Many of my readers are familiar with my thoughts regarding divorce. I have very strong feelings about dividing and separating families because as a child, our family was literally split in a lopsided division of children and parents that would separate my sister, brother and I from not only our stepsister Tammy but also our mother. Divorce should be a last resort especially for families with children.
Our mother we were better off without but I would spend years wondering if our stepsister wanted to reconnect before diving in and initiating a meeting myself.
Tammy is a few years older than my twin sister and I. She spent her childhood either running after my sister and I or our little brother because our mother was a heroin addict and rarely took the role of being a mother to heart.
It would be my mothers drug addiction that eventually split our family. Since Tammy wasn’t related by blood, it made the custody battle far more complicated. My dad initially took custody of Tammy but our mothers mother, Ann Marie Tinney would eventually take Tammy back and raise her.
I’ve spent the better part of my life hating my mother for putting drugs before her own family but after an accident left her permanently brain damaged, realized that I would never have the opportunity to tell her how I felt and eventually learned to forgive her years later with the help of our stepsister.
Our stepsister Tammy had to adjust to life with my mothers mother and at 9 years old, and never had the opportunity to tell us goodbye. Thankfully, she had a grandmother who not only loved her but devoted all of her energy to giving Tammy a normal life between bailing our mother out of jail throughout most of Tammy’s childhood.
It would be twenty years before I took it upon myself to find Tammy and my mother again. Our first meeting was as awkward as you might imagine all of those years ago.
My quest to find the rest of my family upset my father and his family who probably assumed that I would never bother trying to find them but, I’m curious by nature and wanted answers to a lifetime of questions.
My sister and I often looked at the few photos my father had of us with Tammy. She was very fair skinned and the complete opposite of Cindy and I. Our brother and Tammy looked alike while my sister and I looked like no one on either side of our family. We have darker skin, red hair and green eyes.
My little brother was pretty upset when I announced that finding the rest of my family had become an obsession. For him, the years of hearing what a horrible person our mother was had sunk in. “Why bother” my brother asked me but wondering about the sister I had lost propelled my need to know. Maybe she was thinking about us as much as I was thinking about her and what life in Lompoc had become for her.
Tammy never left Lompoc and neither did our mother which may sound odd. No one moved away and started a family in another state or backpacked through Europe. Apparently, there wasn’t a strong urge to travel for our stepsister who finished school and has kept the same job for thirty years.
Our little brother was so young at the time of the divorce that he couldn’t even recall Tammy or anything about our mother. I’m guessing that the reason for this is that our stepsister Tammy most likely fed and changed him due to our mother spending most of her time “out of it” and on heroin, LSD or whatever she could get her hands on.
My mother truly was a mess and my last memory of her as a child was finding her laid out in the bathroom with a needle sticking out between her toes. Heroin again. How and where she found the drugs was never explained and although I’ve had a few people tell me “people don’t choose to be a drug addict,” I refuse to believe that my mother didn’t actually choose drugs over her four children.
It’s no secret that I personally hate drugs and not one that I try to hide. Drugs destroyed my childhood and eventually my mother. I won’t even take pain pills after surgery. Drugs terrify me.
As a child, I would have to testify during my parents divorce with my twin sister regarding the shocking memory of finding my mom overdosed in the bathroom along with many of her other “mishaps” during visits with her every weekend.
On weekdays all four of us kids stayed with our grandfather after school during the divorce while my grandmother ran off shopping with the neighbor. Occasionally our father picked us up to go home or we spent the night at our grandparents.
Our mother and whoever she was hanging around with would pick us up for Visitation Saturday morning through Sunday evening. Those pickups on Saturdays often ended with a lot of shouting and screaming from our parents at each other and occasionally our grandparents joined in while my sisters, brother and I tried to squeeze into the backseat of her car.
Visitation with our mother often had us returning in a police car due to “losing or forgetting about us.” The police were always nice and knew far more about our situation because Lompoc was a small town and many of the officers had arrested our mother at one time or another.
My mother often forgot to feed us so and the police usually gave us cookies or donuts at the station while waiting for my dad or grandparents to get home. We enjoyed our visits to the police station as children because everyone was always so nice to us.
