It was a wickedly cold day in the city when I walked into the men’s homeless shelter with an armload of new blankets from my ladies club. I had volunteered to deliver them, only because no one else would.
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They applauded me, “Knock it off,” I said firmly.
Our club had already donated a large sum of money to the mission that supported the shelter, but they wanted to give something that the men could feel and touch.
I pushed open the heavy glass door and entered a crowded room. It was hot and dank, with the smell of blended body odor. Some of the men looked catatonic, and some were staring at me as if I was (were?) an alien.
A man with a nasty cough was sitting in the dining area sipping a hot drink, while another sat staring out the window. He was rocking back and forth in a dirty, orange, plastic chair. I spotted a lanky looking guy sitting in the middle of a row of cots, with his face in his hands. He raised his head up and pushed his long black hair back out of his eyes. I was astonished to see how young he was. We made eye contact and then he put a stocking cap on his head, grabbed his backpack and lumbered past me out the door.
I turned and walked toward the giving window, and much to my surprise, there was a little girl sitting on the floor with her back against the counter. She was dressed in a pair of denim overalls and black rubber boots. The little coat that she had on was way too thin for the kind of weather we were having. She yawned widely and her big round blue eyes looked sleepy.
My heart leapt and for a moment I was frozen in my shoes. I laid the blankets on the counter, cleared my throat to compose myself, and then I knelt down.
“Hi baby girl,” I said, trying to sound as friendly as I could.
“I’m not no baby,” she said shyly, “I’m five.”
“Of course you’re not,” I smiled. “What is your name?”
Glancing at me, and then back at the floor, she said, “Holly.”
I looked around, but I didn’t see anyone that she could remotely be connected to.
“Um well, have a happy Thanksgiving Holly,” I smiled.
I immediately wanted to kick myself, “what a stupid thing for me to say.”
I started to take her little hand in mine and she quickly jerked it away.
I rose to speak to a thin, hunched over woman that was behind the counter.
“Lady, are you gonna need a receipt” she said loudly, clearing her throat.
I looked behind me to see if anyone was standing in line and there wasn’t.
“Yes, I do, but hang on a minute would you?”
She huffed something inaudible and then I turned back to Holly, “Where is your Mommy?” I asked.
“I don’t like God,” Holly answered back, “He took my Mommy away.”
Stunned, I returned to my knelt position. “Oh?”
“Yep she died of the A.I.D.S.”
I suddenly felt overshadowed by a presence and a tall young man, in a pair of dirty Levis and a big army jacket, was hovering over me.
“Step away from my kid Lady,” he said, in a deep voice.
I slowly stood up feeling curiously emboldened. The man’s hair was blonde like Holly’s and his green eyes gave me a look of determination, but there was no anger in them.
“Is there something- anything- that I can do for you and Holly?” I asked.
My question was sincere, but I knew that I was way too busy with my life to make extra time for anyone.
He scooped the little girl up and put her inside his coat, “Nope.”
“Please, let me give you a blanket to wrap around your little girl.”
I had brought several twin- sized, duck down blankets with me and thankfully they were still stacked on the counter. As I watched him decide, his expression went from determination to embarrassment. He put Holly down and took the blanket from my outstretched hand, then he wrapped it around Holly’s little shoulders. Smiling, Holly snuggled against her Dad. I noticed that nearly everyone carried a backpack. He picked up one that looked army issued and put it on. Then he swept her up with one arm and walked out the glass door and onto the sidewalk without looking back.
After dinner that evening, I paced the kitchen floor feeling overwhelmed and worried about little Holly. I went into the family room and grabbed a cozy throw, sat down on the sofa, put my feet up and then covered up with it wondering if little Holly was sheltered and warm.
“Who am I, that I should be so blessed?” I said aloud.
My husband Daniel, looked up from the football game, “huh?”
“Oh nothing,” I lied.
Daniel’s eyes reverted back to the television just in time to see the quarterback sacked. I was relieved that it took his attention away from me. I needed to be alone in my thoughts.
That night, before we went to sleep, I told him what was bothering me and then I ask his opinion.
Daniel was adamant, “You can’t save the world Honey. Listen, I know that you have a soft heart, but”… That was when I turned over in bed and tuned him out.
