Couple Keeps Love Alive Despite Daunting Obstacles (Part II)

After losing their home, couple tries to enjoy their photography and baby grandson, while looking forward to celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

Meet the Smiths, longtime Tri-Valley residents who seemingly did everything right to achieve success, only to see it completely unravel, year by year, as they struggle with serious health and financial woes. This is Part Two of their story and one in a national Patch series called Dispatches, a look at the changing American Dream.

To read Part One, click .

Troy Smith's mom was a regular at in Pleasanton back in the 1980s, and got to know the restaurant's spunky manager, 18-year-old Nancy Caddell, whose parents owned the place.

When Troy's mom would go in, she would say to the girl, "You're so cute — I should adopt you."

Nancy, who actually was adopted, took a liking to her. They shared an interest in the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" and would chat about it often — not the version on television now, but the one back in the day that featured Bo and Hope and Stefano DiMera and the Salem Strangler. Before Marlena got possessed by the devil.

"The toughest thing for me is, we did everything in our power to do the right thing. We emptied our savings, our retirement accounts, our life insurance, and it's still not enough."

As it turns out, Troy's mom had gone through an adoption ordeal herself. Nancy wanted to find her birth mom, and said, "Will you help me?" So she put Nancy in touch with the Adoptees' Liberty Movement Association (ALMA), and Nancy found her birth mother in one day. They became amazing friends.

One day, Troy's mom said to Nancy, "I have a son you should meet," and showed her a photograph of Troy — a cute, smiling high school senior. Then Sandra brought him in one night and introduced them.

"I think she expected fireworks, but it was just really awkward," Nancy said.

Years later, when they were both 21, Troy Smith went into the restaurant one day alone. Nancy didn't recognize — by then, he was a strapping 21-year-old construction apprentice, long-haired and leather-jacketed. Every girl's dream. Nancy thought he was gorgeous.

"I said, 'Hey Nancy,'" he said.

She said: "And then I recognized his voice."

She made his pizza that night, and he offered to hang out with her at the restaurant the following Saturday while she did inventory. Then, he invited her to the Laserium in San Francisco to see a Pink Floyd show. She said, "Pink who?" She listened to the Pointer Sisters; he was more into Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and KISS.

He made her a mix tape, and then they listened to it in her blue 1984 Toyota Celica GT. However, Troy had a long-distance girlfriend, so he and Nancy were just friends at first. But after he and the girlfriend broke up, the two started dating.

Today, they've been married longer than they'd been alive when they met in those Straw Hat days — 24 years.

Some snapshot memories: A 14-day car trip to the World's Fair, camping the whole way. A marriage proposal at 7:34 p.m. May 4, 1986 (the exact moment of sunset) in Monterey. A 21-year wedding anniversary celebrated atop that same Monterey rock outcropping.

"She's very Cancer," says Troy, who's 12 days older than Nancy. "I'm very Leo."

Epilepsy, unemployment and foreclosure

Now parents to a 21-year-old daughter and grandparents to an infant boy, they never imagined the hardships they would face over the years: Nancy's struggle with epilepsy, unemployment and a foreclosure on their home in Livermore.

When Nancy talks about it all, Troy holds her hand, just as he does when she's not feeling well.

They both say that losing their house, in many ways, has been just as horrible as Nancy's seizures. They bought the home near Garaventa Ranch and North Vasco roads more than two decades ago — a mere year after they married.

"Before Nancy got sick, I was never late with any payment — not even a credit card bill," Troy said.

But to the banks, 22 years of on-time payments means nothing, he said, noting that they finally lost the house in 2010.

"They know Nancy is having problems, but it doesn't matter. The toughest thing for me is, we did everything in our power to do the right thing. We emptied our savings, our retirement accounts, our life insurance, and it's still not enough.

"Sometimes it brings me to tears. As big and tough as I look, I've shed tears."

The weekend they moved out of their home, Troy had to sit in the car for a minute to regain his composure before saying goodbye to neighbors.

"As you walk out of the house, your life kind of flashes before your eyes — everything that got left behind. I kept telling myself, 'It's just stuff.' And then I'd see the tree by the driveway that I planted when my daughter was born, or the marks on the bathroom door as we marked her height, and I'd lose it.