Our Mothers Visitation Schedule was eventually revoked for a number of reasons including the bathroom incident because something always seemed to happen to us when our mother had custody of us.
From being locked in the car while she played pool for hours at local bars to forgetting us at a park, my mother was pretty “creative” when caught in her web of lies trying to explain what had happened to us when questioned by the police or a stranger who “found us” wandering around the city alone with no parent in site and asked where we lived or where our mom was.
The last straw regarding custody came when my mother left all four of us locked in a closet and, forgot about us again. Social Workers finally located us locked in a closet where our mother was living.
My father had contacted the police because he couldn’t get ahold of our mother and she hadn’t bothered to return us on Sunday. It was Thursday by the time we were finally pulled from the closet which I believe is why I’m claustrophobic today.
My mother is probably the worst example of a parent that I’ve ever met in my life and trust me, I’ve met plenty of them while comparing the differences of my own mother.
I know now that she would have never straightened herself out and got her life together from the lengthy conversations with our sister, Tammy. Because she is older, she remembers far more than we do about growing up with our mother.
Back in the 60’s and 70’s, fathers weren’t winning custody during divorces to give you a better example of how and why my father spent 2 years in a courtroom. I’m pretty sure it’s why our father waited so long to remarry again but he made an error of judgment choosing Jo Ann. She actually was an evil stepmother and also a raging alcoholic.
A few weeks ago, I was asked for childhood photos of my sister and I that led to a search of photo albums between my sister and I, our dad, our aunt and our brother.
Since only photos of Cindy and I were wanted, it made our search among a handful of childhood family photos far more difficult.
Cindy and I have very few photos from our childhood and the photo below was the last time prior to being adults that exists of all four children and my dad.
A few weeks after this photo was taken, Tammy was adopted by our grandma Tinney and packed up everything in her room to move away from the siblings she had grown up with in the home she had shared with us.
Our broken family would wait years to find closure and peace following the divorce of our parents. In the 60’s and 70’s, child custody fights were so rare that the Lompoc Newspaper took an interest in our parents divorce.
A father fighting for custody of his 3 children was unheard of and many local residents took time out of their day to watch the show unfold.
Often the crowd was so big that a few spectators wound up sitting on the courthouse steps. My sister and I had to walk by everyone to take our places in the witness stand or with our father or grandparents during the divorce.
Living in California in my 20’s, I finally located my sister, my other grandmother and the rest of my family including my mother. Sadly, my mother was still a drug addict and (as usual), “out of it” on my first meeting with her in twenty years. I shouldn’t have expected her to clean herself up for our first meeting in 20 years but I did and I set myself up to be dissapointed.
I’m a “cup half full or half empty” type of person and although I was dissapointed in my mother, joyous to find my stepsister and grandma Tinney again.
Through my years of living in California during this time, my new/old family and I spent many weekends together catching up and watching Cindy’s daughters on the playground.
It would be after Cindy and I returned to Texas with our three children that yet another unexpected lapse in communication would occur.
Life simply got in the way as we all raised our children and went to work supporting our families. We thought about each other but after the death of grandma Tinney who was the glue keeping this new relationship alive died, my sister and I once again lost track of Tammy and her family for another few years before reconnecting again.
It would take the “accident” of my mother to force me to consider forgiving her after destroying so many lives. She was high on heroin when her car plowed into a Los Angeles Transit Bus and would never recover from her injuries. How she managed to keep from killing herself in the accident that nearly decapitated her is baffling. She lost one of her eyes in the accident and often asks who I am during visits with her. I’m pretty sure she knows who I am after 30 years of visiting her and fakes it but I don’t call her out on it. She once called our grandtwins Cindy and Wendy and knowing she wasn’t all there, the Twins went along with her not bothering to say they weren’t us.
Our mother pretends to not know who we are out of fear that we might blast her over the mistakes she’s made but neither I or my sister will. We both realize that my mother reaped what she had sowed and all three of her daughters and even her son might pay the obligatory visit but she will never have the family she could have had. It’s too late for our mother and it’s too late for all of us to fix the broken relationships of our pasts. We raised our children without our mother and we raised them as the parents we would’ve liked to have had that we didn’t.
