a very personal story…

In a Corner of Los Altos

I just returned from a visit to my step-mom living in Los Altos California. I’m equally concerned as I am disturbed about the development of the last year since my mothers 2nd husband of 18 years past away. Clearly, now at the age of 84 my mom is distraught and discovering loneliness. She has expressed numerous times how much she would love for me to re-locate from Los Angeles to her family home, the grandfather’s house I grew up in as a little boy. It is one of the earliest original constructions from 1945 area, cuddly, with a large backyard – one of the few places in this upscale neighborhood – still, without a pool.

Marian is well off; better than she realizes. She rents out a second property on Oakhurst, to a family of four from Iran that lives there for quite a long time. They seem nice and kind on the surface and have stepped up to the plate when mom needed company. Tom, the husband fixes up the rented house in exchange of rent reduction, Homeira, his wife sometimes shares traditional tea and cookies with Marian. When I stopped by in the past – on my mom’s request to check on the property; to mediate when new appliances or paint work was needed.

Recently the relationship with her tenants changed. At first, Marian expressed how much she likes cooking for them, regularly takes the entire family out for dinners and was even invited for Thanks Giving over there, where she met their extended family.

“We all bonded. These are lovely people, although they are from over there…” my mom would express by pointing with her eyes beyond the garden fence.

When she started to share stories of purchasing elaborate Christmas presents and even financed vacation trips for them, my warning bells went off. I have never received a phone call nor a postcard from these strange new “friends”. As much as I appreciate their kindness in spending time with mom, I am equally alarmed about their constant attendance in everything my mother recently does and talks about. They advise her in all she does, she explains!

After mom’s second husband Michael past away late 2011 she displayed a familiar fragile sense of reality – the same way she had displayed a deleterious sense for security in her past; fragile to malicious influences after a serious traumatic life episode. I had hurried back home from Europe to her bedside, after a cancer scare in 1993 where doctors had to remove fifteen(15) feet of her small intestine. Her renter then, Michael, alarmed me that my mother might not survive the operation.  She did pull through and married him – her ex renter. Michael became my step dad – under protest from his family and close friends. Turns out Michael was the best thing that happened to my step-mom, super protective, quietly holding the strings and finances together and balancing the two of them through the electronic and political boom of the last two decades. Even while he fought lung cancer himself and physically melted away in front of our eyes, he shielded her from the reality of a much crueler world and lovingly supported an utopia of this safe corner on Concord Avenue in Los Altos. Turns out, he was quite her man!

Mom was devastated when he died; although she did display a familiar odd sense or lack of empathy; She could not understand why Michael’s daughter from a previous marriage would inherit money and refused to pay her out. A grieving Marian expressed openly how much she disliked my step-sister Michelle. I encouraged her to do the right thing and promised to visit more often. I never expected much emotion beyond her stern perspectives and she can appear insensitive to a stranger. Her life has been sheltered, she is actually a lucky woman, physically healthy just a little slowing on the mind and unaware of conniving people.

Tom and Homeira quickly realized thire opportunity on hand and I believe they sincerely intended at first to help mom through her adjustment of a single life in her house. Marian is a lovely person to be around with, cooks up a storm, functions independent on the surface and is routinely orderly. She loved carrying for her husband, baking, shopping and they arranged many travel plans together. The extensively wandered the world on water and on land. He was a good husband. My mom lacks a sense of reality about the electronic evolution (except kitchen appliances…!) – she had relied on her husband for financial decisions, political views and foremost to be guarded from anyone taking advantage of her wealth. Mom still seems clueless about the fact that she owns two properties that are fully paid off and have a property net-worth super-exceeding the house value build atop. Mom has always paid her bills on time does not lease nor barrow and can comfortably afford to travel several times a year abroad; cruise ships, Europe tours and vacations in Mexico’s time share. With her husband death came the reality of loosing a companion, a soul purpose of living a joyful day.

My step dad, month before his death would take me aside during my visits and make sure I knew that everything was in order, should either one of my parents fall ill or even pass on. He was aware of my colorful relationship with step-mom and encouraged to never forget a birthday, mother’s day and little “thank you” cards for special occasions.

With Michael gone she developed a vacuum to care for someone, cook, share and mother others. She loves to travel in company and takes tons of pictures. Myself, working as a private chef with uncertain schedule, would only sporadically visit. I moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago to be closer to my birthplace; still distant enough to respect our individual life styles. We don’t have much in common and never talk about the past…

Throughout last year I became aware that the renters on Oakhurst had taken on a greater responsibility and at first I was pleased.

“They are here, Raphael – when I need them…”

When my mom expressed that she had communicated with Homeira and Tom that they should be on the family vacation time-share, I tried to find out who they really are. I knew little about our long-term renters on Oakhurst and I know my gullible mom can be super generous with any strangers that gains her trust. Mother did not make sense when explaining their constant presence.
She refused to have a conversation about caution and reason – Marian has always displayed a stubborn and narrow view funneled by her perspective of correct. Mixed in with this qunundrum her sad new reality of repetitive story telling; signs of her mind bouncing off track. Within she did express clearly that she feels left alone. I encourage her to pick up hobbies, travel to places she had not seen and get involved with charities, church even was discussed…

Two month ago, January 2013, Marian sparsely framed her idea of changing her last will.  Alarmed by my ailing mother’s words – I hurried to come out to Los Altos and spend two days with her. I brought my longtime buddy Ulf with me, a family friend whom she loves to be around with.

