By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer
They'll set the table in their West Chester Township home Thursday. They'll use the good china and candles. They'll share a meal with all the trimmings.
Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed.
"Amber really loves Thanksgiving," Thelma Owens says of her only grandchild. "She just loves to see a turkey on the table."
There will be plenty of leftovers. "It's always just the two of us," Thelma says.
She is a 66-year-old widow who works as an inspector for GE Aircraft Engines. She grew up in Middlesboro, Ky., near the Cumberland Gap, and when she moved north many years ago she brought her Southern accent with her.
There's a trace of it in her granddaughter's voice, too. Amber Owens is 13, a seventh-grader at Lakota Ridge Junior School. This night, she's wrapped in a terry cloth robe, her light brown hair falling straight to her shoulders.
Amber and Thelma Owens|
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"I cried so hard when she was born," Thelma says, "and it wasn't from joy. There was no future for the child."
Until Thelma saw a chance to create one.
She says Amber was born to a mother battling a drug problem. Amber's father - Thelma's only child - asked Thelma to take them all in. She did. Amber was 6 months old.
Court battles ensued. A judge awarded custody to Amber's father, who allowed Amber to remain with Thelma. She has legal guardianship.
Amber says she sees her mother "only when she's looking for my dad."
Which isn't often, Thelma says.
"My mother ain't nothin' to me," Amber says matter-of-factly, "and my dad visits me occasionally." She softens a bit. "I do like my dad. I do love him."
No second thoughts
GRANDPARENTS RAISING KIDS
The number of grandchildren living in their grandparents' homes has more than doubled in the United States during the past 30 years, the Census Bureau says. Here's a look at the number of Greater Cincinnati grandparents raising their grandchildren under age 18.
Hamilton County: 6,733
Warren County: 922
Butler County: 2,746
Boone County: 481
Campbell County: 639
Kenton County: 1,182
Dearborn County: 305
The seven-county total is 13,008 grandparents raising their grandchildren. Another 15,380 grandparents live in homes with their grandchildren but are not responsible for raising them.
Thelma says she never thought twice about taking Amber. "That was my granddaughter. She was in a really bad situation. All I did was pray, every day."
That, and delve into the task of raising a child all over again.
Thelma diapered the infant, fed her, read to her, played with her. "She was just my whole life. She has been my whole life ever since she's been here."
As Amber grew up, her grandmother made sure she did all the things little girls do, from ballet to T-ball.
In the meantime, Thelma's social life suffered. Friends stopped asking her to go out. "When you have a child at my age, you don't have friends, because people don't want you to bring a kid along," she says.
"I understand. Their kid days are over. But they don't know how much fun they can be."
Everywhere Thelma goes, Amber goes. And vice versa.
Movies and the mall. Vacations and Paramount's Kings Island. Friday night football. Thelma recently chaperoned a junior high dance.
"I always have fun with her," Amber says.
Amber says her peers - and their parents - often treat her differently when they learn her grandmother is raising her. In past years she's sometimes fought with classmates who made fun of her because she doesn't live with her parents.
Even now, "We invite a lot of (classmates) over," Thelma says, "but they don't get to come."
Still, Amber keeps busy. She plays bass clarinet. She performs in plays with a children's theater troupe. She enjoys creating art, especially Japanese anime. And she's a writer who participates in a school group called Power of the Pen. Her writing often deals with dark themes, such as horror and loss. Her favorite author is Edgar Allan Poe.
"I mainly write about people who only have one parent," she says.
Thelma says if she could rewrite the script that is her granddaughter's life, she would want her in a stable home with a mother and father. As it is, she has no regrets. She's worked hard, done her best.
"I just want her to get a good education and to have a happy life," Thelma says, and tears well up in her eyes. "I want her to love and always have love."
"Don't cry," Amber says to her grandmother. "I hate it when people cry."
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