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December 23, 2000

I may be a good Santa (thanks to all of you--details to follow), but I’m a lousy elf. My “getting lost in Sacramento” story for today (for the person who told me she really likes these stories) starts out early in the morning when I was driving H to CARES. I knew H lived on Dry Creek Road. I took out my trusty Thomas Guide (which got me into trouble yesterday) and managed to find the street. I knew it was in the vicinity of “Grandma’s” house and determined that I should get off the freeway and turn left instead of right, the way I turn to go to “Grandma’s” house.

I found all the right streets and found Dry Creek Road, turned right and headed off into oblivion. Suddenly I realized that I was 10 blocks from where I needed to be (and I was also running late. Despite the fact that Peggy ended our IM chat early so I wouldn’t have to rush, Walt left for work late, and I somehow just got behind).

I turned around and sped back to where I had come and on to the right number. In so doing, I crossed over the freeway, which meant that when I got off the offramp, I should have turned right, instead of left. (Do you think my penchant for always turning in the wrong direction has anything to do with my being left handed?).

When I got to the right house, H was standing out in the middle of the street waiting for me, because I was late. Turns out he lives five blocks from “grandma”--and I drive past his house all the time, but had just never bothered to look at the street name. Duhhh. So, H got in the car and we raced off to CARES. Miraculously, we were only 5 minutes late. H’s appointment was supposed to be 30 minutes, but 40 minutes later there was still no sign of him. He’s been sick this past week and I figured the doctor was doing a more thorough exam or something (his T-cell count is in single digits and he’s had diarrhea and a fever all week, he said).

I suddenly realized that there was absolutely no way I could take H home to the far north east corner of Sacramento, drive to get J, in the far south-west corner of Sacramento, and get J back to CARES in time for his appointment. So I left a message at the desk to ask H to wait for me and I ran off to get J. I did manage to find J’s house without too much problem, though did take the long way there. I could have cut 10 minutes off my time by going another way. Sigh. But I dropped J at CARES, picked up H and drove H back to his house, 5 blocks from “Grandma.” Then I drove back to CARES, picked up J, drove him to the far south-west cornerof the city and then drove back to the north-east corner to get “Grandma.”

Then we drove back to a the Sacramento AIDS Foundation, which is right next to CARES, and then to Breaking Barriers, and then back to “Grandma’s” house, with 3 boxes of food--one for “Grandma,” and one for a woman named “R” and a box for a woman named "S.”. R has kids, S does not. So there were toys in R’s box, and none in S’s box. I went to a house and dropped off R’s box with her neighbor, then went to S’s house with her box. Only when I got to what I thought was S’s house, I rechecked my list and discovered that had the addresses mixed and I’d delivered R’s box to S. Sigh. So I got back in the car, went back to S’s neighbor’s house, switched boxes and went back to R’s house with the right box. I realized that if Santa had me along organizing things, he’d have to go into partnership with the Easter Bunny, ‘cause we’d still be delivering presents well into the Spring.

An aside about delivering R’s box...this neighborhood is really hard core ghetto. It was one of the few times I’ve gone out to meet a Breaking Barriers client when I felt uncomfortable just being in the neighborhood. R’s house was once a pretty up-scale middle class house, now fallen to ruin. There were five kids coming in the gate when I was arriving and it made me very sad to see how the huge lab-pit bull dog chained to the front porch with a huge chain cowered when he saw those kids. It told me what that poor dog’s life was like, especially when the older kid yelled at the dog and yanked his chain, which only made the dog cower more.

R staggered to the door, looking disheveled and defeated. She accepted the box without much comment. As I left there were a couple of decidedly creepy looking guys hanging around the cars on the street and I quickly got into my car and locked the doors. I don’t like the reaction I had to the neighborhood. I’m not sure what it says about me.

HOWEVER, all that having been said, lemme tell you about “Grandma.” Can I just say that I don’t know about everybody else’s readers, but I have THE best readers on the Internet. When I wrote my journal this morning, I’d heard from a couple of people that they wanted to help and were sending me money. When I got home today, I heard from several more of you that you were sending money. Yesterday’s contributions allowed me to get a lot more new stuff for her kids and when I arrived at her house this morning, the trunk was full of toys, food, and the new bed frame for her. She was beside herself.

They managed to get through to the AIDS foundation and so we drove there. “Grandma” was so excited. Like a little kid. I’ve been talking with folks at Breaking Barriers and we realize that her health is so fragile now, and she’s putting off treatment because of the grandkids, and we really will be surprised if she lasts the year. She was moving real slowly today. Her legs are burning, her “butt hurts” and she says the doctor tells her she’s going to die if she doesn’t get in for treatment. “But I have these kids to take care of,” she says.

But we had a great day. They had managed, finally, to get through to the AIDS Foundation and so we stopped off there. Their donations are way down and they didn’t have a lot, but they told Grandma she could take what she wanted. She took just a few things and then said she wanted to leave some so other people could have a happy Christmas too. They also gave her vouchers for Target so she could buy some shoes for herself (since she only has one pair of shoes, which are wearing out) and for Safeway.

She hugged everyone on her way out, blessed them all, and thanked Jesus for being so good to her. When we got into the car, she said that it was people who care who make her want to fight the cancer and make her want to live.

We stopped at Breaking Barriers to get the food boxes and everyone there got a hug too. By the time we got back to her house, we had laughed a lot and done a lot of things and she was so appreciative. We decided that we wouldn’t take her vouchers out yet, but would wait so she could look through what she has and decide what is missing. She is trying to make Christmas happy for 13 grandchildren (the 5 who are living with her and her 8 other grandkids). So tomorrow, I’m going back there to help her set up the new bed frame and to take her out to finish her shopping.

I asked her how she was spending Christmas. She’s going to make an early meal for all the kids at her daughter’s house, and then she will go by bus to the state prison in Vacaville, where her 34 year old son is serving a life sentence, which started when he was 17. She says she hasn’t spent Christmas with him in years, but she realizes she doesn’t have much time left. The trip costs a lot of money--about $50, which she doesn’t have. But it’s important to her to see him on Christmas.

When I got home and got all of your wonderful e-mails, I called her and told her how much money I would be bringing her tomorrow. She burst into tears, thanked all of you and kept saying “Thank you, sweet Jesus.” This will allow her to see her son, and round out her Christmas dinner, and to make what might be her last Christmas very happy. She told me that she knows people who can only see bad in the world, but she looks at all the people who have worked so hard to make Christmas happy for “this old Black woman” and she can only see good.

Thank you all so much. I hope that you smile as you sit down to your holiday dinner, knowing that your generosity has made all the difference in the world for this wonderful lady.

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