55-year-old Winona sells her house to save the life of her orphaned grandson, Tommy. She places him in foster care, promising to return. But Winona’s plans fall apart when Tommy’s adoptive parents refuse to let him go. Determined to gain custody, Winona takes drastic measures and does the unthinkable.
With every minute that passed outside the operating theatre, the weight seemed heavier. It had been five agonising hours since 55-year-old Winona’s precious grandson, Tommy, 5, was rushed into heart surgery.
Winona paced back and forth outside the operating room, desperately asking God for a miracle to save her only family, Tommy, who was on life support while doctors operated on his delicate heart. Finally the door swung open and the doctor came out, removing his scrub cap as Winona ran anxiously to meet him…
“Mrs Taylor, great news! The operation was a success. Your grandson will regain consciousness shortly,” the doctor said as Winona teared up.
It felt like a thousand tonnes were lifted off her shoulders when Winona heard those words. She smiled through her tears as she saw little Tommy in the hospital bed.
“Mrs Taylor?” The doctor interrupted Winona. “Sorry to ask you this… I heard you on the phone earlier talking about selling your house. Did you have to sell it to pay for your grandson’s heart operation?”
A grave silence and unspeakable anguish washed over Winona’s face as she looked up at the doctor in tears. “It’s just a house, Doctor… I would do anything for my grandson… even trade my life to save his, if that was what God wanted. Tommy is all I have…”
Having said that, Winona retreated to the corridor outside the ward and took out her mobile phone. “Yes, I’m at City Hospital…” She informed Child Protection Services. “I’m ready to sign the necessary paperwork and hand over my grandson… I’ll be waiting for you.”
It was an excruciatingly difficult decision for Winona. She had sold her modest house on the outskirts of town to afford Tommy’s operation. Now, with no roof over her head and not much in the way of savings, she decided to place him in foster care until she could get back on her feet.
When the CPS arrived, Winona tearfully explained her situation. “But it’s only a temporary arrangement, sir,” Winona told the social workers. “I will hopefully return in a year to take my grandson with me when I have stabilised my finances and have a new house. Until then, I want Tommy to have someone to look after him.”
As soon as she had signed the placement agreement, Winona gingerly entered Tommy’s room and stroked his soft chestnut hair while he was still unconscious.
“Goodbye, sweetie,” Winona cried. “Granny will come back for you. I promise. Just hold on, love. And forgive me. I have to do this… for us. Just one year. Time will fly!”
Deep inside, a creeping feeling settled in Winona’s heart. She was plagued by the thought of whether she would ever be able to keep her promise. Picking up the pieces, Winona kissed Tommy on the forehead and left the ward with tears in her eyes.
Winona’s heart began to pound as she stood on the street, staring into the void before her. She had barely $100 in her old, withered flower purse. The feeling of having no money and no roof over her head, coupled with the promise she had made to her little grandson… it haunted Winona.
Then she remembered her rich friend Doris, who lived over a thousand miles away in Missouri. Winona pulled her phone out of her coat pocket and hastily called Doris.
“Hey, Doris, it’s me,” Winona said. “You told me a while ago about a vacancy at your seafood processing company, remember?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m talking about. I want to fill that position. I want that job… I really need it, Doris. Please help me.”
After almost a day’s cross-country drive, Winona arrived in Missouri. She got a job as a packer at her friend’s company. And as the days went by, Winona worked really hard, day and night, to save as much money as she could.
She slept barely three hours a day. Winona juggled her overtime at the factory with a part-time night shift as a petrol station attendant.
The grandmother was willing to move mountains for her grandson, even at the cost of her health. And before Winona knew it, a year had passed and it was finally time to return to Montana, pick up her cosy little house and bring Tommy home.
Winona pooled all her savings, but it was still not enough to buy the little house she wanted in her hometown. To her relief, her friend Doris helped her with the money as a token of appreciation for all her hard work and dedication.
A year had passed. With heartfelt gratitude, Winona said a tearful goodbye to her friend and made her way back home. She was so excited to see Tommy and bring him home from foster care.
