, four houses from us. which had three kids, the Mom and a big German shepherd. The father had died when the youngest was just one year old of A-plastic anemia, a blood disorder.  Our street was just one block long, so everybody knew everybody on the block. We were friends, but not close with this family as we were with others.  However we did have something in common – we went to the same church. The Mother worked two jobs trying to provide by driving a school bus every day and working as financial secretary for a couple of churches.

The Mother took ill and was hospitalized. I remember going down to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank on Thanksgiving Day to visit her.  She was in isolation, so we had to “suit up” before entering her room.  She looked terrible – all yellow and even the whites of her eyes were bright yellow.  I’d never seen anything like it before. We chit-chatted, making small talk and finally she told us she was worried about the kids. I told her they were doing fine; that all the neighbors were keeping a close eye on them, but we’d make it a priority to check more often. Her kids were then a 17 year old girl named Louise who had her driver’s license, a 15 year old girl and a 13 year old boy.

One day I got a call from our minister telling me that somebody had reported this family to child welfare as living alone without an adult present and they were about to step in. He asked me what were the chances of the three kids staying with us at night. The church would furnish their dinners, but they had to sleep at our house. My husband and I talked it over and said “Absolutely” – without another thought. So within 24 hours my family changed and I now had one 17 yr old, two 15 yr olds (one ours), and two 13 yr. olds (one ours). We had a family meeting and set up our new schedule. The kids would be in our house by 8 P.M. at night. They would have showered and arrived with their clean clothes for the next day. I would get up, pack lunches for all five kids, make their breakfast and send them off to school. After school Louise would drive them down to the hospital to see their mother, then they’d come home, do their homework and eat the dinner which would be furnished by the church, clean up their kitchen and be at our place at 8 P.M. It sounded perfect, but slowly some of the church meals slipped away and they liked my cooking. So soon they were there with us for dinner as well. We put the two girls in our den on the hideabed couch, and got a folding bed to put in our son’s room for the boy to sleep on. Then their mother took a turn for the worst and was transferred out to Loma Linda Hospital out near Redlands, which meant the kids had no way of visiting her except on weekends.

In the meantime my food budget had gone down the tubes! It’s amazing what three extra teenagers can do to the food supply. Even though I was working full time,  this came as quite a financial blow. I was shopping at the day-old bakeries, such as Wonder Bread which wasclose to our house. where you got the bread at just about half price. Making five lunches and breakfast (not counting  my husband and I) took more supplies than I was used to! I also became an immediate master of the casserole:one that fed a lot!

Another memory I have: we’d been out on a Sunday outing water skiing. We came home and the girls were in my daughter’s bedroom, horsing around, when they were supposed to be getting ready for bed. All of a sudden I heard a scream!  It was Loretta, the 15 year old.  She had dislocated her arm at the shoulder trying to get her pajamas on. She was screaming in pain. I had no medical permission slip from their mother! Yikes!! I quickly typed out a medical permission note, had Louise (the oldest) sign it, and off we went to the hospital. We went to Holy Cross E.R. in San Fernando, and after a long wait they asked who the family doctor was and the girls told him. Well, we were told we had to go down to Burbankto St. Joseph’s Hospital, as that is where he practiced. So we bundled off again. Each hospital put me through the 3rd degree about who I was and why  I was bringing this girl in, if I wasn’t related to her. We finally got her treated and back home about 3 a.m., and up for our regular schedule by 6. Then I had to take her to an orthopedic doctor for follow-up treatments.

We tried to plan some family outings on Sunday (that didn’t cost much) to get them out having fun. We did picnics in the park with baseball games. We had a small boat and went water skiing out at Lake Piru.  Each time we’d pack a big lunch and take it with us. Things weren’t looking good for their mother around Easter time. Then I remember on Mother’s Day we went water skiing to try to keep the kids from thinking about what day it was. She died shortly after Mother’s Day, at the age of 40. We had them with us over a year on and off, as things worked out.

During the months I had been helping Louise pay their monthly bills, which included a life insurance policy. I never pried into their financial affairs, but after the death of their mother I had to become more involved. Much to my horror I discovered that the life insurance policy we had been paying the premium on each month did not list the kids as beneficiary. The mom had been married very briefly about eight years before and it didn’t work out, so they divorced. But she had never changed her policy. I was just absolutely sick when I saw it. She left no will so things were a real mess. I finally took the kids up to an attorney who I had done a lot of escrow work for us, a really neat man, who I knew could help them.

Their bachelor uncle (their Father’s brother) tried moving in with them for awhile, but that was a total disaster. Their mother had two brothers. One was a youth probation officer in Redlands, but he had two kids and said he couldn’t take them in. The other brother was a minister in Oregon and he just point blank said “No Way”! So now Louise was 18 and it was legal for them to sleep in their home, but they were at our house most of the time as we had become their family. Every Saturday during my washing and house-cleaning I’d be interrupted to run down the street and stop a full-on fight among the “Mob” ( as I started calling them!) I kept trying to tell them that all they had was each other, that they should love each other and get along! When they were with us they’d argue, but nothing violent, like when they got out on their own.

The bad ex-husband took all the insurance money,so the kids didn’t get a dime. They were able to sell their house and not only enter college, but graduate. Louise graduated with a degree in music, but now works for an attorney in Century City. Loretta is a Registered Nurse and works for UCLA out in the San Gabriel Valley, selling UCLA services to doctors. Philip is the Assistant City Planner of Palm Desert. We still have close contact with all three, but sadly they do not have close contact with each other. They are all in their 50’s now, so what can I say, except I tried my BEST! I did learn from them that you can’t force siblings to love each other, if they don’t want to. They were three individual personalities and they just didn’t blend, or even make an effort to blend. I’ll never understand their thinking, but they are happy in their individual (and I might add) separate lives.

Explore posts in the same categories: Life Story, Life Story Class, students' writing

2 Comments on “AN ENLARGED FAMILY by Shirley Palmer”

  1. Parice Lynn Says:

    Very emotional and well written story, I can relate to. Keep up the good work!

  2. Marlene Palmer Says:

    I truly am blessed to have such a wonderful, loving and caring mother-in-law. This story touched my heart. The love that you and Dad have is truly amazing. God bless you both for all you have done for others.

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