Once my late husband David and I made it clear to Jim (and the “governing” counsel) that we were willing to “take in” children needing temporary homes, we were never surprised when we were approached about the possibility of taking in a child. We never received nor were paid one penny for room or board or love for her (or any of the 11 children that we cared for). We did what we did because of our choice and our commitment to help rear her.
I don’t recall many of the details – I don’t remember for certain if Cassandra Minor’s aunt who had been rearing her was on her mother’s or father’s side – but I do remember that Cassandra was 15 and had been in her aunt’s care for about four years. As the child became a teenager, she had become uncooperative and verbally combative, and the aunt, who then had a very sick husband to care for, needed and wanted to be relieved of the daily responsibility for Cassandra. The aunt lived in Bayview, and was friends with – and often came to services with – Nettie Schneider, both of whom were what I considered “older” women. They were maybe in their fifties.
We met Cassandra following a Wednesday night service. Carrying her few belongings with her, she moved in with us that night. At first, she was quiet and withdrawn, doing what she was told or asked without any feedback.
And then it happened on one occasion, when she was asked to do something minor or routine, she just exploded. I asked her why she was so angry. She said that none of her family wanted her, no one else wanted her around, and that it seemed like David and I did not want her either. I saw an opening and asked her how she had come to live with her aunt and not her mother. Cassandra told me that her father frequently fought her mom and “beat her up,” until he just finally killed her. That’s why she had to go to live with her aunt.
I put my arms around her and asked her how she had come to know that her father had killed her mother. Weeping heavily and profusely, she told me that she had seen him do it. Her parents were fighting one night, and Cassandra had tried to get between them, but then her mother had fallen into a glass coffee table and sustained fatal trauma to her head. Cassandra – still in the middle of things – caught a flying piece of glass in her right eye.
Everyone in the Temple could see that Cassandra had a glass eye, but this was the first time she had told anyone the reason for it. I decided that it was absolutely amazing that she was not living in a constant state of rage. I learned to feel a new level of compassion for my newest child. After that, Cassandra and I were undoubtedly much closer, and she even began to call me “Mom.”
I sewed and made clothing for her and she liked that very much. I made her several pairs of gaucho pants for the PT bus tour from California to New York. It was the tour where we visited the Father Divine Ministries in Philly. That was also the trip of the “look out the bus window and see if you can” drive-by of Niagara Falls, even as people were getting dehydrated from the scarcity of drinking water on the buses. That was weird, to look upon Niagara Falls while you were thirsty. I was watching Jim and pondering my options for departure even then, but regretfully, I was unwilling to confront him about the suffering of the people. On my bus, I made sure that we did have water, and at every stop, I would sneak to get water in old bottles or jars or whatever I could find for the thirsty passengers.
Cassandra was a great help to me in the house with all the laundry folding and dishwashing. Since she was the eldest daughter at that time, I worked with her on issues of grooming and hygiene and hair care, and I worked with her on her school work and pushed her hard, with her non-verbal acquiescence, toward a vocational education. I saw that she had the potential for success. She also liked it very much when she could show David her homework and he would review the work that I had helped her with and YES, sometimes find mistakes. David was excellent in helping the children with their schoolwork.
But it was not all sunshine and light. I remember the day, soon after David and I had adopted an infant, when I asked Cassandra to sweep the floor, and she just stormed and threatened to run away and go back to her aunt’s house.
Well, me being me, I challenged her and invited her to go ahead, but, as I made sure to remind her, that’s where she had been before she got to me. They would just send her back to me, I pointed out, so she should just save herself all the heartache and trouble and just sweep the floor.
But she would not be dissuaded from her course of rampant hostility. With the broom still in her hand, she ran outside, which in itself was a good thing, because she was then out of sight and earshot of the younger children. I followed her outside. Actually really fearful that she was about to run, I said: “Young lady, you are down to just a few choices here. You can either sweep the floor with that broom, or Cassandra, you can just tell me what’s wrong and then we can try to make it right. Because I will help you make it right,” I promised. In a begrudging tone, she replied that she would sweep the floor. I walked inside and thank God, she followed.
