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First He’s Down, Then He’s Out

A mother and son can grow unusually close living together in a trailer for 21 years.

And then, when the woman who adopted you at birth begins to slide away in her 70s and dies, and leaves you grieving for the only real family you had left, the sense of loss can be pulverizing.

Maybe that sadness is stoking the anger Jeffrey Smith is feeling these days. Maybe, as more time flows since his mother’s death 32 days ago, he’ll see things differently. But when he tells me that the anger still gurgles and then explains why, I can feel it.

Smith’s story comes from the other side of the tracks -- from a guy, now 34, who’s lived since he was 13 in a 35-foot trailer with his mother, Eunice. It’s a life many of us might think of as nomadic, but Smith says he’s lived at only three sites during 21 years in the family trailer.

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In September 1996, Smith and mother moved to the Ponderosa mobile home and RV park in Garden Grove. From there you can see Crystal Cathedral.

Eunice Smith survived a quadruple bypass three years ago, but showed signs of Alzheimer’s earlier this year, and ultimately lost her will to live, her son says. On Nov. 13, at 78, she died in an Anaheim hospital.

Five days later, Jeff buried his mother. The next day, Ponderosa management gave him a letter expressing sympathy for his mother’s death, but also notifying him he had to leave the first week in December or face eviction.

Smith was incensed. Although he’d lived permanently in the park with his mother and had signed various other papers with her, only her name appeared on the contract. Jeff Smith had no legal right to remain, Ponderosa said, even though for the entire six years of his mother’s stay, the monthly bills were sent to “Smith, Eunice and Jeff” and all the rent checks were drawn on mother and son’s joint checking account.

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“I never had any problems whatsoever, and the day after Mom’s funeral they hand me an eviction notice,” Smith says. “They didn’t have to do what they did, but for me to fight it would have taken more energy and resources than I had available, and they knew it.”

My phone call to Ponderosa management went unreturned. I drove out there, but was unable to find anyone at the management office. An RV resident I spoke to said tenants seldom see the manager and have difficulty even arranging meetings with her. The resident didn’t know Smith, but said trailer owners believe new management is targeting long-term tenants for eviction, for reasons they can only speculate about.

“In the last six months, we’ve felt totally intimidated and helpless,” the resident says, insisting on remaining anonymous. “No one cares to see management come to their door, because you know they aren’t coming down to invite you to a party in the clubhouse.”

The owners of mobile homes aren’t blessed with a multitude of tenant rights; they have fewer than the owners of the manufactured homes that are less easily moved, says a state Senate Housing Committee consultant.

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But what happened to Smith stinks to high heaven.

Smith could have gone to court and argued that his long-term residence entitled him to stay. Maybe he’d win.

But, not emotionally up for a fight so soon after his mother’s death, he left.

Smith has stored his trailer -- the home he helped his adoptive parents design (his father died in 1986) and the only one he’s had since. In time, he’ll probably sell it.

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Smith now rents an apartment and duels with both anger and sadness.

“I’m not past it,” he said last week of his ouster. “I hate it. They basically told me I had to get out of the house I had been in with my mom.”

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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