Shanice Joseph is a resident of Watts and a former member of the Intersections South LA Reporter Corps.
When I asked my little brother what he wanted for Christmas, I was surprised when he replied, “nothing.” In the history of my twenty-four years of living, I have never heard a child, especially one under ten years of age, say that they wanted “nothing” for Christmas. As much as I wanted to inquire more about what appeared to be a nonchalant and defeatist attitude toward Christmas, I had to start getting ready for work, so it would have to wait until later.
I have been a airplane cleaner for American Airlines at LAX for two years. Although my job is stressful at times, it financially supports me, my family and my education. I usually dread going to work and wanted to call off today, but I needed all the hours that I could get so I could buy everyone something for Christmas….or at least that was the goal until my brother declined the gesture.
I got into my mother’s car and sat in between my younger brother and younger sister for the ride to my job. As I looked outside, it appeared it was going to rain. “I don’t want to go to work,” I sighed for the four millionth time. I wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up international throw-up and picking up blankets that people threw everywhere onboard the plane. The thought of calling off again played with my head until my mom pointed out a homeless woman.
“You have to admire her dedication. Rain, snow or heatwave, she’s out here hustling,” said my mom.
My heart sunk in my chest knowing that my mother wasn’t exaggerating. This homeless woman really did stand all day, at this busy intersection (on a small island divider) for long hours holding up a sign, asking for change for survival.
“Yesterday when I saw her, it was pouring rain but something else caught my attention,” said my mom. “I was driving down the street when I saw this man and woman both pushing a stroller each, with a young girl walking behind them.”
“Wait this street?” I asked, looking out the window and frowning. It was a wide and busy street. There were not many lights. There were no sidewalks, but there was a bike lane that the family must have been walking on, and the speed limit was 40 mph. There was no way I was going to walk down this particular street, especially not in the rain or with three small children. The slightest turn of the wheel could seriously injure a pedestrian.
“Yes,” my mother continued. “At first, I wasn’t going to stop but it was raining hard, it was Sunday [meaning that the Metro bus was going to take forever], they had kids with them and none of them had on a jacket. They all had on light cotton sweaters or long sleeve shirts, but nothing rainproof. So, I yelled out my window, ‘do you want a ride?’ They hesitated to answer, but I pulled over anyway and they all eventually got in”
Now, here was something that wasn’t surprising at all. I love that my mother is so helpful, but I worry about her. She is always giving a stranger a ride somewhere. She has been doing this for as long as I could remember.
“They all got in. They were soaking wet like they had been walking in the rain for a while,” continued my mom. “At first they were quiet, but I start talking so the mother replied back. She explained that they had seen a flyer that said this building was giving away Christmas toys, and they went. It was a long line that went down the street. They stood in that line for hours and then it started raining. She said they tried to stand there as long as they could to get their kids some gifts, but the rain just got worse, so they had to leave.”
I shook my head. That was so unfortunate, but something told me my mom wasn’t done.
She saw my facial expression and continued, “I felt so bad for them that I start looking for things in the car to give them, because I didn’t have any money and I didn’t have anything in the car to give. I looked at the father and he was just so distant and maybe even disappointed in himself. So I asked them where were they going and it got awkwardly quiet, so I thought I said something wrong. I asked again and the father spoke for the first time since he been in the car. He said, ‘Western and Lomita,'” I frowned again.
My mother knew exactly why I was frowning and nodded her head slowly. “Yes they are homeless” she said, confirming my thoughts. Although, according to a recent article published in The Los Angeles Times, “13, 000, people fall into homelessness each month,” it still bothers me to hear such stories, especially when certain factors like children and the holidays are involved. Unfortunately, their situation is nothing new or uncommon. California has one of the highest number of homeless individuals in the country (over 20% of the state’s population is homeless,) and the numbers are increasing, forcing the state declare it as an emergency situation. It’s so upsetting that I would give up a lifetime worth of Christmas presents to solve the problem.
For some people, the holidays are the best time of the year, meanwhile for others it’s a heartbreaking reminder of how they have struggled financially throughout the year. Also, a lot guilt and stress falls upon the parents, especially homeless ones, for not being able to provide the necessities, let alone toys. I have witnessed the stress pass down from the parents to the children, which causes children to be selfless and either not expect anything for Christmas or not want anything for Christmas. I looked over at my younger brother and wondered if this was the case for him.
“Yeah, I felt so bad. The dad probably felt worse; he was probably beating himself up for standing in the rain and still not being able to get anything. To add insult to injury, no one wanted to pick them up and drop them off,” my mother continued.
“They are residing at a broken down motel which is in walking distance of Palos Verdes, one of the richest neighborhoods. All of these nice warm cars passing them by and not doing anything….but that’s another story. I just told you that to remind you of how blessed you are and how thankful you should be. The next time you feel like calling off work, don’t. Some people have the hardest time finding a job or financially supporting their families, and you are complaining about the one job you do have,” she said. My mom was absolutely right, I had no right to complain.
When we arrived at my job, I managed to change my attitude and turned to my younger brother once more. I asked again what would he like for Christmas and he paused as if he was thinking. My mom looked at me through her rear view mirror and said, “I heard someone say, as we get older our Christmas list get shorter because what we want, money can’t buy.” It was an interesting concept. However, my brother smiled as if a light bulb had clicked over his head.
“I want some Pokemon cards, and you have to play Pokemon with me,” he laughed. I smiled back at him, “Sure, we can do that.”
It wasn’t much, but sometimes the bare minimum, be playing cards or a kind gesture like giving a family a ride out the rain, was something people greatly appreciate.