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Jean and Tom Thetford eat lunch with their great-grandson, Bentley Francis, 3, at their home in Paducah. Although he doesn't live with Jean and Tom all the time, Jean says their house is the most stable environment for Bentley.


story by Jennifer King

In some ways, Jean Thetford has raised her own family tree.

Since retirement the 78-year-old has worked tirelessly to piece together her family's roots but her work in genealogy pales in comparison to her raising three generations of children.

Her attention now is devoted to bringing up 3-year-old great-grandson Bentley Francis.

Although his father has custody, Bentley spends most days of the week with Jean, his great-grandmother.

"I can't hardly stand it when they don't bring him because I really love him being here," Jean says. "They don't pay me or anything but watching him saves them a lot of money and gives me a lot of pleasure."

When Bentley is over, Jean doesn't have to worry about his safety.

"I know he's taken care of here," she says.

The same can't be said of other places Bentley has been in his short life. He and his mother, Jean's granddaughter, lived with Jean and her husband, Tom, when Bentley was first born. She says the situation changed drastically after Bentley's mother became involved with a boyfriend.

"I tried to get her not to leave with that guy," Jean says. "I told her he had no redeeming qualities. She must've seen something I couldn't see."

She says the hardest part of that time was not knowing how Bentley was being treated. Things have turned around for the family in the last few months. Bentley's father has temporary custody, and his mother is now in a rehabilitation program in Florida.

Jean's main focus now is seeing that Bentley is "well cared for and raised right." Beyond that, she plans to live each day to the fullest and enjoy it while it lasts.

"My daddy used to say that time would go faster when I got older, and I would say, 'Daddy, that's the craziest thing I ever heard,'" Jean says. "But I think I might've been wrong because it sure seems to be whirling now."


Bentley waits to be let into his great-grandmother's house. "He's here almost every day and sometimes at night," Jean, Bentley's great-grandmother, says. She has been the main caregiver for three generations of her family; her son, his daughter, and now, her granddaughter's son, Bentley. While she loves her family and raising them, it has not been without challenges.


Bentley checks Jean's throat while pretending to be a doctor. Jean says it's sometimes difficult to keep up with Bentley's high energy, but she loves having him in the house. "I can't hardly stand it when they don't bring him because I really love him being here," she says.


Jean and Tom share a moment in the kitchen of their home in Paducah. "It's been a real pleasure," Jean says of their 26 year marriage. Both were previously married and divorced before they met each other. "Being married before taught us how to make things work well," Tom said. They now work together to raise Bentley. "He thinks his papaw hung the moon," Jean says.


"I don't have many plans or aspirations for the future," Jean says. After two heart attacks, Jean says she probably dosn't have much future. At 78, her focus is centered around her great-grandson and his mother. "My main thing now is seeing Bentley well cared for and raised right," Jean says. "And getting his mother back into his life."


Bentley squirms away from the phone as Jean tries to get him to talk to his mother who is calling from a rehabilitation center in Florida. "He'll ask her, 'Are you coming?' and get upset when she can't," Jean says. She says the situation has been difficult for Bentley. "You never know what kind of lasting effect that will have on a child," she says.


On nice days, Jean makes sure that her great-grandson Bentley has time to play outside. "I like being outside," Jean says. "I don't like it too cold though." Jean watches over Bentley most days. "We usually stay around here since the handling is easier," she says. "But I've taken him to the park the last few days when the weather was nice."


Jean and Tom try to calm their great-grandson during a Friday night dinner outing at Texas Roadhouse in Paducah. Jean says that the instability of the situation has been difficult for Bentley but that they have done everything in their power to try to raise him well. "I'm pretty sure the influence he gets here is better than any of the other places," Jean says.


A movie plays as Jean and Bentley relax in his room at her house. Bentley and his mother lived in the room when Bentley was first born. "It's home for him," Jean said. Since Bentley doesn't spend the night very often anymore, Jean tries to make the most of the time they have together when he visits. "What would I do if I didn't have him to fill my days and make me happy?" Jean says.

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