“Jesus… I’m going to see my baby again!” Winona whispered as she sat on the window seat of the bus and looked out. “I hope I don’t cry…God! Please, I can’t wait to hold my boy. Grandma’s coming to get you, sweetheart. Just a few more hours…you’ll be in my arms forever!”
Winona finally arrived at her destination and the first thing she did was call the social workers. “Yes, it’s me! I’m on my way to take my grandson home.”
But Winona’s excitement faded, and what she heard on the other end of the line was like a dagger in her heart.
“Mrs Taylor, your grandson Tommy is no longer here. He was adopted a few weeks after you transferred custody,” the voice said. There was a dead silence as Winona’s heart began to crack.
“What do you mean someone adopted him?” She replied. “I told you I was coming back to get him in a year…”
“Mrs Taylor, your grandson was placed in foster care… and we did what was best for the boy when a kind, rich couple expressed an interest in adopting him. That’s the way our system works. Besides, you had signed the paperwork.”
“Good… Can I please have the name and address of his adoptive parents? Please, it’s important. I need to meet them.”
Winona sighed with relief as she wrote down the address. It belonged to a family who lived in the same town. She immediately hailed a taxi and drove to their home.
With every step she took towards the front door, Winona’s heart began to race with worry. She rang the bell and put on a confident face as the door creaked open.
“Yes?” A petite woman in an apron answered. It was Aileen, Tommy’s adoptive mother.
“Hello… I’m Winona, Tommy’s grandmother… Can I see him?” Winona said, getting to the point as she peered through the crack in the door behind the woman, looking for any sign of her grandson.
“Dave…can you come here for a second?” Aileen called anxiously for her husband. “Dave…honey!”
When Dave arrived and Aileen told him who Winona was, the colour drained from his face, just like his wife’s. They had probably never expected their adopted son’s grandmother to turn up on their doorstep out of the blue and ask to meet the boy.
But the couple were polite. They invited Winona in to find out why she had come. “Well… Mrs Taylor, it’s a pleasure to meet you…” Dave said with wide eyes and gestured for Winona to speak.
Winona took a deep breath and explained the circumstances under which she had to sell her house and give up her grandson to the foster care system. “…but I told them I would come back for him in a year when I had a house,” she said. “I’m so grateful to you for taking care of my grandson.”
At this point, the couple’s expressions changed drastically and they exchanged worried glances. “We’re glad you came to see us, Mrs Taylor. But what exactly is it that you want? To see your grandson?”
“To see him… and…” Winona paused. “Look, kids, I know how this looks. But the thing is, I couldn’t afford to pay for his operation. I had to sell my house and leave him in foster care because I had no money and no house. After that I worked really hard to save money. I recently bought a small house to move in with my grandson. Do you understand what I’m saying? I think Tommy will be better off with his grandma now…and that’s why I came…to take him…”.
When Winona had finished, Dave and Aileen became unsettled. They had never expected such a devastating blow. Tommy’s arrival had filled the void in their lives and they could not imagine life without him.
“Well, Mrs Taylor… we’ve been living with Tommy for almost a year now,” Aileen said. “We love him like he’s our own son…we definitely don’t want to be separated from him. Tommy loves us and we love him”.
“My wife is right,” Dave said. “You see, the thing is, we have the opportunity to provide the boy with everything he needs to grow up. Education. A job. Anything. We own a little café down the street.”
Dave paused as Winona listened with disbelief written all over her face. “Mrs Taylor, we’d still be happy for you to visit him… we’re fine with that… you can come and see Tommy anytime you want, OK?” Dave finished.
“Visit him?” Winona rose angrily from the couch. “I’m not a guest… I’m Tommy’s grandma. Do you hear me? I’m his mother’s mother. I raised him all his life after he lost his parents in a car crash. I don’t want your permission to see him.
As Winona began to raise her voice, Aileen and Dave decided not to be silent. They were prepared to do anything to keep Tommy from seeing his grandmother. Although they were prepared to allow Winona to visit the boy, after witnessing her attitude, even that option was ruled out.
