Friday, August 26, 2011

An open letter to my cousins, upon discovery of my aunt's death ...

Note: Death is a part of life. I know that.
But, it can still surprise you.
Especially when you're not expecting it. 
If there hadn't been an earthquake along the eastern seaboard earlier this week, I might still be in the dark.  Here's how I'm handling this ... 
for now.

Dear Carolyn & John,
Wednesday morning I placed a phone call to Evelyn’s cell phone. I thought I’d check in on her following the earthquake on Tuesday. I hadn’t spoken to her since February, so it seemed like a good excuse to call. We spoke a few times a year and the last time I saw her was in 2009.  

Aunt Evelyn and my darling husband, after having
dinner together in June 2009
Well, the message on her phone said it was no longer in service, which I thought was kind of odd. Then, I used Google to look her up, thinking I’d call her home phone.  Google’s search delivered her obituary.
I didn’t think I could be shocked by anything anymore. After all, I’m 60 years old now. I’ve seen it all, right? But, THIS shocked me. In a way I wasn’t expecting.
I don’t expect that anyone would think about letting me know if she was sick. It’s not like I was a big part of her life. However, she WAS a big part of mine. I wrote about our last visit on my blog and will include it with this letter for you to read. And, comment on, if you choose.
I had to go to the internet to find your mailing addresses. My husband, Manfred, found a phone number for Carolyn and I called Wednesday night and left a message, but have yet to hear anything back, so I’m writing.  Of course I’m hoping she’ll call on the weekend, so if you get this letter and you did call … I’ll be glad to hear from you.
I’d like to know what happened to Evelyn. I haven’t been able to think about anything else since making this discovery and I find these feelings to be very unsettling.  I cannot know how you must be feeling with this loss. She was a wonderful spirit and I feel lucky to have had her for my aunt. I imagine she was a dynamite mother and grandmother and I am truly sorry for your losses. I think you must miss her a lot.
I know I’m not the best in the world at writing letters. Before the internet, I was a decent letter writer and actually have kept all the letters that were sent to me. But, like so many people, I have come to use e-mail and Facebook to keep in touch with people. I’ve looked for relatives on Facebook where I know their last names, (including you guys) but not everyone is Facebook friendly, and I understand that. But, I’m here, now, writing … asking … what happened to my Aunt Evelyn?
When I told my darling husband, he was shocked. And, surprised. Being from Germany, his perception of family is very different from the reality of my family. He doesn’t understand how a big family like ours is not more in touch with each other. I’ve never been able to answer that question for him, because I really don’t know the answer. Or, maybe I do know the answer, but have to look for it in my own history. After all, I was the one who left Virginia and came to Florida, right? Had I stayed there, odds are good I would’ve seen family members more often. Or would I? See what I mean? It’s hard to pinpoint where things fell apart. I’m sure it’s mostly my responsibility, though. It always is …

Aunt Christine & Aunt Evelyn
My darling husband gave me one of those digital picture frames for Christmas a couple of years ago; you know, the kind where you can load your photos and it rotates the photos in the frame? It sits on my desk at work and among those rotating photos are a couple from the Pork, Peanut & Pine Festival that Samantha and I drove up for when she was 10-years-old. (She’s 24 now!) I had scanned these photos so I could use them in my digital frame. I like seeing pictures of “My Family.”
From left: Cousins Sharon, Carolyn & Constance
(our mothers are sisters) with Aunt Evelyn, right,
and Carolyn's daughter, Ashley, behind.

As I age, I’m finding that my family is more important than ever. After Evelyn’s revelation to me the last time I saw her (see my blog entry), it changed the way I thought about Mama. A lot.
She also gave me copies of photos of family members from a couple of generations back. I tried to express to her how much they mean to me. It seems like it took such a long time to realize who I really am … who I was all along … because of where I come from and who I come from. I don’t know if this is a normal transition from middle age to the “final act” of life, but it’s what’s been going on with me.  There are so many things I don’t know still, but I’m open to hearing stories and sharing memories, so, if this is something you feel like doing, you can be sure it would be appreciated by me. And, cherished.
I hope you’ll give all this some thought. And, I hope you’ll feel like writing or calling. I would welcome any opportunity to catch up with both of you, your families and your lives.  Thanks for taking time to read. I’m sorry I wasn’t around for Evelyn at the end of her life. I would like to have talked to her one more time.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Big Banks, Small Service

I've lived in my house for 24 years. My daughter was born five days after we moved in, and it's the only home she's ever known. I love my house and want to live there until I die.

I married my darling husband in 2004 after a whirlwind romance and we decided to live in my house and sell his. In 2006, I gave him a half interest in the house and we refinanced, taking enough money out to completely redo the interior ... new tile floors, rewiring for multiple electronic devices, new bathrooms, new kitchen. We also "hardened" the house against hurricanes with new storm windows and doors, including the garage door. At the time of the re-finance deal, money was easy to get because our property was "valued" far beyond what it was actually worth. And, we knew that! So, we were careful not to take more than we thought the house was "really" worth. The glitch? It was an "interest only" loan. I insisted on a fixed rate for five years from origination of the loan, and now I'm not sure if that was a wise thing or a stupid thing. We signed on for 7.5% interest on a $210,000 loan on a property valued at $400,000 at the time of the loan.