Perhaps the accident was divine intervention before our mother killed herself by overdosing on drugs? Her behavior prior to the accident most certainly caused her mother and daughter anxiety and embarrassment due to her string of drug related arrests throughout most of her life. Jail for my mother was often a revolving door.
Everyone in Lompoc knew my mother was a drug addict and the stigma for her family became a cross for them to bear. You can’t change a drug addict- only they can seek to change. A few of them never do and I’m certain my mother would’ve died from drugs if not for the accident.
Our childhood after leaving everything we knew in Lompoc was as different as you might imagine. My father had three children and no wife but struggled to raise us after moving to Oklahoma and finally settling in Texas.
It was a transition that was probably as hard on us as it was on him. We missed our friends and family in Lompoc and we missed the sand and sea but more importantly, we missed Tammy who was the glue that held all of us kids together.
My sister and I rarely (if ever) smiled in photos after losing our stepsister although my brother appeared to be quite happy. I’m guessing the reason for this is that he was too young to remember our family being torn apart.
Our grandmother (much to her dismay) had taken the place of our stepsister and mother in Lompoc by being the only woman in our lives other than my Aunt Shirley.
The remarkable differences between Aunt Shirley and our grandmother were that Aunt Shirley took us everywhere and our grandmother never took us anywhere.
My grandmother hated being tied down with kids or cooking or cleaning because she was always too busy shopping and having fun. The one thing my grandmother did find time for was to give us lists of chores everyday to keep us “out of her hair.”
There weren’t any hugs or love when it came to my grandmother. You were expected to wash windows, dishes and do chores to “earn your keep.”
After my father moved us to Oklahoma, my grandmother finally got her wish for a number of years without any kids around before she and my grandfather moved to Texas to join us by moving a few minutes from my fathers house.
My grandfather was in bad health by then and many of his family members had moved away from Lompoc leaving my grandparents lonely for the first time in their lives.
I’m guessing if there had been a lot of family left in Lompoc, my grandparents would have never moved to Texas but my grandfathers declining health most likely played a role in their decision to up and leave Lompoc.
By the time my grandparents arrived in Texas, my sister and I aka “the pesky kids” were teens and no longer a nuisance as we had moved on and moved out of our fathers home shortly after he finally married Jo Ann Warren. We lasted less than three years in my fathers house after Jo Ann moved in, she was just too much.
We were still expected to go to our grandparents house to mow the lawn or wash the windows and a host of other things to help our grandparents.
Our stepmother Jo Ann actually made our grandmother look sweet in comparison. Like our grandmother, Jo Ann hated kids and especially teenagers. My sister and I left home at 15 mainly due to Jo Ann and made our own way through life by taking jobs as waitresses.
It was ironic that when I moved to San Clemente in 1988, my dad and Jo Ann had left Texas to move to San Diego but the years of resenting her for being selfish hadn’t changed my opinion of her. Visits to my dads house were always with Jo Ann around which pretty much limited my drives to San Diego with my sister and our kids. How my dad stayed married to her for ten years speaks volumes of his patience. Jo Ann didn’t cook or clean but she did go to work so I’m guessing that helped make their marriage last as long as it did. They met at GD in Fort Worth. Jo Ann would die a few years after my father finally divorced her of alcoholism.
It was odd that my grandmother and my stepmother didn’t cook or clean but, they both found themselves above such things and they both had three kids to cook and clean for them along with their husbands chipping in on chores. My sister and I were washing dishes and cleaning house the minute Tammy moved away.
Jo Ann was a mean drunk but I never attributed her meanness to alcohol because I was unaware of what alcoholism was for most of my life. I understood drug addiction due to our mother but being addicted to alcohol sounded far fetched and confusing for someone who doesn’t even like the taste of it. How anyone could drink a gallon of wine every night seemed odd but Jo Ann started drinking the minute she got home from work. Liquor was never allowed in our grandparents home or any of our Aunts and Uncles either. Jo Ann changed all of that because she never went anywhere without her own alcohol.
My dad never remarried after Jo Ann although he probably should’ve married Gretta who was the biggest ray of sunshine we had ever met aside from Aunt Shirley of course.
Gretta loved our family and quickly embraced us as the children she had never had. We had 6 years with Gretta, the only person my dad had a real relationship with aside from Jo Ann and our mother.