The next day I set out to find Holly. Returning to the shelter at precisely the same time that I was there before, I ask the woman behind the counter if she knew anything about the lanky young man and the little girl that had kept me awake most of the night. She said regrettably, that she wouldn’t help me if she could.
“If I reveal where these people live or sleep, I will lose their trust and I want them to be able to feel safe when they come in here. Sorry lady,” she sniffed, putting her hands on bony hips. “Another thing, it was good of you to bring the blankets and all, but these folks need sleeping bags the most. Ones that will keep you warm in the snow.”
“Yes-I see,” I told her thoughtfully. “Now, are you sure I can’t get you to tell me where I can find that poor little girl?” Looking into tired stubborn eyes, I opened my mouth to say more, but thanked her instead and left.
Once out on the sidewalk, I noticed it had begun to rain. The wind was coming up off the river with a wintry chill that made my eyes water and sting. I looked as men and women started backing into the doorways of the businesses along the street. I had heard the news reports of the business owners going to city hall and begging the Mayor and city commissioners to make skid row a priority. They complained that the “bums” left needles, vomited in their doorways and urinated on the sides of their buildings. One business owner shouted at the Mayor, a liberal woman, who I thought was stuck in the sixties, “ Why should I let them take over and drive me out? Do something, damn it!”
“Do I dare ask where Holly might be?” I thought. I gingerly approached a man with his back turned to me, standing in the doorway of a small grocery store. I noticed that it was well barricaded with bars on the windows and a gated door.
“Excuse me sir,” I said, frightened. He turned and I was met with bloodshot eyes and a deeply wrinkled, dirty face. His beard was yellow gray and his teeth were rotten.
“Got a couple bucks?” he wheezed.
Repulsed, I turned and ran back to my car. Several men that looked very much like the one that I had just spoken to were leaning against it. I hit the alarm button on my key chain and they moseyed away, snickering. I jumped behind the wheel and sped away, trembling, in tears, and feeling like a fool. “How could I have been so incredibly ignorant,” I said aloud, angry with myself.
Back home, I went into the kitchen and made a cup of hot tea. I looked around at the pretty room in blue and white and wondered again, why some are so blessed, while others are so destitute.
That night, I slept hard and if I dreamt, there was no memory of it. At breakfast, an old fashioned tradition that I insisted on, I told my husband everything. He was silent for a while and then I could see that he was angry. He laid down his fork,
“Beth,” He sighed.
I picked up my teacup, tucked a blond lock behind my ears and looked back at him, waiting for the speech to begin.
“Listen to me," Daniel said, clearing his throat. “I work near skid row and I walk through the area everyday.”
“I know where, you work,” I retorted.
“Don’t interrupt me!”
Watching his eyes over the rim of my cup, I took a sip of my tea.
“The majority of those people are either alcoholics, or mentally ill. After the office relocated down there, I was giving them money because I felt sorry for them. Then, it was to get them off my back. A representative from the city came in and spoke to our board. We were told to purchase vouchers from some of the area markets. They were only good for food and that it is suppose the best way to help them. So, I went down and spent fifty bucks on these vouchers. Then it just made me mad as hell to think that I can’t even get to my place of business without being forced to spend my hard earned money on those bums. So I quit buying them. Now I walk right past them and stay alert. If one approaches me or persists, I yell at him to back off. It is a huge problem and I don’t have the answers. Look Honey, you can’t save the world. The more handouts there are, the more bums there will be.” Daniel paused, “I don’t want you to go back down there and I mean it,” he said softly. “Give some money to the women’s shelter if you want to, but do not go where the men are, especially alone.”
His argument was logical and I had to concede that much of it was true. I silently finished my meal and went to the den. Was I furious with Daniel, the system, or the logic?
A few days later, with Thanksgiving over, I decided to go looking for Holly again. I had heard that Daniel’s firm was in need of a courier and Holly’s capable looking Dad, seemed strong and clear eyed, so maybe he is willing to work. Or at least I hoped so. Luckily, the firm provided the transportation, so a car wasn’t a problem, but finding him was. Another problem was that I had promised Daniel that she I wouldn’t go back down to the men’s shelter. I decided to get a hold of my girlfriend Didi and her husband Mike. They were both police officers. Didi worked in “neighborhood watch” and “community education,” and Mike was a patrolman. “Why didn’t I think of them sooner,” I said aloud.
