Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas Memories - The Year of The Bicycle

We all have those moments in life where we remember who we were with, what time of day and exactly where we were when it happened. Some are historical moments like November 22, 1963 - moments that everyone who was alive back then remembers. And then there are private moments that mean nothing to others but mean oh, so much to us as individuals. For me, one of those moments was the Christmas when against all odds, Santa left a brand new bike under our tree. A new bike may not sound like much to some of you, but in 1959 at our house, it was nigh close to a miracle. Just four years earlier, our home and everything in it had burned to the ground and with no fire insurance, my parents struggled to build a new home. They never really recovered from the financial hardships the fire had caused. The fact that I knew this and had no expectations other than finding a few trinkets under the tree that year, made The Year of the Bicycle all the more miraculous.

We were a farming family; not a big farm but it produced enough, even in lean years, to feed and clothe the seven children in our family and still have a little extra. The fire changed all that, but the one thing it didn't change was the resilient spirit of my parents, their strength of character, and their unflinching determination to move on and not dwell on the past. I was the youngest of the seven who were spread out over a period of twenty-three years. At the time of the fire, there were only two of us left at home. All the rest had married and moved out. To help make ends meet, my mother took a job as a sales clerk at The Glamour Shop, a ladies' clothing store. Mama was everything I'm not. She was kind, courageous and outgoing - and she never met a stranger. Her kindness inspired kindness in others and in the Year of the Bicycle, that kindness paid off.

The Family Shoe Store was located right next door to The Glamour Shop and that year, they were giving away a bicycle for Christmas. It wasn't a raffle or a drawing. You wrote the name of a child on a small ticket and put it inside the large box that sat on the sales counter. The day before Christmas, the store owner would count the names in the box and whoever's name had the most entries would win the bike. Somehow my mama convinced her friends, coworkers, customers, acquaintances and complete strangers to go into the shoe store and write my name on a ticket and put it into the box. I have no idea how she did it. Surely, some of these people had a child that wanted a bike for Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, she was so certain my name would have the most entries, she wouldn't go home until the names were counted and I can imagine her excitement when my name was announced.

The next morning when I saw the bike under the tree, I didn't have a clue that it was mine. My sister and her children had come home from Kansas for Christmas and were staying with us. I assumed that the bike was for my nephew who is just a month younger than me. I passed right by it and rushed to the other side of the tree to find the large baking pan I had left out for Santa to fill with fruit, nuts, candy and toys. I was on a mission - I didn't want anyone to claim my stash! I'll never forget my sister grabbing me by the arm. I pulled away, thinking that Santa must have brought me more than he did her and she was trying to get to it first. She grabbed me again and pulled me over to the bike. It still didn't register. "It's nice. It must be Phil's," I said. "
It has your name on it," she said back.

No one fussed at me on that rainy Christmas day as I rode my new bike clumsily around the living room running into things and people. The Year of The Bicycle is one of my fondest memories, a memory that has been hard to top. And it's all because of my mother's kindness, strong spirit and sheer determination to bring it about - and the kindness of others to put the name of a child they didn't even know in a box.
Glenda Manus
December 28, 2018

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Newest Update

October 29, 2018

We visited James on October 29th to deliver the last load. A freezer, kitchen cabinets, a microwave cart, a lamp and end table, and some new clothes. He has continued to work hard on his home. He is so grateful for all that has been done for him! We helped him install the kitchen cabinet and unloaded the chest freezer so he could install it later.

Here he is saying goodbye! And God Bless!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Before and After Shots

What a difference a day makes. I've been posting random pictures of the updates on James' little home that was flooded. It was even hard for me to figure how it looked before and how it looked after the repairs have been made with all the unorganized shots I had.

First of all, before we got involved, James had worked hard! He had torn out and replaced the lower inside walls and insulation. He had ripped out the rotten floors and put down subfloors, so he had already done a lot on his own despite having a severe kidney and bladder infection from ingesting some of the nasty water when he swam from his flooded house to his boat. He ended up spending a few days in the hospital and hasn't felt 100% since. It was all so overwhelming, he was at a loss of knowing what to do next.

