Her back is so severely hunched she walks bent over in half looking directly at her feet. She pushes a shopping cart down the street with her hands over her head. She lived in her van with Bonnie, a dog with whom she shared meatballs and sometimes strawberry Nestlé Quik until Bonnie passed away.
She is here to remind us of how fortunate we are. She is here to give us the opportunity to feel compassion and to love her. She is here so we can do a good deed when we might not otherwise. She is here for a reason although some would think she has no purpose in life.
We take care of her even though we don’t have to. She was a customer for 25 years and then her world ended, although she continued to live. A couple of years ago at the age of 81, the cost of housing finally got so expensive, she could not afford any roof over her head on her fixed income, no matter how humble. Even the humblest homes are replaced by more expensive ones until some have no home anymore.
She’s not a wino. She is not a lazy, worthless bum. She was a truck driver most of her life. She speaks of a daughter somewhere. She is an old woman who is not greatly loved. She lives in a world where the young no longer take care of the old. She’s alone. She’s trying to survive. Some say she could have done better. Maybe; maybe not. Does it matter? She’s alone now.
Now it’s her purpose to reveal the golden heart of a local pizza parlor owner. He makes sure she is fed each day, whether she has the money to pay for it or not. He’ll get reimbursement from her fixed income check when it comes in. She remembers to tip the drivers when she can. We give her what love we can along with her food. We regularly wonder who will find her dead, so we get anxious each time we find her sleeping.
I always try to spend a couple of minutes talking to her. Except for the LA Times we bring her with black coffee each morning, she has no other entertainment. The van doesn’t run. I don’t know that the radio works. I never heard it on. When she gives me a tip, I take it and thank her for her generosity. She really wants me to have it and it would be wrong not to take it. It is the one point of pride she has left. Sometimes, when she’s struggling too hard to find the tip because she is running so low, I tell her not today, Geraldine. It’s okay. It’s been harder for her to tip lately.
We bring her large cups of ice to help her through the heat of the day. Her skin is like brown leather stretched across meatless bones. Her hair is ratty and many teeth are missing. The van is filled with old newspapers and some are laid across the windshield to keep the hot sun out. The only empty spot in the van is her seat.
One day, I went to Circle K to get her coffee and the Saturday LA Times. All the Saturday papers were gone, so I got the Sunday one. When I brought it back to the store to get her cup of ice, meatballs, and brownies, I was told by the other driver, no, no, no. Geraldine does not want the Sunday paper on Saturday. She wants the Saturday paper on Saturday so she knows what is happening on Saturday!
On the way to her van, I stopped at a gas station to get the Saturday paper. A man picked up the last one to buy it. I said, please let me have it. There is an 83-year old woman who lives in a van and this is her only source of entertainment. Please let me have it for her. He paid for the newspaper and gave it to me.
When I got to Geraldine, I told her how the other driver admonished me for trying to bring her the wrong newspaper. When I repeated what the other driver said word for word, Geraldine laughed because she knew those were her own exact words. I told her about the man at the gas station who bought her today’s paper. For just a moment, I saw a small sparkle in her eyes. She knows we love her.
Copyright © 2011 by Jane Doe Smith Rogers. All rights reserved.
12/15/14 NOTE FROM THE GOLDEN HEART: Geraldine was a very special person. For the record, she quit driving a semi when she broke her foot in her late fifties. She switched to security work, working at construction with her dogs, working the night shift. She loved being, and living, outdoors. I had several conversations with her, after she was in the convalescent home, and she was scheming how she could get back to her van. She died in June of 2013. She was beautiful.