US$200.00raised of $130,000.00 goal goal
In 1982 my grandfather, John A. O’Brien purchased our house located at 17 Highland Avenue. The house was purchased for my mom, and myself, so we had a safe, secure place to live. You see, in 1976, when my mom was 31 years old (I was 5 at the time and my brother 11) my Mom suffered several small heart attacks and a massive heart attack that left her a cardiac invalid for the remainder of her life. Her and my father had been running a business at the time she fell ill. Their business was an interior decorating business, that at the time was located on Rte 6A in the center of Sandwich, MA and named after my grandparents old property, ‘Briar Knoll’. My dad was still active military, having come back from Vietnam years before, but still active, he was discharged to care for my mother. Growing up wasn’t easy for us, my dad suffering the undoubtably difficult memories of serving in Vietnam, although not front lines, traumatic still, had turned at some point to alcohol. My mother having no insurance and being discharged early from the hospital, was often very weak and unable to do a lot with us. There was a lot of fighting between my parents, and my older brother, who now I realize was simply acting out, getting in trouble and causing more strife without the full understanding of why. In any event, fast forward to 1980, mom sent dad away. He moved out and all of a sudden the house was almost peaceful. I say almost because still my brother was getting in trouble, stealing, drugs, alcohol and failing grades. In 1981 we moved over from a rental in Buzzards Bay to another rental in Monument Beach. That rental was to be the transition from all of that bad to all that would be prove to be better. We were at that rental, only for the winter and next door was the house that was for sale. It was a small, cottage-like house that had grass almost taller than I was at my 10 years of age. My grandfather saw it as the perfect opportunity for my mom and myself (my brother had moved out - the fighting had proved too much for mom and he was almost 18 anyway). The house is the one this whole fundraiser is about. The house at 17 Highland Ave.
We moved in to our new - old, early 1900’s house in 1982. Mom worked on it little by little, making it a home. She did a little and rested and repeated that for years and years until she’d laid (with my help) a winding brick path from our driveway to our door, she had rebuilt our kitchen with rough sawn wide pine boards and cabinets. All from pictures she had found in country magazines. Her dream, little by little, became a reality. In 1987, my grandfather, who was more like my dad to me, died suddenly of a massive cardiac event. Before he had died he had put my mom’s house in her older sister’s name, so that the house would be protected of anything happened to him. Mom was on social security disability and because of that she couldn’t own property, so it made sense to us at the time. This is where things started to go all wrong, but even this couldn’t predict where we would end up.
My grandmother, now without her lifelong partner, soulmate and bread winner would now move in with us. She was 78 at the time. The family made a decision that it would be best to sell her home and move her in with us, by adding an addition onto our simple little cottage, so we did. Mom took the time and sold my grandmother’s home herself, I helped with lawn maintenance while we waited for it to sell, which eventually it did and construction would begin on our house. Hard to say how I felt about all this, but again I never imagined what would happen. Well 10 years past, my mom who was never in the best health solely cared for her mother. She did all the grocery shopping, took her to appts and did all that needed to be done at home. I was busy doing what you do while you’re a young adult. I’d started in banking and was focused on my career and education while mom was dealing with the reality of her aging mother and the mundane details of life.
In January 1997 my grandmother passed away. My mom slipped into probably the deepest depression she’d ever been in, and she’d been there before, let’s face it, life wasn’t always kind. It seemed for her it was always an uphill battle and not one she ever deserved, yet she met every challenge with an unshakable belief that anything was possible. I guess that’s where I get it from. Never give up the fight. Hence why I’m here sharing this story with those willing to hear it.
One day, while sitting at my desk at work I received a call from my mom who’s voice was shaking (that wasn’t like her), well my aunt sent her an eviction notice and intended on selling my mom’s house my mom had paid the mortgage all those years and there was only $16k left on it, but my aunt didn’t care, she was selling it. I guess you could say I sprung into action. My husband and I decided we would buy it for my Mom, and us. We agreed to purchase it for (I’m blank now - it was $148k I think). I took all the money I had saved in my 401k plus another $7k my husband had to put the down payment on it. I was busy with work at the time, he was self employed, so I let him take the rein on securing a loan. This is yet another key part of the story.
It was now 1999 and I was pregnant with my first son, he would be born in January 2001 and my second would come along shortly after in July of 2002. We had purchased the house. Mom was extremely depressed and I don’t think her depression ever really got better, but she got better at coping with it, maybe. Mom had always had the most beautiful yard, she had azalea bushes and other beautiful bushes around the house, but after we moved in she stopped caring. I understand why now, but then I couldn’t grasp it. She couldn’t part with my grandparents belongings, so for two long years I walked through a path of furniture stacked to the ceiling in the front room of our home, while our dining room table was in our laundry room and our Christmas tree was in our bathroom (I wish I was kidding, but it was all I had for choices). After two years, and having to cover the toilet in fabric so I could set the tree on it and cover my bathroom door with Christmas cards to set a ‘festive’ mood I lost it! I demanded that we get rid of the stuff or use it; instead it would go into storage for the next 18 years at $160/month until she passed when I emptied it out. I digress. As you can imagine there was a riff between my mom and my then husband. My husband’s drinking got worse, the fights worse, everything got worse. The first mortgage he got, I soon found out was a balloon mortgage!!!!! I got us out of that, but lost a lot in fees on that refinance, and still it was only a variable rate mortgage, so as soon as I could, I refinanced it again to a fixed rate at (right around) 7%. My husband owed people who worked for him and the IRS so that money came out of the refinance and now our mortgage was $100k more than what it was originally (and most of that was BANK FEES!!!!). But what choices did I have?
