From aunt to mother: Girls find new home in Salisbury after mother’s death
SALISBURY — Annice Chunn’s voice trembled as she picked up the phone to call her son, Theo.
She had news.
Chunn had travelled to Anchorage, Alaska alone, but she’d be coming back to Salisbury with two little girls.
At the time, Chunn’s nieces Kiana and Kiara were 6 and 8 years old, respectively.
Their mother, Mary, was on her deathbed.
“The first thing she said to me when I walked into her (hospital) room was ‘Annice, I want you to take the girls back with you,’” Chunn said. “I got weak in the knees.”
Years ago, Chunn had promised her sister she would take care of Kiana and Kirara if she died before they were grown.
“I said ‘yes’ not thinking that anything would ever happen to her,” she said.
In 2007, Mary called to tell Chunn she had gastric cancer.
Chunn had just started a basic law enforcement training program.
“It was very strict, I couldn’t miss any days,” she said. “So I called her and prayed for her.”
By the end of the year, Mary had wrapped up chemotherapy and her cancer appeared to be gone.
But at the start of 2008, Chunn received another phone call.
This one was less optimistic. Mary’s cancer was back and she only had a few months to live.
When Chunn realized her sister wasn’t going to make it, she traveled with her mother to Alaska for a week.
She didn’t expect to leave the state with two children.
“I hadn’t really forgotten what my sister and I had talked about all those years ago,” Chunn said. “But it was way in the back of my mind.”
During that phone call with her son, Chunn wondered how she would care for the girls while working the night shift for the Salisbury Police Department.
She was a rookie who had started in the department just a few months earlier.
It had been Chunn’s dream to be a police officer, but she put it off until Theo and her daughter, LaKetia, were grown.
Theo assured her his professors at Winston Salem State University would allow the girls to come to class with him for a week while she searched for a babysitter.
“I always say they went to college for a week,” Chunn said.
When the girls arrived back in Salisbury, the single mother was already on the hunt for a babysitter.
That’s when Chunn’s neighbors, Lesley and Chris Basinger stepped in.
“They had seen the girls and asked if I had some company,” Chunn said. “When I explained what was going on they offered to help out.”
So, while Chunn was at work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., the girls stayed with the Basingers.
After a while, Chunn’s request to switch to day shift was approved. This time, she wondered how she would get them to and from school while she was at work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“(Lesley) said ‘Don’t worry about it, they can come over and I’ll feed them breakfast and get them on the bus,’” Chunn said. “She also made sure they got off the bus.”
“I call them my angels. If it wasn’t for them, I seriously don’t know what I would’ve done.”
Time to adjust
There was an adjustment period when the girls moved in with Chunn.
After raising two children on her own, she had looked forward to some time to herself.
“My phrase was ‘It’s all about me,” she said. “At first, I felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on me.”
The girls left behind friends and family in Alaska.
And all three of them felt the sadness of Mary’s death.
“The whole situation was a sad one,” Chunn said. “(Kiana) didn’t really know what was going on, she knew that her mother had been sick. Kiara was really upset, she cried from the time we got to the airport until we got here.”
Chunn said the family still continues to talk about her sister.
“We keep her in our hearts,” she said. “I lost my son in 1993 and I tell the girls this is my trade-off, my sister wanted me to take care of her girls while she went to heaven to take care of my son.”
The girls had to get used to a few things when they moved to Salisbury.
“It was a big change for them as far as the living,” Chunn said. “My sister was more lenient.
“People think I’m military because I like order so much.”
The first habit she broke the girls of was watching whatever they wanted on television.
“When they got here all I heard about was ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Hannah Montana,’” Chunn said.
Chunn let them know they wouldn’t spend all day watching TV.
“I’m a big kid at heart,” she said. “I like to be outside, I like to be active.
“I already had a hula hoop at home, so I went out and bought two more.”
Next, the family started working out together.
“The first time we went running at Catawba College I was in the back and my mom was up in the front running,” Kiana said, “I said ‘I can’t keep up’ and she said ‘Be quiet, if I can do it, you can do it.’”
Now, Chunn and the girls take classes at the Saleeby-Fisher East Rowan YMCA or run almost daily.
“I’m not one of those parents who goes to the gym to workout and lets my kids walk up and down the halls with their friends,” she said. “We workout together.
“It has helped boost their confidence a lot and stengthen our bond.”
When the girls first moved in, Chunn laid out a simple ground rule.
“I said ‘Okay, when we go to bed at night we say a prayer and we do sit-ups and push-ups,’” she said.
Growing up as one of 11 children, eight of which were boys, meant Chunn had to be tough.
“So, I always try to make my children tough too,” she said.
The family also likes to spend time together relaxing at the beach.
“We’ve already been three times this year,” Kiara said.
Chunn still remembers the first time she took the girls down to Myrtle Beach.
“(Kiana) was afraid of the water; now you can’t get her out of it,” she said. “She has really advanced. She used to be afraid of everything.”
From Aunt NeeCee to Muddas
It’s been several years since the girls stopped calling Chunn Aunt NeeCee and started calling her Muddas.
“That came about because my brother and his wife’s little girl couldn’t say mother, so she would say mudda,” Chunn said. “I would call my mom and jokingly say that, now it’s my name.”
Chunn refers to the girls as her second set of children.
“I don’t want them to feel like they are not part of the family because they are my daughters,” she said. “I don’t want them to be separated.
“They call my son their brother and my daughter their sister.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.