Remember that really cold snap in early December 2014? I was on my way out one Sunday morning. About 50 feet from my house, a family huddled on the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house.
I don’t live in a ritzy part of town, but that is not something we see in this neighborhood. Merry Christmas to me.
A man, a woman and six kids, ranging from age 3 to 13, sat there with stuffed backpacks, school bags and suitcases. I knew they weren’t waiting for the bus because Pierce Transit didn’t run that route on Sundays. Besides, the bus stop was on the opposite corner.
I am a nosy neighbor – actually, we all are in my neighborhood – so I stopped. The woman had been crying. She said her name was Clover.
Her husband, Yanov, had a job interview in Spokane the next morning, but he missed the Sunday Greyhound that would get him there. They were homeless; they said they had “just come back from Israel.” She said her sister had thrown them out, saying, “Go to a homeless shelter or something.”
What they had packed was what they could carry. (Some families are like that, I guess; not all of life’s baggage fits into a suitcase.)
Clover explained their plan was “to wait in the station for the Monday bus.” Getting there presented the hurdle. Pierce Transit Route 1, does run on Sundays, but it was almost a mile from where we were. That is a long walk with young children and duffle bags.
Working at the jail, it is easy to become cynical about people, particularly those claiming to need help, and I am cautious about people I don’t know, anyway. As I debated internally, Clover suddenly asked if I would take care of their cat, Milo, until they got situated because “we aren’t in any position to care for him.”
I was torn. But what are you going to do when a 10-year-old girl bursts into tears about leaving her cat? I got involved.
My mom agreed to babysit the critter, so, they tossed their bags into my truck and piled in. First stop, complete with sobbing children, was my mom’s house with Milo. Then to the bus station. It turned out there was another bus for Spokane that evening, but the station doesn’t let people wait in the lobby. Doors are locked until the next departure. Not the best part of town to sit on the sidewalk and wait with possessions.
So we went back to my house. I researched shelters in Spokane, packed a lunch for the trip and dropped them off at Greyhound that night.
Several weeks later, Clover surprised me with a call on Christmas Eve from the homeless shelter simply to say Merry Christmas.
“All we want is a home of our own,” she said. She was trying not to cry. A week later, though, she called to report that Yanov started his job and they had an apartment, although it had taken the last of their money to get there. They had no furniture, no blankets, no dishes or food, she said, “but we have a place, and we are together.”
“Things are looking up,” Clover gushed.
Driving their new-to-them vehicle, the family returned in January to reclaim Milo. They had a house complete with furnishings donated by generous people in Spokane. Things did, indeed, turn around for them.
Involving myself with strangers like that is uncharacteristic and caused a bit of angst. But there was something about this family; I couldn’t not try to help.
Former President Jimmy Carter said, “My faith demands – this is not optional – my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” The trick really is figuring out what truly helps.
While I am not religious, I think we are called to make a difference. That can be a tall order under the best of circumstances. We’ve grown too cynical. But we can change. For me, Christmas 2014 was one of my most satisfying ever. As the Grinch (who Stole Christmas) said, “It came without packages, boxes or bags . . .”
And you know what? The best gift was learning that my job hasn’t completely jaded my world view.
Deborah Morton is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and a corrections deputy at the Pierce County Jail. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. This is her final column. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.