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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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To Do Good is A Gift to Yourself

To Do Good is A Gift to Yourself
Dan Dodge

Driving down Market Street about two weeks before Christmas and in a hurry to finish shopping for gifts, I noticed a woman sitting on the curb in front of an old motel.  It was a cold day for December in North Carolina with a sharp eastern wind and temperatures in the forties.  The woman on the curb had no coat and no shoes, and I realized that she was crying.  For whatever reason, I pulled over into the parking lot of the adjoining restaurant, parked and walked over to the woman.  “Is there something that I can do to help you?” I asked her.  She was crying so hard that her nose was running so, I handed her some tissues.  When at last she got some control, she said the motel had locked her out of her room without her coat or shoes because she had no money to pay the bill.

She explained that she had come from Nebraska with a long-haul truck driver.  They had had lots of fun traveling across the country, but before day-light this morning he left and obviously wasn’t coming back.  When the motel clerk realized that the driver had gone, he demanded a credit card or money from the woman and she did not have either one.  She was told to get out.  She was on the curb crying because she didn’t know where to go for help.  To this day, I don’t know why I made the decision to help her.  I was a widow, still grieving over the death of my husband and vacillating between sadness and grumpiness.   Still, I thought, “I should do something for this woman.    After all isn’t Christmas the season to give and show love.”

I hesitated for a minute, and then said, “Let’s go talk to the clerk.”  The place was a dump, so the room was quite cheap.  I paid the bill and we retrieved her clothes.  I learned her name was Jean and that she had very little possessions.  The restaurant next door wasn’t much better than the seedy motel. Jean ate like there was no tomorrow and perhaps for her there wasn’t any future.

On the way to a shelter seeking help, she said that she had three kids in Nebraska, but protective services had taken them away a year ago.  “I was drinking a bunch,” was her explanation.  She also said she had missed the last two visitations with them, so she guessed now she would never get them back.  “I bet your kids missed you,” I said, and she said no because they were in a good home and liked it there.  “They get a whole lot more there than I could ever give them, so they probably don’t miss me at all.”

I disagreed with her and said so.  “You are their mother, no matter what they get.   I know they miss you.  You need to go home and try to find out how you can see them.  Christmas is coming, and you would be the best present they could get.”

Before I dropped her off at the shelter, I said again, “Go home.  Someone here will help you.  And when you get to Nebraska, find a church that will help you make good decisions.”  Without thinking I handed her my card that had my phone number and address on it.  “Let me know how you make out,” I said, which I understood was a risky thing to do, but I seemed compelled to find out what the future would hold for Jean.

That seemed to be the end of it until I received a letter in March, postmarked from Nebraska, but there was no return address.  Inside was a brief note and a picture of Jean with three children.  The note said,

“Dear Ms. Maryann, this is a picture of me and my kids.  The family where they live invited me to live with them also.  They are the second people that I found that are really good.  You are the first.  I have done what you said and found a church to help me.  Someone in Wilmington got me a ride to Nebraska.  It was a long trip, but I am glad I came home.  March is not the time to say Merry Christmas, but I think it every day for you.  Love, Jean”

The next year in March, I got another note from Jean.  It said simply, “We, me and the kids, are doing good.  We still live with the family who took me in.  I know now that Christmas is everyday.  Love, Jean”

That was over twenty years ago, and I never heard from her again.  I think of her often and wish that Christmas went on for her every day thereafter.  As for me, I married again, and found the year-round Christmas joy that comes with doing something good for others.

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About the Contributor
Maryann Nunnally
Maryann Nunnally, Contributing Writer
Maryann Nunnally is a retired high school principal and professional comedienne. She writes the regular column Laughing through the Golden Years for Cape Fear Voices.