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Monday, May 18, 2015

The Squandered Legacy

I was thinking about my great-grand mother's home in South Florida.  The home itself had a very storied past. My great-grandmother, was called Belle as a nickname.  She passed away from cancer, when I was about five or six years old, but I remember her faintly.  I have a few vague memories of going to church with her.  And, she didn't play and would put that switch on our asses in a heart-beat, when we acted a fool.  She was a definite character, being part Native-American and part Black.  Belle was a peculiar, tobacco-chewing woman, born and bred in Georgia. 
Belle got married and moved from Georgia to Florida, raising her sons, daughters, and one grandchild (my mother) here.  My great-grandmother, and her husband were raising my mother. This is because my mother's mom passed away shortly after giving birth to her at a young age. 
My great-grandmother's husband (my uncles' father) had died years before she did. My uncles' father actually died in that home after an extended illness.  When Belle died, she left the family home and other personal property to her children and my mother.  The beneficiaries of her estate quarreled so much about the property, that my mom and aunty relinquished their equity in the home.  One of my uncles was newly released from prison around that time. But for some strange reason he felt very entitled, as if he was king of the castle, in spite of spending so much time incarcerated.
During my early adolescence, my immediate family lived in that home for a few years, so I have some fond and bad memories of the place.  The house set up off the ground on top of some blocks.  There were several homes like it in the neighborhood.  I think it was a manufactured home moved from somewhere else.
There were many citrus and mango trees in the backyard, making it dark and dense like a jungle. There were lush cherry bushes surrounding the property.  Lizards and huge, colorful grasshoppers- the type that I never see anymore, were all over the place.  My mom says that when she was a kid, that her grandmother had a garden in the backyard.  She remembers bunny rabbits coming to eat up the vegetables that were growing back there.   I wonder what happened to the rabbits.
I used to go through some of my great-grandmother's stuff when I was about thirteen.  There was this back room in the home that was filled with boxes of her clothing, jewelry and photos.  Once in a while, when I was bored I would try on her jewelry and church hats. I even stumbled upon her obituary once. 
The home mortgage was completely paid off, so that we were able to live there, rent-free and mortgage free.  The only responsibility that my family had was to maintain the property, pay the water bill, the light bill, and the yearly property taxes levied by the county. 
Well, as I mentioned before my mother and us children lived in the home for a few years, after she separated from our father.  The first year was okay but afterwards we went through a dark period.  During the dark times, there was a lot of arguments amongst the adults of the household.
Do you think that any of the "adults" stepped up to the plate and made sure that the bills were consistently paid?  Some of my relatives had substance abuse and addiction problems.  They had no problems living in the home with no electricity and no running water.   They had jobs, but the strange thing was that, they hardly ever had any money to keep the bills paid for long.  None of the adults could agree on who would be responsible for paying the bills when they came due.  My parents managed to save up some money.  And, my mother and us kids moved out a little after it got to that point.  The conditions were just deplorable and the stench of the bathroom alone was unbearable.
There came a time when the county was threatening to foreclose on the property for overdue property taxes.  No one had any money to pay off the property taxes.  I heard that a long-time family friend actually stepped in and paid the overdue taxes and took ownership- a decision that they probably now regret. 
The home fell in dire need of repair.  It was infested with scorpions, cockroaches and rats, which were entering the home through openings in the floor. The foundation of the home was falling apart.  The roof was leaky. Even worse, the home became a neighborhood eyesore and crack house. The city eventually condemned the home as a safety hazard and put an orange sticker on the front door.  Therefore, my uncles and the other people who lived there had to find somewhere else to live.
It is a disgrace and shame that those, grown people allowed the home to fall to such disrepair.  My great-grandparents probably turned in their graves after their children lost the property and squandered their legacy.  After all, they had worked so hard to realize the American dream of home ownership. They weren't wealthy or educated people: Belle worked as a housekeeper cleaning the homes of well-to-do people and her husband ran a landscaping service.  They were also very prominent members of the community and church which they attended and helped to found. So, it is just horrible all around to see their legacy and hard work go to waste.  This is something that could have been preserved, kept in the family and handed down through generations. 
The home was demolished several years ago and the lot where the property once stood is now vacant except for shrubs and grass.  I believe that except for sentimental value, the property is not worth much, financially.  The property is now encumbered with several liens by several creditors.  Therefore, it can't be bought or sold without paying off those debts and clearing the liens. 

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