Didi and I were old college friends and we could tell each other anything. Didi had an infectious laugh and a great sense of humor, but you didn’t dare cross her. I always thought that Didi had the perfect personality to be a cop. She could let her hair down with the best of them, especially when she was with me.
Didi was one of those gorgeous girls who didn’t need a drop of make up and didn’t wear any. Her hair was thick and dark and she had black eyelashes rimming her blue eyes. Beth (I always) thought that she looked like she had been born with eyeliner on. She had freckles across a cute nose and round natural red lips. Beth (I) was so jealous of her! (Put this description of Didi up with the description of Beth) Didi didn’t know it and she (probably) would have laughed at her (me) for being stupid. Didi didn’t think about beauty and she hated compliments about her looks, but she loved to be recognized for her work with the police department. Beth (I) could still see her prancing down those steps when she received her college diploma and then when she finished the Police academy she was almost giddy. Except when they announced her as Dorothy Jane Kelly. Her accomplishments meant an awful lot to her and Beth (I) knew from the moment that Didi entered her (my) mind, that she would help her (me) find Holly and her dad.
I was a petite blond with dark blue eyes, dimples and fair skin. Didi told her me that I was spoiled rotten but I knew that she was kidding with me.
“Beth, you are spoiled,” said Didi, laughing. “I don’t think your mother thinks that I am good enough for you. She calls me a country bumpkin.”
“No she isn’t!”
“Didi, hi, it’s Beth.”
“Hey girl! Where have you been?” Didi said, in her usual upbeat way.
“You can pick up the phone as easy I can,” I said.
“Okay, okay, so how are you?
“You are going to kick me Dee, but I’m afraid that I have an agenda.”
“Sounds serious, are you okay?”
“Yes I am fine. It isn’t about me. What are you doing for lunch today?”
“I am brown bagging it because I have been asked to give a safety talk this afternoon at the “Community Youth Center” over on MLK boulevard, but Mike has to work tonight, so I’ll be free then.”
“What time?” I asked.
“Make it around six thirty. I get off at five, but with the traffic, I may not be home until then. Come out and help me feed the horses, or are you so prissy these days that you are afraid to break one of your fake nails?” laughed Didi.
“Shut up! I’ll be there, cowgirl!”
“Bring food, I don’t want to cook,” said Didi.
“Okay, I’ll pick up a couple of calzones and a salad. I’ll call you when I am half way there.”
“Perfect, it’ll be good to see you.”
Later that afternoon, dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and boots, went into the family room where Daniel was reading the sports page.
“Honey, I am going to Didi’s tonight, so I will probably be home late.”
“It’s about time that you called her, or did she call you?”
“No, I called because I want her help me find little Holly and her dad. If her and Mike keep an eye out, then I bet they will find out where they are staying, that is if they are still in the city ”
“That’s a great idea, as long as you stay away from skid row.”
“Don’t Daniel me, you defied me once and you could do it again if you let your emotions take over your head. Your obsessing about this.”
“I am out of here,” I’ll see you sometime tonight. It depends on how long Didi and I gab.”
“I’ll see you around midnight then.”
“If you keep this up, you may not see me at all. Now, would you get up off the couch and kiss me goodbye?”
On the drive over, I couldn’t stop thinking about Holly’s little face and those horrible black rubber boots, kept flashing through her mind. So did the words, “I hate God.” “How did she know the, “God giveth and God taketh away” concept? Did she hear her grieving dad blame God for her mother’s death?” Oh, the poor little thing! - Shoot, I missed the driveway!
I turned around in a driveway a quarter of a mile up the narrow country road. It was already dark out and I was thankful for the reflectors on Didi’s mailbox. My car went slowly down the lane between tall, poplar trees dressed in autumn gold. A Bright moon was cast it’s light through the branches as the wind brought down some swirling leaves onto my car. I pulled around the circular gravel driveway and parked in front of the big white farmhouse that had been in Mike’s family for generations.
Didi opened the door and held out her arms for a hug. “Come in, yum, you brought the calzone, I am starving.”
I gave her a hug and laughed.
“Let’s go into the kitchen,” said Didi.