The final straw. In 2008 while simultaneously dealing with the economy crashing/the housing crash (my husband’s main income was from custom hardwood flooring) he was hit head on by a drunk driver on Rte 151 near Ballymeade Golf course and was out of work for 6 mos I was only working part time at night to help ends meet, but by no means was I making any serious income. I worked retail at night for most the time when the kids were young and sold items on eBay during the day to help out diapers on my kids and food on the table. As you probably already imagined, my house went into foreclosure.
I filed for a modification with Bank of America, through the new program that President Obama created to help people who were dealing with the ramifications of proprietary lending practices and the housing crisis. I thought we would be just fine. We would not be.
In 2009 my husband and I separated and by 2010 it was permanent. I went back to work full-time, but not banking because due to the house situation my credit had tanked and I couldn’t go back there with less than stellar credit, so I took a lesser paying job as a medical receptionist and learned medical terminology while on the job, after all I’d spend the better part of my childhood and adulthood in and out of hospitals. By this time my mother had almost died a couple times, but I’d been there to get her to the hospital in time. At one point before the house went into foreclosure I’d been able to return to banking (how happy I was!) but mom would fall ill and end up in ICU on life support and I decided my best decision was to stay home and care for her if she were to pull through, which by some miracle (and it was!) she did, so I left. I was told by the President of the Community Bank in Sandwich there would always be a position for me, but years later Eastern Bank would gobble them up and my credit took that nasty turn for the worst. I think o got off track there, so now I have to get back on track, which I think is just explaining how for 11 LONG years I fought with Bank of America and SLS Lending Services to get a modification. The very first offer of modification I received was $2010 a whopping $200 monthly savings from the $2210 our mortgage was (remember what $100k in fees would do to a payment - not to mention being on kindly led to slaughter with a balloon payment initially when we were under the gun to buy the property). Well that was the first mod offer in 2008 or ‘09. I sought the help NACA out of Boston, went to the meetings, met with people to get guidance. I sought the assistance of a community organization in Brockton, MA who submitted modification paperwork on my behalf and unfortunately messed up our income info and was denied modification because they showed too much money as income. I then decided to go it on my own. Month after month, year after year, I’d fax my modification paperwork to BOA. Each time it was about an inch or so thick. And each time, you could almost set a clock by it, FedEx would show up within 48hrs with one envelope. In that envelope would be one sheet of paper highlighting what they would say was missing in my submission; IT WAS NOT. I got to the point that every section had a cover page showing what was included in it (ie: bank statements - which months, paystubs etc...) and still I’d receive this paperwork. UNTIL, one day I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about BOA and a multimillion lawsuit against them. The lawsuit showed they had been paying bonuses to employees for shredding customer’s modification paperwork. I was SO angry. I’d wasted so much time and they never intended on helping me save my family home. MIND you, my house now has rotted facia boards, leaking roof, collapsed ceiling in my laundry room and back bathroom, two out of three bathrooms need plumbing work and for 5 years prior to me getting a job with the State of MA we had heated the house with electric heaters because in 2010 our furnace started leaking carbon monoxide and was beyond fixing. In 2015 I paid to have a brand new furnace put in, and in 2017 I paid to have rolled roofing done, in hopes of protecting it JUST enough in case I won my battle with the bank.
I got off track again. So, after I read that attleboro in the WSJ I printed copies of those articles that I found in all the major newspapers and sent it along with my modification paperwork, sure this time I’d get my modification; they sold my mortgage. They sold it to SLS Lending, if you can imagine, they’re no better than BOA and the modification fight was futile and became more so when in 2016 the Making Homes Affordable’s website was removed and in 2017 the foreclosure paperwork started back up with a vengeance. In 2018 they scheduled an auction date and the Saturday before the second (I had gone to Boston to file bankruptcy the 1st time to stop it) scheduled auction, I found my mom passed away in her bed. She didn’t want to live anywhere else and I know her heart couldn’t take the idea of leaving here and it killed her. She was my best friend in this world and that morning killed me. Would you believe that they wouldn’t halt the auction, so two days after I found my mom no longer breathing, I had to drive to Boston to file, yet another bankruptcy to halt the sale of the property.
In a daze for the next several months, I decided to move north with my oldest son and my dog and cats. It was while I was trying to heal in a new town, a new job, in a little apartment, that they got their way, the bank bought back my deed in November of 2019 (officially the year that took everything from me). Most of you hate 2020, while I hate 2019. Although my grandma always told me that you could not hold hate in your heart, after everything I’ve been through trying to save this house, I feel like I question that sometimes, yet as I wrote this I still feel HOPEFUL. Maybe I’m absolutely, certifiably insane, who knows!?
Anyway, here I sit, hoping for a miracle, hoping I can pay this back through good deeds and karma. There’s nothing I want more than to preserve this house, to clean it up, to make it into what my mom always envisioned and leave it FINALLY for my future generations. I know it’s a big hope, but I just don’t know what else to do.
I requested from the bank’s lawyer a cash figure from them, I’m not even sure what that will be, hoping it’s not insane, but I live on Cape Cod and people pay stupid money for property here, so hard to say. For me, it’s the memories. It’s the place where both my mother and my grandmother took their last breaths, in their beds, on their prospective bedrooms and I’d like it if I someday get to do the same.
There’s a song, you may know it, by Miranda Lambert, ‘The House that Built Me’. THAT is, for me, 17 Highland Ave.
Any help you could offer, you will forever have my gratitude. Mine, my youngest son’s and our animals - Hunter (our Shepherd), Toby (my itsy bitsy), Avril (my white rabbit 🐇) Salem (you guessed it, my black cat) and Stewart (named after Jimmy Stewart - as irony would have it my all-time favorite movie is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ since I was a young girl).
THANK YOU AGAIN. This took hours to write and I’m thankful if you took the time to learn a little bit about me and a lot about our history.
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