You might be asking why so high a rate ... and, it's a simple answer. I had a terrible credit history. As a single mother with a teenage daughter, there was never enough money! I had gone back to college, thinking more education would land me a better job. And, in truth ... it did. But, not the six-figure kind of job. Just middle income, which was fine with me. I was still broke, just not AS broke as before. Of course, I was saddled with still more debt, so I had the full-time job, the part-time job and took on free lance work whenever it came my way. I was often late paying, and that hurts your credit score. I think mine was somewhere in the low 500s when I met my darling husband.

As a German man with a degree in engineering, dh quickly saw my issues with money and insisted on helping me improve the way I handled "debt." He had a credit score in the 700s and made it clear to me that the "best" way was to save, then spend. Not spend, then scramble to save enough to pay. This was a new concept to me and I'm here to tell you ... I resisted at every opportunity!

God Bless my darling husband for his patience and perseverance. He taught me how to budget, how to set up automatic payments, how to be frugal ... he taught me how to manage my money better. And, I have improved tremendously these past five years. So much so, in fact, that my credit score was 678 when we went to apply for a refinance last week. You see, our loan "resets" in October, and we don't want to get caught having to pay a higher interest rate in the current market. THAT could be devastating!

But, back to my 678 credit score, because THAT is why I'm writing about it on my blog.

Last week we went to the bank. We went to the bank where our accounts are held. We have separate accounts (checking AND saving), but all of our accounts are with the same bank. Good ole' Bank of America. Now, I have to say here that I have been a customer of theirs for a long, long time. I began banking with Bank of America when it was NCNB (North Carolina National Bank) back in the 1980s. There was a brief stint when it was "NationsBank," but that was a short spell between NCNB and BOA. So, naturally my darling husband and I wanted to go to OUR BANK. They "know" us. We're they're customers. We'll get to talk to a real person, face to face. Or, that's what we thought.

It took the Customer Service Representative about three minutes to get a "Mortgage Specialist" on the phone. Then, she asked if we wanted to go into a private room to speak to him. ON THE PHONE. Well, of course we wanted privacy. So, we went into a private office, just dh and me, door closed. No BOA customer service rep. No bank staff of any kind. Just the two of us and the guy on the phone in California.

California for cryin' out loud! He wasn't even on the east coast! Nor was he in the "corporate headquarters" in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was in another time zone! Hrmph!

So, we went through the process. We answered all his questions. We pointed out that we are both long-time customers of the bank. We made sure he understood that this is our primary residence and that I've lived in the house for 24 years. You see, we thought these things were important. Then, he asked to pull our credit scores.

Now, you've gotta know that I was nervous here. I had no idea what my credit score would be. I hadn't been late paying anything in years! So, when he said my credit score was 678, I was elated! For about 30 seconds. My darling husband's score was 718, so that was terrific. But.

But. I needed a 680 to "qualify." Two points. Just two points. I was two points shy of what I needed and it didn't matter one iota that I'd lived in this house for 24 years. It didn't matter a bit that we were long-time Bank of America customers. This guy in California didn't give a shit about any of that. It was all about the two points I DIDN'T HAVE!


Our loan resets in October, so we can't be foolin' around with this. But, boy am I pissed at Bank of America! What about "Customer Loyalty?" Doesn't that have any value? What about the fact that we've paid our interest only loan ON TIME every month for five years? In this economy! What about the re-investment of the money INTO the very house we're trying to re-finance? It's not like we took the cash and went on a two month trip around the world!

I'm pissed because I'm one of the middle income schmucks who bailed this stupid bank out. "Too Big To Fail?" Ha! They're making record profits and all I get is a kick in the teeth for paying my bills on time and doing the right thing.

Well, guess what Bank of America? I don't feel so loyal anymore. You've used my money for years to make money and I don't like being used and abused! Do you think money grows on trees?

AND, what's worse for you ... I have a BIG mouth and I believe the pen is mightier than the sword!  So, I'm going to make it my life's mission to tell everyone I know to dump you! Yes, BOA has lots of ATMs, but I suspect that with a little creative thinking, I, middle income schmuck that I am, can come up with a way to live WITHOUT those ATMs! And, once I know how to do it, I'll teach everyone I know to do it too!

People who know me know I don't often get angry. But, when I do, I am relentless. I will live to see the undoing of Bank of America. When a bank (or any other business for that matter) forgets about their customers, it is only a matter of time before they come undone. Business is about the people. It is NOT about the record profits or tightened processes. It's about the people who live and work in the community and SUPPORT the bank. Bank of America might think they're Too Big To Fail, but they're not.

In reality, what they ARE is too big to succeed. This country is a big mess because of the greedy lending practices of this and other banks and it's sad to think we would help them through hard times they wouldn't even TRY to find a way to help us when we seek reciprocity. One day soon, I'll be taking all of my money out of your bank. And, if others follow (as I predict they will), you're gonna be in a heap lot of trouble. But, don't call me. I'm just a middle income schmuck and I, for one, am not bailing out anymore big banks. Let 'em rot!