I handed her the food and then hung my jacket on the mirrored hall tree in the entryway. I always loved Mike and Didi’s house. It was warm and homey with hard wood floors and a big soft rug in front of a floor to ceiling stone fireplace. Nothing was opulent but it was all very comfortable and well kept. The furnishings were oxblood leather with red oak tables to match the flooring. The kitchen was huge with a long farm style table right in the center of it.
Everything was done around that table and the remnants of their mail and the daily newspaper, were still near Mike’s chair. The cupboards were painted white with glass doors. They had kept the original wood cooking stove in the kitchen along with their modern gas range. A large sideboard sat on the opposite wall across from a long counter with a garden window just above the sink. I went over and washed my hands then went to the table and put my feet up on one of the chairs.
“If I had done this in my Mother and Dad’s extravagant home, Daddy would have slapped my feet off of the chair anyway, Didi, I need a huge favor.”
Didi’s golden lab came in and ran up to nudge my hand. “Hi Bo, I said, patting the dogs soft head. Bo looked up at me with his sweet brown eyes as if to say, “Do you have a calzone for me?”
“Bo, you know better,” said Didi, “go lay down.”
Bo looked dejected and slowly walked over by the back door where his crate was and went in. He lay staring at us the whole time that we were eating.
“Okay, so what’s up?” asked Didi, before she took a bite of the warm crust on the calzone.
I told her about everything and how little Holly’s face had touched me so deeply, and how bad it haunts me.
“So, what are you going to do if you find them? You can’t force this guy to do anything and besides, have you thought about the fact that he may not want you interfering in his life? Such as it is.”
“No, it didn’t cross my mind that he wouldn’t want help.”
“Does Dan want to pay rent for them? Do you have a job lined up for the guy? Is he even suited for what you may have?”
“God! Shut up.” I said, more frustrated than angry.
“I’m sorry Sweetie, but you can’t just dive into something like this without a plan. I’ll have Mike keep an eye out for them anyway and he can inquire about their well being. He can suggest some services that might be available to them. For all you know Beth, he might be dealing drugs. You don’t know a thing about this guy.”
“Well I know this, he is very protective of little Holly.”
“Do you mean by exposing her to the drunkards, the dopers and the insane, down on skid row? And where was he when you were in there taking to the child? He could’ve been out on the sidewalk making a drug deal.”
“I didn’t think of that,” I said with a big sigh, “maybe he was getting them food. I have no idea where he is sleeping or anything.” “I could feel myself getting close to tears.”
“I didn’t mean to sound brutal. It’s just that these things are so big that it is hard to wrap your mind around it and I want you to really think about the ramifications of it all. You really know almost nothing about them accept to say that he had the child out in the cold, without a warm coat, she was dirty, and her mother died of A.I.D.S. All I described is child neglect Beth(,) and Mike just might take Holly into custody and turn her over to child services. That is who you probably should have called to start with.”
I pushed her my plate back and laid my head down on her my arms.
“Come on now, snap out of it, let’s go feed the horses before it gets any later.”
After Daniel left for work the next morning, I, obsessing, called and made an appointment to go the women’s shelter to inquire about what is expected of a volunteer. I was told that eleven o’clock was available.
“The Women’s Shelter,” is in a ten-story brick building, several blocks from the place where I had taken the quilts to. The doors are heavy and glassed. Behind them is a cage. I buzzed at the entrance and was asked through the intercom to please wait. It didn’t take long for a woman to appear. She unlocked the cage and then turned back and pushed some numbers into a keypad, locking herself in. She spoke to me through a speaker.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, I called earlier about volunteering.”
I gave the woman my name and she told me to press my drivers license against the glass. She ran a pencil down a list on a clipboard and when she came to my name, she made a little check. Buzzing Beth me in, I was asked to stay in the big rotund lobby. I watched her go, her long curly red hair and broomstick lace skirt flying behind her. Another woman came through a big mahogany door and into the lobby. She was dressed modestly in a tweed sweater and jeans. Her black hair was pulled up into a thick pony- tail. The woman had a pretty sculptured face, olive skin and compassionate brown eyes. I noticed some lines had set in around them, so I guessed her to be in her late thirties. She shook my hand and I noticed that the woman’s hand felt dry and her fingernails were short.
“Hello, my name is Anne.”
I returned the greeting, feeling good about her warm smile and strong handshake.