The very first hour at home she put the stunning news onto the table. She had already changed the family documents of inheritance and generously assigned the House to her new friends, Tom and Homeira, our renters. Mom invited me to tag along to the new lawyers to sign the will! While driving she expressed that our family attorney had refused to change her will as requested. Instead, Tom and Homeira knew a law-friend and he had advised and guided her in this change of minds. Mom even expressed:

“You are a Buddhist, son – I’m sure you agree with my decision!”

“No – I don’t”

“Well, It’s a done deal”

“We must talk…?”

“Look, Raphael – the gas prices have gone up…”

At the law firm I shook hands with the financial advisor whom had helped drafting mom’s new legal documents. There is a lawfirm in Los Altos supporting greedy people pilfering properties and inheritance with absolutely no suggestive reasons. I could not avoid pondering what under-the-table deal had been spurred this questionable officially authorized action. Clearly, when hearing my mom’s story they must have realized this confused woman might acted impulsive and might not be in full capacity of her mind to drastically write her entire possessions over to her renters… While her son was sitting in the hallway…

I’m stunned about the insensitivity this lawyer displayed when lured by making a quick dollar. My mom paid them a thick check for their assistance.

Next off, my mom invited me to go over to Tom and Homeira for tea and cookies. It had to be the most awkward of moments in my this life. Here I sat, freshly expunged of my inheritance while Homeira served me cookies (baked by my mom…) and Tom called a few times, being late for our meeting. Under great protest from Marian he did show up. When he arrived, accepting the documents. He was uncomfortable and aware of the bizarreness of our tea gathering.

No word was exchanged about the yellow envelope on the table. I was merely there for a friendly chat over tea and cookies.

I was introduced to their daughter, while satirically amused, agreeing to pose for a family picture: me, the Hollywood star-chef, as my Marian had introduced me.

My mind was racing: Yes, little doll – how will your parents explain to you how they acquired this house you live in?  Are you going to remember the nice gentlemen that took a picture with you the day he got cheated out of the family will?

My confused mother showed absolutely no sign of being aware of the awkwardness of this dilemma. She encouraged me to eat another cookie and was so proud that now her property would be in the hands of good people that would never sell it and take care of it – for eternity.

Dishonesty is never the foundation of building a happy family. You must have had a hidden discussion between yourselves about how much is too much…

To the renters at Oakhurst: You calculated your chances! Instead, and this is where your actions are so painfully atrocious: You did not just aimed for the house you lived in and paid rent for: You aimed for Marian’s home. Tom and Homeira; you underhandedly convinced my mother that she needed to give you both properties – with a very foul excuse, that one of the properties is needed to generate the income to pay for the property taxes of both places. The way Marian thinks… Clearly, mother is discombobulated and her clear judgment has slipped away. You wisely withheld sharing the monetary reality that a mortgage free property lot could perfectly finance and even guarantee a grand rebuild. You have no sincere intention to preserve my mothers idea of eternity. You are not a friend of the family; You merely charmed up a kind woman under false pretense. We have never exchanged a card, a message a sign of caring beyond my need to validate your renters needs for a carpet fix or new appliance on Oakhurst Avenue.

It’s a valuable gamble and invitingly you charge for the full jackpot. You even ended up on the vacation time-share! Any clear thinking mind cannot avoid the idea that now – that you are the sole inheritance of my family fortune – my mom’s life might be at serious danger. You gained access to her home, her finances and her trust and you better keep convincing her that I am not a caring son. This is your only defense in this sad display of corruption!

To all the neighbors, trying so hard not becoming involved and shying away from knowing each other: We all deserve protection from such thieves. You all hold a responsibility to care about each other, know each other – show compassion and extend kind gestures. I once played as a child on the streets of Concord Avenue, a cheerful, unconcerned child amongst neighbors that now raise families of their own – on that very street. Most original families have left. Most houses have changed: my family home is the spitting image of the original building from after WWII – stuck in time. Mom kept it in mint condition. Instead of building walls and trying to live sheltered existence we could equally choose to be neighbors again. We all age through the hurried chances of making a living, raising a family, preserving our retirement. My estranged step-mom is lonely on your busy street. Now, victim to elder abuse. It is not her that keeps me away from Los Altos; it is that precise fear of having to live her loneliness, in your neighborhood – unconcerned neighbors, uninterested about the crimes next door – that renders my decision to move back home impossible. We have become sadly carless!

While mom slips deeper into her own world of reality, it is oddly a safe place for her to be. In this blend of her childhood memories, the stories of that street she lived on the fading memories of past time, including me, the adapted son she does not know how to fully embrace. Throughout all her painful rejections, I car for her. Like the trees that grew old and thick on the roadside, she shows the signs and scares of many years of compassion, working hard to maintain a living, supported wars, lost her children, fought illness, shared pleasures, cheered American highlights, cried, voted, survived cancer and proudly displayed holiday décor, outlived many friends and two husbands… She is a part of my history – not the best maybe but she is a kind soul. Marian needs protection, like a child that plays in those streets.

Do not let people like Tom and Homeira sneak into your house. Their lack of communicating any sense of my mom’s confused actions marks their dubious intention criminal. They are smart and manipulative. It is a common crime these days. I would have accepted my generous mom giving them their rented house to live in, but their greed super-exceeds my Buddhist kindness! They even robbed me of being generous at will!

I might not have much of a chance to change my mothers stubborn will – but I do have the inborn freedom to share my story as I see it!

Update July 2018:

Mom remarried two years ago – a guy she met on a cruise trip. Although she has reached out with more Lawson-Greeting-Cards on my email and called on my birthday; I have stayed away from further interactions. I’m estranged to her and her behavior and I find it utterly weird that the “new husband” shares absolutely no interest in introducing himself to the “son of his wife” – so, I make up my own modus operandi why my gullible, old mom who got hitched yet again with another dubious character… Let it go!

chef raphael