Accidental immigrant faces a challenging time of life

An eviction forced a reluctant Sandi Hearn to leave California for Bozeman.

By DEZRI ROCHIN/Montana State News

Sandi Hearn just wants to go home. She never wanted to come to Bozeman in the first place. For the past 18 years she and her longtime friend Barry have shared a three-bedroom condo in San Dimas, a cozy little town nestled in the lush foothills of Southern California where the average temperature is 70 degrees.

But in July Sandi and Barry found themselves facing eviction due to rent increases. Sandi is 68 years old and showing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and advancing emphysema. Her bank is in San Dimas, just around the corner from her condo as is the Sally’s beauty supply where she buys her hair color and Trader Joe’s where she gets her favorite chocolate chip cookies. Huntington Beach is a 40 minute drive. Sandi loves the ocean. San Dimas is her home.

Sandi Hearn is my mother.

Her room was her sanctuary. She had her own private bath with a deep oval tub that sat beneath a skylight. It was surrounded by shells and sea sponges that she had collected from gift shops from the various beaches she frequented. She loved a long soak. Sandi has not been in a tub since she arrived in Bozeman in August. Just outside her bathroom was a large vanity where she kept her hot rollers and all of her hair care products.

Sandi was once a head turner with long brown gorgeous hair. She colored and styled it herself for years since she often said that “nobody knows what they are doing in most salons.” When waiting to go someplace with her it was common to hear the words, “I just have to do my hair then we can go.” Actually it was, “I just have to smoke a cigarette, then do my hair and then we can go.” She still smokes and needs oxygen to make it through the day.

Since she has been in Bozeman she has not washed her hair once and has had to visit a local salon for a shampoo and to have a giant knot detangled from the back of her head. She wears a black baseball cap to hide the 3-inch long outgrowth of striking pure white hair. She says it is the stress of the move that caused the white hair. But Sandi has been coloring her white roots for years. In California she wouldn’t have been caught dead with her roots showing, let alone wearing a baseball cap.

Sandi’s closet was always very neat and tidy while stuffed with designer jeans, blouses and cashmere sweaters, many with the tags still on. She may have had over 50 pairs of shoes, most of them with 3-inch heels. The woman had some drop-dead gorgeous shoes, all in a size 6. She stood around 5 feet 3 inches tall barefoot and liked to have the extra 3 inches added to her stature. She had to hem all of her pants so that they covered her heels perfectly. That amounted to quite a bit of hemming. At one point her feet began to bother her from the years in heels and rather than give up the extra 3 inches she opted for surgery to remove a portion of each pinky toe. You could say she was a vain woman in her day.

Since August, it’s been rare to see her out of her pajamas. “I’ve just lost so damn much weight, nothing fits!” she says, or, “I can’t find any of my clothes, they’re probably all back in California.” Her clothes aren’t here because she had refused to pack them. Sandi has always been obstinate, some say difficult.

She was born in Barberton, Ohio, “waaaay back in the country,” and her family was “dirt poor,” she says. “It took forever just to get to the bus stop for school!”

She hated the cold and she hated her father who she says abused her three older sisters. She left home as a young teen.

“I don’t really remember how I ended up in California but I do know I had to get away from Ohio.”

She met my father while shopping at a discount store where he worked. He too was a looker. They got married and had me, and after her 14 years of marriage, they divorced.

She went to school to become a licensed vocational nurse when she was in her late 20s, but hated the work. She went to cosmetology school and worked in a salon for a few years. She remarried, quit the salon and tried her hand at bar tending which she didn’t like either. Nor did she like her new husband, and after a few years that marriage ended.

Not long after that she met Norm, a wealthy man who smothered her with diamonds and lavish gifts. She was finally happy. She opened a designer consignment shop in Claremont not far from where they lived. But the shop failed and so did the relationship.

Sometime later she met her friend Barry at a Mexican restaurant and after a couple of years they decided to move in together…as friends. Barry was in love with Sandi but was content with the platonic living arrangement. Eventually, she got a job in the Los Angeles County School District in a non-teaching position and it was from there that she took her early retirement. Sandi has never again found love.

Her room was filled with her memories. Her brass headboard topped her queen sized bed covered with fine Egyptian cotton sheets, a down comforter and the huge bedspread I had crocheted for her. Photos of my children and me from years past were carefully displayed among fine crystal figurines and mementos.

The old wooden cabinet, once belonging to her mother, that I had always coveted, stood in a corner filled with long unused craft supplies. The birdhouse she had built and used to hide surprises in for my daughter when she was a girl, sat on a shelf, long empty.

Stuff. The woman had some stuff. A lifetime worth of stuff, just where she wanted it, reminding her of who she was, because Sandi Hearn was forgetting.

I got the call late last July. Mom and Barry were being evicted and had no definite plan for the future. They had three weeks to vacate. A desperate Barry told me, “Sandi refuses to pack, she refuses to move, she refuses to get out of bed and when she does, she stays in her pajamas all day!”

I suggested they come to Bozeman. They had no friends or social life in San Dimas; they never did. I am here with her grandson whom she rarely sees. My father and Mary his wife of 28 years live here. ( I call her Saint Mary because of her patience with the people in our family.) They have remained friends with Sandi throughout the years. My half-brother, Justin, whom Sandi has always loved, is here. I told them that they have people here who will love and support them.

Barry, who is gung-ho over the idea, calls some people and lands a job with a local restaurant supply firm.

Mom digs in her heels, claiming, “The landlord is an asshole and I will sue that sonofabitch! I’ll sue him for…” But she can’t think of anything to sue him for. This does not however lessen her resolve. That is until two days before everything she owned was about to become property of her S.O.B. landlord. Sandi started packing. Slowly.

Perhaps it was an act of God that allowed them to travel the 1,800 miles to Bozeman in two separate vehicles one towing a mid-sized U-Haul trailer. But in late August they arrived.

Sandi is not happy to be here. Barry tries to keep her spirits up. Perhaps there are now two saints in the family. She refuses to change her bank or her health insurance or even unpack. He takes her to see the ducks at the pond on campus.

“It’s her favorite thing to do and she doesn’t have to change out of her pajamas.” says Barry.

We often get together at my dad’s house for dinner and games with family and friends. Sandi used to envy our gatherings up here and she seems to enjoy them now. But when asked how she is enjoying her new house and Montana she just huffs and rolls her eyes.

Sandi is forgetting things. She forgets how much she complained about California. She hated the people, the traffic and the fact that they never did anything fun. Sandi was miserable in San Dimas But her bank was there. And Trader Joe’s was just around the corner. Her doctor was just a hop skip and a jump on the freeway. She hated Southern California but it was home.

“The moon,” she says. “It follows me. Sometimes I get in my car and drive, and I look up and it is there. I know it is God letting me know he is there because wherever I go I look up and that moon is there. I relate it to God.”

Sandi has told this story over and over to anyone who will listen as if it is the first time telling it. Sandi never believed in God. Sandi Hearn just wants to go home.

Edited by David Hoy.

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