“Remember, you’re standing on our property, Mrs Taylor,” Dave said sternly, pointing at Winona. “You’re not taking the boy anywhere. And that’s final.”
“He’s our son now,” Aileen fumed. “We legally adopted the boy. We signed the papers. It’s all done and dusted. Tommy is our son. And he stays here with us.”
Winona wanted to burst out crying. A part of her even urged her to fold her hands and plead with the couple to let her have her grandson back. But she knew they would never let Tommy go so easily.
“Well, if this is how it’s going to be, so be it. I would’ve never wanted to do this, but you’ve left me with no choice. I’ll see you in court,” Winona challenged the couple.
“You go wherever you want, lady,” Dave yelled. “Tommy is now legally our son, and nothing is going to change that. Get the hell out of my house before I call the cops. WE WILL NOT GIVE YOU OUR SON! Get out…!”
With a heart shattered to shreds, Winona disappointedly walked out of the house and slowed down on the streets. She burst into tears under a street lamp and hailed a cab to meet the lawyer.
“Mrs Taylor, after analysing your case, I see no reason why the court should give you custody of the boy,” the lawyer said. It hit Winona like a ton of bricks.
“What do you mean, Mr Benjamin?” Winona gasped. “He’s my grandson. I don’t see why I should have to fight for his custody when he’s rightfully mine.”
“I understand, Mrs Taylor,” the lawyer explained. “But to be brutally honest, the chances of winning in court are slim to none. Tommy’s adoptive parents are wealthy people… with stable incomes and good reputations in the community… do you understand, ma’am?”
This was not what Winona had expected to hear. Disappointed, she left the lawyer’s office and walked home. Suddenly she encountered two homeless drunks blocking her way.
“Hey, lady…” one of the guys said, holding out his dirty hand. “Would you mind giving us a few dollars to buy a shot?”
Winona was already in a terrible mood. And now those annoying drunks were adding to it. “You think I’m some kind of ATM, you fools?” Winona shouted at them. “Get out of here before I call the cops and kick your butts!”
The guys backed off as a strange plan suddenly formed in Winona’s mind. “Hey, wait a minute… come back…” she ran after the two guys.
“What if I give you $1,000…in exchange for a small favor?” Winona proposed a deal.
The drunkards were puzzled and, at the same time, stunned at the mention of a thousand bucks. “Did you say $1,000?! Of course, lady! What do you want us to do?”
Later that night, the two guys stood outside the Brewz & Cupz Café. Wearing black masks, they paced back and forth, waiting for the right time.
“Dude, the coast is clear…let’s go!” One of them said as the other man threw a rock, smashing the window of the café. The men poured bottles of petrol into the cafe and threw a Molotov cocktail, setting the place on fire.
“The job is done!” The boys pumped their fists and fled the scene as the building burned down. Fire engines swarmed the scene, but by then the cafe was completely destroyed.
The next morning, Winona’s phone rang loudly, shattering the silence around her. “Mrs Taylor, this is Attorney Benjamin… we still have a chance!”
Winona’s face lit up as she jumped out of bed. “We do?”
“Yes! Last night someone set fire to Mr Dixon’s cafe. The whole place burned down. The thing is, their house is mortgaged. The family has a lot of debts… and their only source of income, the café, is now reduced to ashes. It’s going to take a long time for him to get back on his feet and rebuild his business. This gives us a chance in court!
A week later, Winona was in court explaining everything she could in an attempt to regain custody of her grandson. “I sold my house to pay for his heart surgery, Your Honour. I was willing to do anything to save my grandson’s life. I worked two jobs after that. Saved money. And bought a little house where I could raise him… and give him a good life.
As the case intensified, Aileen and Dave were called to give their side of the story. They felt uncomfortable explaining the health complications that prevented them from having children.
“We dreamed of adopting a child,” Dave said. “And when we met Tommy, we fell in love with him. We took him in to raise him as our son… to be his family.”
“Mr Dixon, your cafe burned down recently. Would this in any way affect how you intend to raise the boy? Can you please explain your current financial situation?” Winona’s lawyer chimed in.
