Grandfamilies 2: Mother makes headlines for arrest, son pans for gold

  • Art Frenette and his grandson Aidan spend their free time along the banks of the Ammonoosuc River panning for gold. Aidan lives with his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend while his mother, who was sentenced last week for injecting her friend with heroin while she was in labor, deals with addiction. Ella Nilsen / Monitor staff

  • Art Frenette watches his grandson Aidan make a homemade volcano with baking soda and vinegar.  Ella Nilsen / Monitor staff

  • Art Frenette (left) and girlfriend Lynn Labrie walk along the banks of the Ammonoosuc River with grandson Aidan. They go to the river to pan for gold. Aidan is living with Frenette and Labrie while his mother, sentenced to prison last week, deals with addiction issues. Ella Nilsen / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/2/2017 11:03:36 PM

Nine-year-old Aidan zipped up his black and red wetsuit under the warm summer sun, stuffed his feet into his camo rubber boots and hopped in the back of his grandfather’s pickup truck for the short ride down to the banks of the Ammonoosuc River.

He waded across the clear, shallow water and skipped around a cluster of sun-baked rocks to proudly show off the dredging operation he and his grandfather Art Frenette tend to throughout the year. They look for traces of gold in the river, sifting out any other heavy metals they find along the way.

Dredging for gold is a longtime hobby of Frenette’s, and it’s been passed down to his grandson, who likes the peace and quiet of the river.

“When you’re under the water, you’re to yourself,” Aidan said. “Nothing’s bothering you.”

Along with Frenette’s longtime girlfriend, Lynn Labrie, they make up a close-knit family unit. Aidan sleeps on a little mattress on the floor of their cozy A-frame home in northern New Hampshire, curled up in a nook next to the television. But he’s getting his own room with a door soon; Frenette is getting ready to build an addition to the house this summer to add more space.

Aidan came to live with Frenette and Labrie about five years ago as they stepped in to take over parenting duties while his mother battled drug addiction and went to jail.

Frenette’s daughter, Rhianna, has struggled to remain drug-free.

Rhianna Frenette, 38, was sentenced last week to one year in jail and two years probation after pleading guilty to injecting a pregnant friend with heroin while the woman was in labor. The frantic episode and arrest made national headlines.

Rhianna Frenette’s final court appearance was far more solemn. Attorneys recommended she participate in the Successful Offender Adjustment and Re-entry program, which operates out of the Merrimack County jail in Boscawen. A judge wished her luck in recovery.

Art Frenette, a man who doesn’t mince words, said that after her latest run-in with the law, he no longer considers her his daughter.

“I’ve given her so many chances,” he said.

He said he sometimes worries that he didn’t do a good job raising his own children. Now, he talks about giving his grandson a better future.

“I’ve established myself and I’m making more than most people do, so I have the ability to give him a little bit more,” Frenette said. “He’s had a lot more opportunities than my kids got at that age because I couldn’t do it.”

A busy life

Aidan and his grandparents live in the tiny northern town of Bath, along the banks of the Ammonoosuc. Frenette, who is originally from Pittsfield, said he’d always planned for the camp to be his retirement home, picturing life after work as one where he could ride his motorcycle and go on vacation whenever he wanted.

“My plans were to enjoy my life at 60,” he said. “But I’m stepping up where my daughter isn’t stepping up, so here we are.”

Now, his plans have shifted to more immediate needs, like the addition for Aidan.

“I can see right now that he’s going to be with us until he’s 18 or whatever it may be, but he’s not going back with her until she can prove she’s off the heroin, has got a job, all that, and I don’t see it happening,” Frenette said. “I’m not just going to throw him back to that environment.”

Frenette and Labrie both work in Concord, so the family is up every day at 5:30 a.m. before they drive more than an hour to go to their respective jobs. A friend of theirs in town helps shuttle Aidan to his sports practices before they get home and pick him up.

“Time is very tight, especially during the week,” Labrie said.

Hard work and long hours are paying off; Aidan is excelling in sports and loves his small elementary school. He’s the pitcher for his baseball team, the Haverhill Hornets.

But when it comes down to it, he can’t decide which he likes more; baseball or skiing. He loves skiing fast down Cannon Mountain with his friends.

“I like jumps,” he said. He can ski down all levels of trails except for black diamonds, but he’s going to start them this year.

“He’s doing wonderfully in school, he’s in sports,” Labrie said. “He’s a joy, he really is a joy to have. I feel very blessed that he is up north with us.”

Though school and sports keep Aidan busy, his grandparents say he doesn’t mention his parents often and can get upset when he’s reminded of his mother and father.

“He’ll forget about the mother and father a little bit and be fine at school,” Frenette said. “Then, all of a sudden, they come into his life a little bit.”

“It raises havoc with his emotions,” Labrie added.

Another arrest

After his mother went back to jail this year, Aidan soon found out. He got angry, asking Labrie, “Why did she do this to me again?”

“That was a difficult evening for us,” Labrie said. “He’s keeping track of all of this stuff.”

Labrie, who has family members who have struggled with substance abuse, sat down with him spent an hour talking about addiction.

“I was able to explain, ‘I went through some of the same things you’re going through,’ ” she said. “I think by the time we were done talking, he was in a better place.”

Labrie and Frenette often reassure Aidan that he is safe in their home in Bath.

It takes “constant reassuring him that Lynn and Grandpa love you, you’re with us now,” Labrie said. “You don’t have to necessarily live with your mother and father to be a family, and grandpa and Lynn are your family.”

Even though Frenette may not be able to hop on his motorcycle and take a spontaneous vacation to Virginia Beach, he, Labrie and Aidan are planning a trip out to Idaho next summer so they can look for gold in the rivers out there.

In addition to tending to the dredges in the Ammonoosuc, grandfather and grandson often go hiking and fishing together in the summer. Frenette is showing his grandson how to take care of his motorcycle and truck, getting under the hood and changing the oil. Aidan and Labrie tend to their small garden, where they “have about a million radishes,” according to Aidan’s estimate.

Frenette’s bushy mustache curls up into a smile and his eyes sparkle when he talks about spending time with his grandson – the first boy he’s raised.

“He’s like a ball of fire,” he said. “Just to see his face and his enjoyment. Him and I chuckle and laugh. Right now, he’s doing great.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter

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