“I see that you have good security here,” I said glancing around.
“We have no choice I am afraid,” said Anne, looking me directly in the eyes. She smiled and said, “Let’s go to my office.”
She led me through the lobby, which was carpeted in a thick floral patterned rug. We went down a long hallway with several tall heavy dark wood doors, took the first door on the left and stepped into Anne’s office.
“Was this a hotel?” I asked, noticing the high ornate ceilings, marble floors and tall pillars.
“Yes it was and an expensive one at the turn of the century,” Anne told me. “ A local billionaire donated it to the city. We are leasing it. A few years back we were very close to closing the doors when the transaction came through. We operate on donations and volunteers. The city provides the sewer and water and because we are a non-profit charity organization, they pay the property taxes and the upkeep of the building. Everything else is up to us, like the heating bill, the food, the beds, medical supplies, etcetera. Have a seat,” she gestured to a chair opposite her big messy wooden desk.
“You told me on the phone that you are interested in a volunteer position?”
She picked up a piece of paper and studied it for a moment before she sat down in an old brown leather, desk chair.
“Yes, but I have to say that I have led a fairly sheltered life, and I am ridiculously ignorant about what you do here. My heart was very touched by a little girl, who was at of all places, the men’s homeless shelter. I was there, delivering quilts from the lady’s club that I belong to. I can’t, to this day, get the poor little thing out of mind.”
I told her the story as she rocked back and forth in her chair smiling. My cell phone rang and I reached into my Gucci bag, took it out, and looked at the caller I.D.
I noticed her looking at the diamond earrings that I always wear, my two-carat diamond wedding rings and my perfectly manicured nails. I apologized for the interruption and then turned the phone off.
“Beth, if you are serious about volunteering here, you will have to go through training and then orientation. It is extensive,” she said seriously. “The women that come here are victims of domestic or street violence. They arrive scared, desperate and many of them severely beaten. Their children are terrified and some are removed from their mother and taken to child protective services. It is a dose of reality Beth, and it takes someone who has strength and determination to hack it. I want you to think long and hard before you consider walking into this world.” Anne reached into her desk drawer and pulled out some booklets. “Here are some pamphlets on what we do and a syllabus on what we expect of our volunteers. There are several positions available but,” she leaned forward and looked me in the eyes, “you have to have a lot of guts. You can’t cry over a broken nail or red hands from the constant scrubbing we do around here. We change diapers, wash clothes, do dishes, clean wounds, and we wash our hands a hundred times a day. We use a lot of bleach, especially in the bathrooms. These women could have a sexually transmitted disease, A.I.D.S, or tuberculosis. Most of them smoke or have a drug and alcohol addiction. Some are prostitutes, hiding from a pimp - we treat for head lice, scabies, you name it.”
She paused, “read that material and call me if you are interested.”
Anne rose from her chair and I took the papers from her hand.
“How many days a week does the average volunteer come?” I asked.
“It depends on their time,” Anne answered. “We will get as much out of them as we can, but it is a well organized schedule. Our work here is too important. We just can’t tolerate the lackadaisical or a flake that shows up at their convenience.”
“Beth, you look astonished, this isn’t for everyone. I truly believe it takes a certain gift to do this kind of work. Oh and Beth, we ran your name and drivers license during this interview. The police work hand in hand with us. You could be the sister of a husband or boyfriend, we just don’t know and we can’t be too careful. A woman’s life may depend on it.”
“How would you know?”
“That is a very good question,’ Anne said rocking back and forth in her chair, “we have the women write down every name that could compromise their stay here. It is very rare that we have problems with the perpetrator, but it does happen, and that is why we have very tight security. In our history, we have had just one woman murdered on the premises. In other cities the statistics are much higher.
She held out her hand and I took it with my head spinning and then she walked her me out.
When I arrived home, I quickly shed my coat and handbag, then, I went into my den to study the papers. After reading them twice, I felt too overwhelmed to think, so I decided to set them aside for awhile.
The next morning dawned sunny, drippy and cold. After Daniel had left for work, I poured a hot cup of coffee and then sat down at the kitchen table to read the paper. I read the local and international news and then I turned to the community section. The headline read, “Gala to be held for ‘The Children’s Hospital,’ at the ‘Grand Ballroom’ on Broadway.” I sat straight up in my chair. It was as if a light had flashed through my mind.