After sweeping the floor, she approached me and asked – in a more than typically confrontational tone – “Mom, why don’t you ever ask me if I want to hold the baby?” I knew then that that was why she wouldn’t sweep the floor. I was afraid and I tried to be tactful, but I was also blunt when I said, “Well, you know Cassandra, we are all so sorry that you lost your eye while you were trying to save your mother, and no one would ever blame you for having a glass eye, but Cassandra, you just refuse to keep your eye and your eye socket clean, and sometimes it get so infected that it just drips. I know you well enough to know that you do not want that poison infection to drip on the baby, so that’s the only reason that I do not offer her to you.”
I don’t recall her immediate response very well – in my mind’s eye, I see a stunned young woman – but I do know this: I never again saw that little drip in the inner corner of her eye and I also know that her eye wash and eye cup were being used because I checked, and they were wet and had to be replenished.
Within a couple of days I was hollering, “Cassandra, can you get the baby and bring her to me?” We just always smiled at each other when she handed the baby to me.
Cassandra was such a very sweet girl, very appreciative, very willing to grow and to learn, very manageable, very compliant, very open and very honest. I loved her so much.
Some file photos will verify this fact. Cassandra did work hard and graduated from high school in San Francisco, and was a Vocational Nurse or Nursing Assistant. She was meticulous about her uniforms. I washed them separately from the other clothes, and she ironed them and hung them on her bedroom door for the following school day.
About a week after her graduation, which her aunt and other members of her biological family proudly attended, Cassandra told me that she felt badly that her aunt had done so much for her while she was young, and she had shown no appreciation or gratitude. Since her aunt’s husband was so ill, Cassandra thought it would be a good idea to go there, just across town in San Francisco, to help her aunt out as a little repayment for her gratitude. I agreed that that was a wonderful idea and that, yes, I could and would manage without her help at home, but that I did want her to start looking for a job very soon. As we packed on her last day with us, we said that we would see each other at church.
When I didn’t see her at church, I called her aunt –repeatedly, as it turned out – who just as repeatedly said Cassandra was not there. I asked church counselors to let me know of her whereabouts. After two weeks, I realized that I was being left out of the loop. Finally her aunt told me that the church had told her that Cassandra “had run off with some boy.” That was it? To my barrage of questions, I got nothing in return but vague answers from everyone. I was devastated and pissed off!
In the meantime, as I became more and more focused on my own survival, I gradually let it go in terms of searching and questioning. But I never truly let it go, in my heart.
It was years later…. after David and I had gone to the twenty-fifth reunion, when I finally found a way to bring together both at the same, time my will and my courage to even look – really, just to sneak a peek – that I actually saw with my own eyes, that Cassandra Minor was in fact listed among the dead of Guyana. What a shock! I should have suspected, but I hadn’t.
I saw it on the computer screen, but not in real life. I was so hurt for her. I was angry and felt the treachery of betrayal, all over again! In Guyana, Cassandra had become a mother to a lovely baby girl. How, I asked myself, could this have happened without me ever knowing that she had been sent to Guyana. Not one person ever told me that Cassandra was being sent to Guyana! I never got to say a loving “Good-Bye!” I wondered how could my self-claimed child become a mother, and both she and her baby get poisoned to death, and I did not even know she was over there?
Next, I blamed myself and asked myself all of the “Why didn’t I?” questions. I knew no amount of anger or rage or self recrimination could ever bring her back to me, but I still wonder: How in hell did this really good girl end up there and dead? I will never truly know.
(Janet Shular is a regular writer for the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition are For the Love of Danny and Clifford Gieg: In the Rear View Mirror of My Mind’s Eye. Her complete collection of writings for this site can be found here.)