"And I realized that the old saying, 'The harder you work, the more you have' — well, it's just not true. We've never lived a lavish life. But that 1 percent out there — they don't understand what it's like to have to make these kinds of choices."

They also lost their Honda, and a lot of other things in bankruptcy. They are fighting to get Social Security and disability benefits but are caught up in red tape because the government won't recognize Nancy's illness as a permanent disability.

These days, Nancy has a seizure every one to three weeks so she can't work. The financial stress is surely a contributing factor, Nancy says. She does yoga, Tai Chi and meditation, but nothing seems to help.

She forgets conversations and makes to-do lists to cope but then forgets about the lists. Troy said it's frustrating when he has a conversation with her and then the next morning, she doesn't remember.

"I can't get angry," he said. "I just get kind of introverted."

Nancy says, "It's so embarrassing. And I know it's frustrating for him."

But they want people to know they are not the sum of their bad luck. Troy, for example, is a photographer when he's not working for the city of Pleasanton. He has some of his work displayed in virtual galleries.

 Nancy, also a photographer who has sold her images at the Art Walk in Livermore, is a graphic artist in her down time. She can see something in her mind's eye and then create it. She has designed T-shirts and also loves doing comedy at open-mic nights. She tried out for "Funniest Mom in America" on Nick at Nite a few years ago and would love to get back into it.

Both Troy and Nancy's Facebook pages are filled with hope — thank yous to friends who sent little gifts in tough times and memories of days gone by, when things were a little more carefree.

And these days, there's even a new baby to celebrate.

"Our daughter," Troy said, tearing up again. "She had a baby boy on July 10. We have a grandson. His name is Colton." 

Daughter Chelsea lives in Massachusetts; she is close to her parents, but they try to shield her from many of their problems so she can live her own young life.

Some days, they say it's just too hard to stay positive — there's always a sad reminder. Christmas was tough this year, for example, with more cuts to their budget than ever. They bought gifts for their niece and three nephews, gave See's Candies to Chelsea and her husband and are saving up for a gift card for Colton. They asked loved ones not to get them presents this year, knowing they wouldn't be able to reciprocate.

If they could just get the disability payments, that would change a lot of things. For starters, they'd have the money to take a cruise for their 25th wedding anniversary in February.

If they don't go, Troy said, it would be the first time they haven't been able to celebrate a major milestone wedding anniversary.

"This is what I want to fight for," Troy said.

"But I'm blessed to have the job I have — I love it. And we're so lucky to have all of our family and friends.

"We try to never forget the things that are really important."

To see Troy's photography, go to his Blue Canvas website.

Follow Troy on Twitter: TWSPhotographer.

 You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” at The Huffington Post.