“Of course,” I nearly ran to call her my mother.
“Mother, I am glad I caught you,” I said, as soon as she answered. “Can I meet you for lunch this afternoon? I really need to talk to you.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, things are fine, I just need to discuss a brain storm that I have. I’ll let you go and see you this afternoon. Is Nick’s café alright?”
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “I can’t stay long because I have a pressing appointment. Meet me there at 12:30 Honey, no later.”
I agreed and then I grabbed a notebook to jot down my ideas and the names of those that I knew my Mother had influence with.
Nick’s was a favorite spot for me to go. His minestrone, had to be the best in town.
My mother walked in looking as lovely as ever in a black business suit and white blouse. Her fifty- five years had made her more sophisticated than ever and she retained that gorgeous smile, which would either melt you, or freeze you in your tracks. Her back was perfectly straight and she carried herself with an air of confidence and grace. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled up into a French roll.
I stood up and kissed her cheek. She gave my hand a squeeze before removing her gloves and taking her chair.
“I have ordered for us Mother.”
She arched an eyebrow, then said, “thank you. How is Daniel, Dear?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“So what is so urgent that you couldn’t tell me over the phone? I can’t stay long, my appointment is at one thirty.”
The waiter brought out our soup and bread along with a beautiful salad, with Nick’s famous house dressing on the side.
After ordering tea, her my mother looked at me expectantly. It took me a good twenty minutes to relay everything that had happened.
My mother sat listening, eating her soup and sipping her tea. When I was finished, I was met with a look of concern, which then turned into a warm smile.
“Beth, I see you feel guilty that you can’t be there in the thick of things, shirt sleeves rolled up, holding a baby, or nursing the cuts and bruises of a badly beaten woman” she said softly. “We are put in this world with many diverse gifts. Some are here as helpers, laborers, administrators, teachers, healers, and nurturers, but...”
“Yes- you’re right” I interrupted with a sigh. “I know. If it wasn’t so, then nothing at all would get done “
“Well my darling daughter, I don’t believe that one of your gifts is getting down and dirty in the cause,” my mother told me seriously.
“I realize that Mama,” I said dropping the formality. “I have felt weak and stupid and I defied Daniel thinking that he didn’t have a heart, but I guess he knew that this wasn’t for me. Mama, you should see it on skid row. The culture shock was like a slap in my face. I felt sorry for some of them but I found many so repulsive that I couldn’t look at them. Mama, one man’s jeans looked like he had knelt in vomit and I had to turn away. I am too thin skinned and weak,” I told her honestly. “I have an idea though.”
My mother glanced at her watch and then back at me.
“I’ll be succinct,” I said seriously. “What about a fundraiser for the women’s shelter? I am not talking about a rummage sale or a cake sale; I am talking about a two hundred dollar a plate dinner and a formal ball. We could book the best dance band in the northwest. I am thinking of a great swing band that is out of Seattle. Mother, what I need for you to do is call all the right people. I want you and Daddy to contribute by securing the ballroom, and by providing the catering. Daddy’s law firm has some of the richest clients in the state. Isn’t your friend Gretchen a multi-millionaire? You know everyone and maybe we can get the mayor involved. As a matter of fact,” I said excitedly, a new years ball would be perfect!”
“Elizabeth, slow down,” her my mother said holding up her hand. “Who did you say would be the fundraiser, you or me? You are a little too enthusiastic.”
“Yes, your right,” I said, “New Years Eve is not even an option; here it is nearly Christmas. I know full well that the Grand Ballroom is booked, as is every other decent facility in town. Do you have any suggestions? I hate to see them have to wait until spring or summer before we can raise money for them. Winter is truly hard on these women. You should see what the shelter has to pay just to heat the place. Let alone all the other needs that come with being cooped up all winter.”
“I really have to go Honey. I will call you in a few days after I have had time to think about it and after I speak to your father. In the mean time, I’ll write a healthy check to the women’s shelter. I need to do some year-end giving anyway and I will put it on my list. I am familiar with their work down there.”
She arose and I stood up and kissed her cheek. As she left, her beauty and elegance was enough to turn the heads.