There was a brief pause as Dave did not know how to answer this question. He looked painedly at his wife, Aileen, before speaking.
“…My wife and I are looking for a job until we renovate the cafe,” Dave said.
“Mr Dixon, your house is mortgaged, is it not?” the lawyer added. “And you’re still looking for work… to make money… to get your business back on its feet. Could we ask you to tell us how much you have left to pay on the mortgage?”
“We…er…we have a little over half to go,” Dave said.
“Well, your business is down… the mortgage is still outstanding. And you and your wife are unemployed. And you still want to raise the boy! That’s all, Your Honour!” Winona’s lawyer finished.
A solemn silence fell over the courtroom as the judge said, “Ladies and gentlemen… before we proceed with the final verdict, I am going to call a short recess. We will reconvene in 30 minutes. This court is adjourned.”
Half an hour later, everyone was back in court for the final hearing. A strange feeling of fear and anxiety crept into Winona’s gut as the judge began to read the verdict.
“Based on the evidence and testimony of both sides, the court recognises Mrs Taylor as the legal guardian of Tommy L. and requests that parental rights be transferred to her with immediate effect.”
Winona’s happiness knew no bounds at this point. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as she thanked her lawyer, everyone who congratulated her, and God. “Thank you Jesus…thank you!” She kept whispering, at a loss for words.
While Winona was overjoyed at gaining custody of her grandson, the boy’s adoptive parents, Aileen and Dave, were in tears. Winona took a moment to notice them and decided to rub salt in their wounds.
“Well… well! I told you it would have been much better if we had settled the matter without dragging it to court!” Winona sneered. “I want my grandson back as soon as possible.”
Aileen and Dave were tormented. “Mrs Taylor, you can come and get your grandson in two days… we’ll pack all his things and be ready.”
Two days later, Winona arrived at the couple’s home to collect her grandson. Aileen answered the door and Winona noticed the woman’s tear-stained face and puffy, red eyes.
“We’re almost ready, Mrs Taylor,” Aileen said, trying to hold back her tears. “Please wait inside.”
Winona smiled and went inside to see boxes of children’s items and luggage in the living room. There were toys, books, colourful clothes and shoes. There was plenty, even the kind Winona had never been able to afford for her grandson before.
“It’s all for Tommy,” Dave said as he carried out another box of things. “Tommy’s in his room. He’s been crying all day. Don’t worry, Mrs Taylor. My wife will calm him down and get him ready. Just give us five minutes. I’ll put these things in the taxi.
Ten minutes later, Winona was all smiles as she led little Tommy to the taxi. His face was red and swollen from crying. He sat by the window, pressing his tearful face against the glass. “Bye, champ! Daddy loves you!” Dave mustered up the courage, even with tears in his eyes, and waved to the boy.
Just as the driver started the engine, Aileen ran towards the cab, screaming at the top of her lungs. “Stop! Please…stop the taxi…stop!” The driver slammed on the brakes and Winona turned around in shock.
“Tommy, honey, you forgot to take Bugs!” Aileen panted, handing Tommy’s teddy bear through the window. “Sorry, Mrs Taylor… he doesn’t sleep well without his teddy bear.”
Before anybody could process anything, Tommy leaned through the window and hugged Aileen tightly.
“Mommy…please…I don’t want to leave you and Daddy,” he cried.
Winona was in awe of the emotional scene unfolding before her eyes. She stepped out of the taxi as Aileen and Dave noticed her teary eyes.
“I’m sorry…” Winona sobbed. “It was me… I set fire to your cafe. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for being so horrible. In my quest to win custody of my grandson, I stopped being human. I forgot that all that mattered was Tommy’s happiness… not mine. I’ll sell my house and pay for the damage to your café.
An electric shock of disbelief went through Aileen and Dave as Winona turned to the taxi and said, “Tommy, sweetie…come here!”
Tommy ran to his adoptive parents and threw himself into their arms. Winona could not hold back her tears as she watched the heartwarming reunion. Dave looked up at her and said, “It’s all right, Mrs Taylor! We don’t want this conflict any more.