Day of Diaspora
One day when I was in the fourth grade, I was pulled out of my classroom and hauled off to Juvenile Hall. But initially I was summoned to the principal’s office. There I found my mother and my sister, River, waiting for me.
I wasn’t in any trouble. My mother had just taken River out of high school, and had now arrived to pluck me away from my grade school. In the car, Mom put on the kind of sales pitch one would need to put on, to convince a child not to be frightened.
“Guess, what son?! Today you and your sister get to go to Juvenile Hall! That’s a real fun place, where you get to play all kinds of fun games. They’ll treat you real nice there, and you’ll get to make a lot of new friends.”
“Yeah, Tippy, you’re gonna love Juvenile Hall,” my sister chimed in. She didn’t want me worrying, either. River always looked after me, and was trying to lure me into a positive mood. But I’d heard of Juvenile Hall before, and had always thought it was a place where bad children were sent. I said as much.
“No, good kids can go to Juvenile Hall, too,” my mother corrected. And you’re a good boy. They have a special place there for good boys and girls, where you’ll be treated very nicely.”
By the time we arrived at Juvenile Hall, my mother and sister had me convinced that this place was better than Disneyland. Why, I couldn’t wait to get inside and enjoy all the wonders of Juvenile Hall.
My sister and I sat on a bench, at Juvie, and watched my mother speak with an official-looking person. He was frowning and shaking his head. I overheard him saying something about how these kids didn’t belong here. And then my mother came back and led us away.
I felt disappointed. They’d done such a good job at selling me on Juvenile Hall, that I started complaining after my mother broke the “bad” news to me.
She took us home to a darkened house. My stepfather was no longer there. I was told that he and my mom were getting divorced. That was the best news I’d heard in a long time, as my stepfather was a very abusive man. My heart sang. But my other sisters and my brother weren’t at home, either.
This was the day of diaspora, for my family. My mother had five children, and this was the last day all five of us would live together under the same roof.
Over all the decades that have ensued, I’ve been able to piece together snippets of information that have slipped out, here and there, to decoct a basic idea of what was going on at that time, and unravel this family secret.
It seemed my mother had come up with an “ingenious” idea for making money.
She had opened up a bank account in two different banks, with very small deposits. I’ll call them Bank A and Bank B. Then she wrote a large, rubber check from Bank A, depositing it in Bank B. Before the check could bounce, she wrote another large, rubber check from Bank B, back to Bank A, to cover the first rubber check. In this way, she quickly built up large phantom balances in both banks.
Then she went on a spending spree, and paid for it by writing large, rubber checks. When businesses contacted her banks, they received confirmation that the checks were covered, due to the large rubber checks she’d previously deposited. And so they accepted these bad checks.
This is a crime known as check kiting and paper hanging.
Of course, my mom’s house of cards eventually caved in, and she had to face the music. I know she was required to pay back the money she stole. But I also suspect she had to do a small amount of jail time, though she’s never admitted to this. That’s why she tried to place my sister and me into Juvenile Hall. She needed someone to take care of us during her incarceration.
But Juvenile Hall wouldn’t have us. My sister and I were not criminals, so they could not legally take us in. Why my mother ever got the idea that they would house us, I don’t know. Maybe she wasn’t thinking very clearly during those trying times.
Mom ended up calling her parents and confessing her crime. And my grandparents agreed to take care of River and me, until she got out of jail and had enough money to take us back.
The god of irony and goddess of karma were playing cruel tricks on my mother and grandparents, on this day of diaspora. Family history was repeating itself. That’s because shortly after my mother was born, her parents had also left her with her grandparents.
It seems my mom’s parents didn’t want a child. They were party animals and alcoholics. And children got in the way of all the partying they wanted to do. They had no time for raising children, what with all the booze that waited for them, at the bars.
But then, due to the unavailability of birth control in those days, they had more children, and my mom’s mother needed a babysitter if she was going to keep up with her husband’s barhopping. So at age 10, my mother was retrieved from her grandparents’ care and forced to become a nanny to her younger brothers.
This was a bitter experience for my mother, which she never forgot or forgave. She’d bonded with her grandparents, and now she’d been ripped away from them. She blamed her mother for this, and her relationship with my grandmother would be rocky for the remainder of my grandmother’s life.
Yet now my mother had to eat crow and place my sister and me under the care of my grandmother. The same grandmother who’d placed her under the care of her grandparents. Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and now my mother was doing exactly what had been done to her, when she was a child. This fallen fruit was bitter and rotten to the taste, when she picked it up off the ground.
It was bitter and rotten for me also. My heart felt lonely and empty, like a vacuum had sucked away everything that made life worth living. I was only nine, going on ten, and I missed my mother terribly while under my grandparents’ care. They were actually good people, in their own way, but they weren’t my mother, and every child needs their mother, no matter what sort of crime she may have committed.
But life is change, and everyone must reckon with the forces of great change at some point in their lives. I now had somebody new looking after me, whom I’d only known casually up until this point. My grandmother.
The months that followed began an on-again, off-again relationship with this grandmother that would last for many years. It was a relationship of crossing paths and give and take. Of mutual rescue through the storms of life, and mutual friendship and animosity. Over the years, we would care for each other, and we would battle each other.
And I must admit, she was a tough old bird to care for and battle against. I couldn’t have done it without my wife. In fact, she took on the greater portion of this challenge, by far. This is a series of posts about some of those cares and battles, with a lady whom my wife and I came to refer to, as the Queen of the Silver Dollar.
This is the first installation of my nine-part series, The Queen of the Silver Dollar. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 2: My Barhopping Grandparents.