Monday, January 30, 2012

R.I.P., Ms. Vickie

I would be remiss to let this month go by without writing about Ms. Vickie, a woman I greatly admired.  I first met her in March 2000 when I went to interview her for my first CASA case at her cramped, dark apartment, off MLK in Atlanta.

Until their mother dropped off her two great-nephews, ages 3 and 5, Ms. Vickie lived alone.  She had no children of her own and never married.  After a few days of trying to contact their mother, Ms. Vickie realized that she wasn't coming back to pick up her sons.  So Ms. Vickie filed a case in Juvenile Court to get legal authority to take care of these boys.  She really stepped up to the plate when she decided to keep the boys with her.  It would have been easier to let them loose in the foster care system, but she didn't want to do that.

So this single lady on disability raised these boys for the last 12 years.  It wasn't ever easy for her - money was always a big issue as the parents of these boys weren't inclined to pay child support.  I'm not sure how she was able to manage but I know it was a struggle and a source of constant stress for her.   She always drove an old, rattletrap of a car that never seemed to be working right. She even learned how to do many repairs herself with secondhand parts and would often explain to me how she completed the repairs, which was always way too complicated for me.

With her own high school diploma framed and prominently displayed on her living room wall, Ms. Vickie stressed education with the boys and was more than a "hands on parent".  She watched them like a hawk, and they could get away with very little.  She encouraged them to be in sports and ROTC with her hope being that the older boy would join the Marines when he graduated this spring and the younger boy, a great student, would go to college.  She was far from perfect.  She was a hoarder and her house looked like the ones you see on that hoarding show on tv, actually pretty scary. But she made up for this with good parenting values, and I realized there were some things I just needed to overlook.

Over the years, we became unlikely friends as we bonded over the boys' best interests. She would call me every couple of weeks to report on the boys, both good and bad. Sometimes we would commiserate over how hard headed teenagers can be. Sometimes we'd rejoice together over an award or accomplishment.  These calls continued, even after I left Atlanta.  I still wanted to know how the boys were doing, and she still wanted to tell me.

A few weeks ago, she left me a voicemail on January 9th.  I didn't get a chance to call her back that day, and when I called back the next day, the older boy answered her cell phone.  He told me she had a heart attack and died just that afternoon, January 10th. Such a sad day - she was too young (a few years younger than me) to go this way and to miss seeing the fruits of her labors by watching the boys turn into the fine adults I hope they will be.

I somehow hoped that I had heard wrong on the phone and that she would be calling me back soon, but it didn't happen.  Instead, her brother, who lived across the street in their small Georgia town, called me to let me know he would be taking care of the boys. I've never met him but hope that he can fill the big, empty shoes that Ms. Vickie left behind.  Rest in Peace, Ms. Vickie.  You will be missed.

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