Sure, he had hilarious blind dates and few girlfriends but these relationships often soured pretty quickly. I miss the blind date stories because they were so funny. My dad can tell a bad date story like no one I’ve ever met although he isn’t trying to be funny.
Looking through all of our photos, I quickly noticed that finding a photo where my sister and I weren’t frowning or sad as children was far harder than you might think. Apparently, we were two of the saddest kids on the planet but I’m pretty sure that our grandmother had something to do with that because she was rarely (if ever) happy herself.
Even on her deathbed, my grandmother completely ignored my twin sister and I who had taken care of her the last 20 years of her life after the death of her husband.
My sister and I were invisible but my father and Aunt were (as usual) the “important people in the room.” Ironically, neither Aunt Shirley or dad had taken my grandmother in after our grandfather died. I don’t think they could’ve handled her but they both were pretty relieved that they didn’t have to because my sister did.
The “poor widow” routine my grandmother card played after the death of our grandfather kept my sister and I under her thumb by driving her to doctor appts and shopping trips. Guilt is the one thing that worked successfully to get my grandmother whatever she wanted and she used the “guilt card” well.
My twin sister who sucked it up and threw away the best years of her life taking care of our grandmother by moving her in and paying her bills.
My grandmother wasn’t expected to “chip in” on the bills at Cindy’s house or cook or clean. I complained about this endlessly but Cindy did whatever she could to keep my grandmother happy although years later, she would realize she had wasted her time.
When Cindy finally told our grandmother that her daughter, Stephaney was pregnant with Twins, my grandmother was far more concerned about how my sister was supposed to take care of her with two babies on the way.
To solve the issue of addressing the burden of caring for my grandmother, my grandmother suggested that Cindy tell Stephaney to get an abortion. Horrified, Cindy told her there was no way on earth that she was going to do that and that she would with manage taking care of my grandmother’s needs while caring for the twins and, she did. The suggestion of an abortion was also used on Cindy while pregnant with Leigh Ann. I was lit up like a Christmas tree angry over the suggestion which my grandmother “pushed” because Cindy had been the victim of rape. My grandmother and I bumped heads on a regular basis which is why she never lived with me. She could push Cindy around but I was never as devoted as my sister to her. Cindy tried so hard to win my grandmother over it’s a wonder she found the courage to stand up for herself when she was pregnant with Leigh Ann or defend Stephaney to our grandmother.
Leigh Ann was raised by my sister and I without any help from our family and Leigh Ann nor Cindy have any idea who the father was. My sister was working a late shift when attacked going to her car. Our family strongly disagreed with us over Leigh Ann and effectively lost the battle. We don’t believe in abortion. My grandmother always put her own needs before anyone else but on the two occasions she suggested abortion to my sister, her reasons for were (as usual) based on her own needs.
Not surprisingly, my grandmother left everything to her son and daughter although all of the jewelry happened to be gifts that my sister or I had bought for her. We never expected anything and, we weren’t dissapointed.
At the very least, my sister and I had each other and that was something that our grandmother could never take away from us. My grandmother had seven brothers and often told us that because she was raised with boys- she didn’t like girls. Her daughter and my sister and I were treated differently because we weren’t boys. My grandmother never denied this “favoritism.” Girls did chores while boys went to play and enjoy life.
It wasn’t fair but it was our life. Tammy also attended my sons wedding in Texas after I invited her to Texas and has been the best “bonus prize” that our broken family could find. Tammy is a California girl and uses natural soaps and deodorant which we found pretty funny because she prefers all natural everything while we prefer convenience.
A few months ago, while in California, we paid my mother our usual visit. Cindy hates these “visits” and I muddle through them as best I can too. Being in the same house our Grandma Tinney lived in when we were young feels odd like time has stood still. The same backyard, the same kitchen, the same living room. Very little has change except that my grandmother is no longer there to hug us or welcome us inside.
Our mother gave us what few photos she had of us on our last visit. This hurt my feelings somewhat but I said nothing as I went through a box. For me, it was as if she was planning to throw them away if I didn’t bring them home with me to Texas. Many were of my son or nieces when we lived in San Clemente that my grandma Tinney had asked for. Photos aren’t important to my mother and I’m guessing they never were.