Dudette January 06, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Tanya, Thank you SO much! You write wonderfully! You make us sound like such cool people! Hahaha. Gotta keep some laughter going with the pain and suffering that can surround us. Thanks again for everything you've done, you've been a wonderful gift to us :-)
Tanya Rose January 06, 2012 at 08:08 PM
you ARE cool people! Thank you for the sweet note, Nancy. :) Love you guys.
Cameron Sullivan January 06, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Such a beautiful story; such lovely people. Thanks, again, for sharing!
Ivan Dryer January 07, 2012 at 01:24 AM
I am very moved by this story, in part because I have an indirect connection--I created Laserium in 1973--but more because of the parallels to my wife's and my own history: we were married in 1976 (35th on Valentine's Day), and photography is my avocation, also represented online; after nearly 30 years and 46 cities worldwide, Laserium declined, partly because of wife's MS diagnosis and increasing disability, which began to sap my attention and energy; in '97 our house of 22 years was foreclosed, and we filed for bankruptcy; Carol is bed-bound, increasingly forgetful as dementia sets in, and she, too, was ineligible for disability payments; were it not for the state IHSS program (under which I provide her home care) and my social security, we'd be on the street. So having traveled a similar road, I completely empathize with the Smiths and wish them the very best in their struggle to survive amid the nostalgia for their past, when life was truly good!
Barbara Bisignano January 07, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Nancy my FB friend...we share so much. Loss of a business, severe financial problems and above all epilepsy. When we lost our business in 2008 I thought the world was ending. Then my seizures worsened. I was so debilitated, plus the wrong medication caused severe depression (not that the finances didn't do it too). There were times when we didn't have money for food. For three years we have struggled to keep our home that we built, live on my salary and odd jobs that my husband has been doing and just keep up. The stress has been enormous. Health insurance is another issue. I can't get SSI either. Epilepsy isn't recognized. I'd like to have a grand mal at Social Security. My memory is horrid and I endure the embarassments at work. There is hope for you though. It has been a tough 3 years, but one thing has saved you and I...a great marriage. I've seen others fall. My saddest moment was when we realized that we forgot our 20th anniversary in 2010. I cried. So much stress. Things are looking up. My husband is going back to a good paying job and MAYBE I will be able to quit. You and I should write a book!
Dudette January 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Thank YOU for your wonderful words! We had no idea people like you would be so touched, and we appreciate you commenting :-)
Dudette January 07, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Hello Ivan. Troy and I loved going to the Laserium at Golden Gate Park! That's where we went for a few of our early dates :-) It is amazing you saw our story. Hard to believe that's a coincedence. I'm so sorry for your losses and hope life has become manageable for you and your wife. I wish you smiles and happiness :-)
Dudette January 07, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Oh my gosh!! Barbara, your story is amazing! And I understand having that wonderful solid marriage is such a key part of dealing with our conditions. I had no idea your health is in the position it is. And I agree with having a seizure at SS! They don't listen to doctors, they only listen to employees there who have NO experience or education on our seizures! Just let them see one!! I have these every 1 to 4 weeks and it's a minimum 1 hour recovery, more often a few hours before I can talk clearly. How does that make me employable?! And yes, we really should write a book. We have different names for our disabilities, but the effect on our brain is the same! Stress is the #1 trigger of my seizures, and going through the bankruptcy, foreclosure, and fighting with SSD has been beyond stress! I'm so thankful that Tanya wrote about us. She's an amazing woman, listened to us, and wrote the truth and that means a lot. So many people have no idea what a seizure disorder is like to see, let alone what it's like to have one. People like yourself read this and are sharing their experience as well as folks not having our condition and appreciate learning about it. Congratulations on your husband's job, that's great!! I look forward to meeting you face to face some day :-)
Wendy Smith January 09, 2012 at 05:01 AM
What a sad story. My thoughts are with you Troy and Nancy.
Troy W. Smith January 09, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Thank you Cameron, I also understand we are not alone. There are so many that have had more to deal with than us. We just hoped that by sharing our story maybe others could gain strength knowing others have done it and survived!
Troy W. Smith January 09, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Ivan, damn I'm so sorry! The obstacles and challenges life throws at us can be so crazy, at times it seems unbearable. I'm so sorry you've had to endure all that, it just seems unfair! I have to ask Ivan, are you the one who said "As the sun sets slowly in the west"? If so then I remember you for sure. Take care buddy, I hope things get better for you!!!
Troy W. Smith January 09, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Thank you Barbara, actually sounds like a great idea!!! I really hope that things continue to get better for you!!! Thank you for sharing, it helps so many knowing they aren't alone!
Troy W. Smith January 09, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Thank you Wendy, yes it is sad. But our intent with opening up with Tanya was to help others realize they are not alone and deep down hoping for someone to share an experience that could possibly end this seizure roller coaster for Nancy! Just to have some type of normalcy and reduced stress would be nice! But one thing I'm not going to do is give up!
Deb A January 09, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Nancy and Troy, Don and I want to send our LOVE. We have been thinking of you often and just happened to get a Reminder from Bev "Did you Read this article in the Patch" Now that I have we feel bad that we did not look you up this Christmas as Santa and Ms. Santa. The energy and love you both have gives us the joy to say we have know you as Friends for over 12 years now since Nancy and I were both laid off by the same company because they closed the doors in Pleasanton. We will email you and get back together because Don and I are both free daily between job interviews yes both of the companies we worked for closed the doors. Love you so much Deb Anderson and Don Pitt


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