So, we were homeless once. But before that, we were poor.
When I was 15, I began housecleaning with my mom to help support the family (mom and 3 girls). Soon, it became a full time job, and I wasn’t able to continue my high school studies.
On the weekends, my older sister and I would baby-sit.
There was a family that requested our services. They had 4 boys at the time. Over the next few years, they added two more. For a total of 6 boys.
My older sister and I would watch them faithfully every week as the Mr. and Mrs. would spend the evening together. They would compensate us well, owing it to the wonderful job that we did. But they knew the dire financial situation that we were perpetually in and always made sure to give a little extra.
Even with housecleaning and babysitting, most of the time the ends didn’t meet.
Once, we had an electric bill that had grown to more than 700 dollars over the winter.
We received notice that our electric would be shut off at the beginning of spring. Mom knew there would be a tax refund check arriving in the next few weeks that would cover it, but it wouldn’t come in time. After all other options failed, she called the Mrs. and asked if they might be able to write a check to cover the bill and she would repay them as soon as the refund arrived. The Mrs. talked with the Mr. and then told my mom that they had money set aside just for this sort of opportunity and asked if we would allow them to pay the balance in full. And so they did. I remember the day very well.
There were many days like this for us. Many people that brought Thanksgiving dinner to the house, or donated clothing, or bought us a vehicle so we wouldn’t have to walk to the grocery store with our little ‘granny cart’.
In 1998, we lost our Cincinnati home of 8 years. Our income went from 10-12k per year to a few hundred a month. Unable to afford housing and without any other options, our family split up. My mom and youngest sister went to live with our pastor’s family and my older sister and I became ‘live in’ nannies for the Mr. and Mrs. and their 6 boys.
They were thrilled to have us. We were able to be adults with them, staying up late and eating ice cream and talking. We would still watch the boys as the Mr. would take the Mrs. out for their evening every week. We would help with laundry and food and schooling and whatever we could. And we had a roof over our heads and beds to sleep in.
After a few months, we found an organization that would provide housing and food in exchange for our services so we left the Mr. and Mrs. and moved to a sort of communal setting. Our experiences there are another story completely. Much more difficult than I could have imagined, perhaps more difficult to explain to anyone unfamiliar with religious organizations and what happens behind the doors of them.
Our family remained apart over the next few years- until we were offered an apt in Cincinnati for whatever we could pay. So, at the end of 2000, we were able to return ‘home’.
In the next year, I began to clean houses again to put myself through EMT school… then found a job as a Firefighter… and when I went through FF 240 classes I met someone named Nels.
A year later we were engaged.
And I had a request to make. I called the Mrs. and asked her if I might be able to ask the Mr. if he would consider walking me down the aisle. Though my mom would have gladly done it, I wanted her to be able to enjoy all the ‘Mother of the Bride’ things and not worry about taking on the ‘Father of the Bride’ things as well.
The Mrs. said that the Mr. would be honored that I had asked. He was. He did. He even waltzed with me in the reception.
This past Monday, I had to do one of the most difficult things that I think I may ever have to do. I had to make a trip to say goodbye to the Mrs. Though only in her fifties, she only has a short time before she exchanges this life for the next.
But she and the Mr. have inspired me in many ways. In this strange life that I have had, they provided normalcy. Stability. An example of a marriage relationship. Generosity. Giving to people that will never be able to repay you. Giving more than is required. Making room for people that need a home. Stepping in as moms and dads for kids that need moms and dads.
I have a hard time understanding how this world could be a better place with her legacy than with her presence. It is something that will I will always question, I think.
But, I will do my best to give what has been given to me. And that leaves me with quite the debt.
“Then the King will say, ‘Come, and have your reward that has been prepared for you. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then they will answer him, ‘When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.’ ”
Matthew 25: 24-40