My twin sister still holds a grudge over the hardships my mothers decisions had laid on us, I finally found the courage to forgive her. It was on of the hardest choices that I’ve ever made but I needed resolution and closure to the gate that had consumed so much of my life. I didn’t forgive her for my mothers benefit, I did it for my own because I would never get an apology for the lives my mother and her drug addiction had taken from our family. No one could give me that back not even my mother.
Everyone tells you to forgive without having any idea how hard it can be. Visits are often awkward but having Tammy with us “soothes the ruffled feathers.”
Tammy is a “happy go lucky” benefit to our family and although she’s as sad as we are about our mom and the hardships we faced, Tammy did the same thing we did by moving on and doing the best she could to be “normal.” She raised her son and daughter with grace although she was a single mother for many years.
Children of broken homes often work hard to break free of a background filled with sadness, abuse or despair in order to compartmentalize what they couldn’t deal with at the time and it helped all of to move on.
If not for my selfish mother and grandmother, my sister and I wouldn’t be the parents we never had today. We took what the world had handed us and successfully turned it around.
We’ve raised our children and grandchildren together with love and unlike us, their photos feature smiles and happy memories. They are happy kids because we sacrificed to give them a happy life.
We are often asked why the twins have no father in their lives (or photos) but the answer for this absence will shock a few of my readers who know that truth can be surprising. My sister and I have never shied away from answering questions.
What every family has is a “back story.” The weird uncle, the shoplifting aunt, the heroin addicted mother, the missing father. There are reasons for these “absences” in family photos or at family events and like so many other back stories, the twins father didn’t want to be a father and never has. Maryssa and Makenna are better off without him in their lives and when they ask questions about it “because someone at school wants to know why papa is so old and where’s our dad?” We answer them truthfully and explain that not everyone is meant to be a parent with our mother being the perfect example.
The truth is that both of grandtwins childhoods may seem “different” because their father, Michael Wayne Scherer Jr has never been a part of it. Their father had spent most of his life in and out of prisons due to drugs and violence.
Michael also copped a plea to “Assault On A Family.” The incident involved my niece Stephaney Mahaney who was carrying the twins at the tims of the assault. Michael attempted to beat her into a miscarriage.
Cindy and I went to great lengths to prevent Visitation and succeeded. Our twins didn’t need a father because they had not only my sisters family but also my own and we effectively created a village to raise the twins by surrounding them with a loving family. We prefer the protect our children and grandchildren from any of the similarities of our own childhoods.
Drugs, Divorce and Death destroy families but we have learned to accept the past by changing the future. Every family has a few Inlaws and Outlaws and every family is different. By finding the other half of my family, I finally had found the closure and a start to a new relationship with my stepsister. My twin sister, stepsister and I are now in our 50’s but we will cherish the time we have together as the unexpected gift it became.
My journey to find the rest of my family caused problems in our immediate family who not only tried to interfere but also threatenned to never speak to me again if I did. But, I’m strong willed and passionate & when I set out to accomplish a task, I don’t give up easily.
My sister and I wish we had stayed in Lompoc but it was a decision that we couldn’t control. Our yearly visits “back home” now are something that we both look forward to. Creating new memories and moments is as important to us as it is to my stepsister and her family. We may never replace the past but we are focused on the future.
We have our children the love and support that we had spent most of our lives trying to find.
Seeing our mother at a Destination Wedding a few months ago wasn’t as awkward as other visits have been these past 20 some odd years for me. Accepting the reality and understanding the awkwardness of being together for more than thirty minutes with my mom was a gift I had given myself. The gift of moving on and cherishing the hardships of my life that made me more empathetic and open minded.
My broken childhood kept my sister and I determined to give our children and grandchildren the benefit of a tight knit family. We work together at Texas Twins Events, Texas Twins Treasures and The Pawning Planners and we see one another daily, or weekly depending on one another’s schedules. We became the family we had never had as children.
Love and loss taught us to be more resilient and to never take our TwinLife for granted. Our sister was the Christmas gift that finally came after years of wondering what had happened to her and we moved on to create the relationship that a broken marriage had taken from us all of those years ago.
I may not have many photos of my childhood but I have plenty of new memories and photos of the life that continues to build the close knit family that I’ve always wanted one day at a time…
Comments by Wendy Wortham