I pushed a lock of hair behind my ear and sat back down to finish my lunch. I was confident that mother would do all she could to help. Despite her queenly countenance, that her story had tugged on her heart. She wasn’t in the habit of making promises and I knew that she would be charming and business-like in her approach.
My mother, Claire Elizabeth Sager, didn’t need to work, she preferred to. She was a broker in real estate and had earned a fortune on her own. She knew people in high places and most of her lady friends were high society.
After the holidays were over, she called to tell me what she had been able to accomplish for the women’s shelter.
“First of all, we have a spot on the Channel twelve’s morning show. Your Anne will be there to talk about what people can do to help and what their needs are. Next, we have the ballroom but it is not anywhere near a holiday. I have secured it in September, when Bob Johnson is in town campaigning for his run for governor. If he wants our support, he won’t turn us down,” she said confidently. “This will be like a political gift for him. We will cater it Honey, but your father wants nothing to do with it other than writing a check and showing up to eat. You know how he loves to dance after a few glasses of champagne. I have talked him into giving quite a large sum to the shelters annually and that is something. I will get back to you on the exact dates and Elizabeth, you can close your mouth now.”
“Mother, I love you!”
She laughed and said, “of course you do.”
After Daniel got home from work, I didn’t tell him about it until we had sat down at the dinner table. He agreed to give to the men and women’s shelters, but not annually.
“I’ll give monthly,” He told me.
We had always believed that systematic giving is what truly helps all charities instead of giving after an emotional appeal. Then, by the end of the year, the charity begins to struggle again.
“If everyone gave that way, then each charity could depend on funds coming regularly and they could sure could function much better,” said Beth. Thanks Honey.”
I confessed to him that I had gone to the women’s shelter. Daniel gave me a look of disappointment. But for me, even though he had warned me against going down there, if I was going to err, it was going to be on the side of compassion.
I told him what my mother, in her infinite wisdom, had said about having different gifts. He softened his expression, and hoped that I was going to plan to do something more suited for me.
“Daniel,” I said earnestly, “I may not be able to handle it if I saw a baby being taken away from their mother, and I know that I couldn’t bare to have to try and help a pregnant girl that has beaten up. I would get too mad and the last thing that Anne needs down there, is some emotional worker, stirring things up. You know how I can get when I see such an injustice.”
“So what have you decided to do?” asked Daniel.
“I can make calls and I do know a lot of people with influence.”
“You mean Claire does don’t you?”
“Daniel! You can be so frustrating. Can’t you just listen? Here I am admitting my vulnerability to you and you are being a jerk!”
“Okay, I’ll shut up,” he said, “I didn’t mean to…”
“Never mind” I interrupted. “Just listen.”
“Anyway, I feel like there really isn’t an excuse for anyone, no matter what their station in life is. I mean it doesn’t take much to help out. They have to be willing too I guess.”
Daniel reached over, squeezed my hand and said, “I don’t want to have to do anything but write a check, show up, and eat.”
“Daniel,” I laughed, “you are starting to sound more and more like my stuffy old Dad. Are you getting old?”
A few weeks later Didi called me at home. It was a gray rainy day and I didn’t feel like stepping out the door. I was still in my robe and slippers with my hair was pulled up into a ponytail.
“Beth I have some news about Holly and her father.”
“Oh good Didi, wow,” I said excitedly. “Where are they?”
“Well he’s in jail and Holly is in a foster home. I was right; the guy is a drug dealer. A penny ante one, but never the less, he is in jail for it. There are warrants out in Florida and New Mexico too. He was dealing heroin in Florida. His wife was a user and she died last year of A.I.D.S. He has been dragging Holly all over the country. Mike said that he had to be hog tied when they took her away from him. He is going to get a lot of time Beth.”
I plopped down in the nearest a chair, “Oh, my God. Do you know where the child is?”
“Well, I know that the people at the foster care agency has been in touch with family. The guy’s name is Shawn Quinn. His parents, sister and her family, live in Sandy Oregon. In the mean time, Holly is being held in a temporary home until the family is checked out and we have no idea if they are even willing to take her. When we take these children, we make sure that they are fed and clothed before the foster care agency takes over. Then they are thoroughly examined by a Doctor. Holly will be looked at today. Clothing for the child is provided to the foster home and of course they are paid. Holly went to a temporary facility. It’s the Weston Orphanage And Foster Home over on the east side.”
“Thank You! Can I see her?”
“Yes, I’ll take you,” said Didi. “It’ll be about an hour, okay?”
“I’ll be ready.”
I was stunned by what Didi had told me about Holly‘s dad. “Back to reality,” I told herself myself. “Well at least she has shelter and food.”
I decided to put on a sweater and slacks. When Didi showed up, she was in uniform.
The orphanage sat up on a hill and at one time had been the Weston family mansion. They had been pioneers in Portland and had contributed a lot to the welfare of children. When Mrs. Weston died at the age of ninety, she willed her estate to the orphanage that they had ran for generations. The grounds were lovely with well manicured lawns.
We walked up the steps of a high pillared portico and rang the bell. We were welcomed by a thin black woman, around sixty, wearing a lovely white blouse and black slacks. Her hair was graying and cropped short. She had the softest brown eyes that I had ever seen.
“Hi Eleanor. This is Elizabeth Drury and we are here to check on the Quinn child. We would like to visit with her if we can. I hope this isn’t a bad time.”
“Elizabeth it’s nice to meet you,” she said, holding out her hand. The handshake was strong and warm.
“Oh call me Beth please.”
“Beth it is.”
“No, it isn’t a bad time at all,” she said kindly. It’s free play right now and if you stick around, you can have lunch with us. I’ll go and get her. Have a seat.” She gestured to some sofas and chairs in the parlor to the right of the foyer.
Once comfortably seated on a brown velvet sofa, Didi told me that Eleanor Jones was the director. “She is a well educated and very compassionate woman, but believe me, the staff are well aware of their duties.”
“Are you here very often Didi.”
“More often than I want to be. Sometimes though, I drop by just to have tea with Eleanor. We have become good friends over the years. I am glad that you are getting this opportunity to meet her. Even though it is bitter sweet. I have to bring a child from the women’s shelter to her from time to time and believe me, I am happy to do it. It is never ideal to take a child from there mother, but when it is necessary, I would rather bring them here than anywhere. I assure you that Holly is in good hands.”
Holly came into the room hand in hand with Eleanor.
Holding up her hand, Eleanor said “Don’t get up, Didi and Beth. Holly will come over to you.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Holly was dressed in a baby blue sweater, new jeans and new sneakers that lit up when she walked. Her hair was in pigtails and they were tied with matching blue ribbons. Her little cheeks were pink and her blue yes looked bright and rested.
“Hi Holly, ” I said, sitting forward. “Do you remember me?”
“Nope. I mean, um no” she said quietly.
I fought to keep from bringing up the place that I had seen her last. Finally I said. “I gave you a blanket to keep you warm.”
With that Holly broke free of Eleanor’s hand and ran and threw her arms around my neck. I held her tight, then letting her go I said, “Holly I am so glad to see you again. You may call me Beth.”
“Okay,” she said quietly.
Didi sat back on the sofa and watched as I talked to Holly. Holly was holding my hand, rubbing her little thumb back and forth on mine.
“How are you Honey?” I asked.
“It’s fun here, but I miss my Daddy.”
“I bet you do. That’s okay to miss him. There are times I miss my Daddy too because I am married now and away from home. But Didi says this is a nice place to be.”
“Yep, I mean yes,” she said with a grin. I like all the toys and Mrs. Jones reads to us. Can you eat lunch with me?”
Didi and I sat at one of the little round preschool tables and had tuna casserole, sliced apples, carrot sticks and milk. Holly was munching a buttered roll when she stopped and looked at me with a smile that put a permanent mark on my heart.
Didi kept me informed about Holly. When they stopped for lunch Didi told Beth me that Holly was going to Sandy Oregon to be with her Aunt. They had gone shopping and bought Holly some new clothes and a baby doll.
“She has a little girl the same age as Holly and a baby boy about a year old. Her husband owns a store in town and Holly’s grandparents live a block over. They are decent people Beth. So she isn’t spending Christmas in the orphanage.”
I slept soundly and contently beside Daniel that night and when we awoke I went into the kitchen to make us tea. At the table that morning I told him that they we were expecting a baby.
"If you have the chance to sit it out or dance, I just say Dance." writen by Mark Sanders recorded by LeeAnn Womack