So many people have helped financially, but some physical labor was also needed. That's when some men, including the pastor, from Waxhaw Baptist Church stepped in. In one day, this is what five men accomplished:

Before and after (front of the house)

Before and after (back of the house)

Before and after (left side of the house)

Before and after (right side of the house)

Before and after kitchen (beautiful floors!)

It's pretty amazing, isn't it? There is still some work to be done like underpinning and cleaning up. We're going down Monday to take a few things and try to figure it all out. James is extremely grateful! And from all I've heard, this project has been just as big a blessing to everyone who has contributed to it as it has for James! It sure has been for us. God Bless!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Doers and shakers!

Since my last post, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, neighbors, the people of Van Wyck Presbyterian Church, members of Waxhaw Baptist Church and even complete strangers in the quest to help James, the person I wrote about who lost everything in the aftermath flooding from Hurricane Florence. Click here for links to his story.  And here, and here where we delivered his car.

Today was a day of action! Several men from Waxhaw Baptist Church showed up to work this morning and I've already been getting photos of their work in progress. Here's what the outside of the house looked like before and then some work in progress.

Painting in progress

Replacing porch floor in progress
They're also working on the inside of the house and have put down flooring and are painting.
Floor down - painting in progress
These men have had a long day of hard work and I'm sure they'll be ready for a hot shower and soft bed tonight. I am so thankful for them and what they've done!

 And a big thanks to Jonathan Cox, the owner of Cox Warehouse Discount Furniture in Whiteville for donating this wonderful recliner for James. It was delivered today! Jonathan is a nephew of Susan Moss Deans, one of my first contacts in the Whiteville area who was willing to help!
I'm sure James is kicking back in this recliner tonight after an emotional day of seeing his home come together.

Between the BBQ fundraiser and money donated by friends, family, and church members, we have also been able to purchase James new kitchen cabinets to replace the ones that were damaged in the flood and a chest freezer which is much needed since his main source of food comes from hunting and fishing.  We plan to take these down next week and help him install the cabinets, the kitchen sink, and the faucets. The donations are also making a big dent in the biggest purchase of all, the Jeep.
The Jeep (before we delivered it to James).

The Letter of James was addressed to the early Christians and it encouraged them to be "doers of the Word". Our present-day Christians are taking heed and abiding by the Word!
  James 1:22-25 - "22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." 

I will continue to update this blog as we do the final touches that will make James' life a little more comfortable. Love and Blessings to all!

Monday, October 15, 2018

With God's Help

I don't know where to begin. I'm exhausted from our 9 hour round trip today, so I think I'll tell most of this story with photos. If you haven't read this link, His Name is James, you may want to read it first since it tells the backstory. But if you'd rather not, I'll give you a short recap. James lives in a community called Crusoe Island surrounded by the Green Swamp in Eastern North Carolina. He's one of many in the Carolinas teetering on the edge of poverty. The very people who, when faced with setbacks tend to give up hope of ever pushing their way up and out. Most times they just dig in a little deeper until no one knows they’re there.

The people in Crusoe were hit with an enormous setback after Hurricane Florence flooded their community in late September. James wasn't the only one hit hard and he's not the only one struggling to recover. He lives humbly in a small shack (way off the beaten path) that I'll estimate to be about 16' wide by 12' deep. He didn't have much in his house, but what he did have, he lost. Here's a photo that I took today.

James' humble abode

After the torrential rain that accompanied Florence, James went to bed one night not knowing what the next day would bring. His power was out and his flip phone's battery had died. He awakened to find his house flooded. The water continued to rise to about 4.5 feet and he was forced to make his way out of his property by this small handcrafted boat. He was rescued at the end of the road almost 2 miles away.
He also lost his truck in the flood. Our purpose for visiting him today was to take him a Jeep that we bought along with Henry's brother Gary. Two other friends also donated generously to the cause and we're hoping to get a few more contributions from other generous souls. We had planned to have a fundraiser, but James was in such dire need of transportation, we didn't want him to have to wait that long so we went ahead and bought it trusting that God would make a way. It was an absolute joy to see his face as Henry handed him the title and the keys!

A big smile

James introduced us to another survivor of the flood. Charlie, a small bear cub, has been hanging around since the flood receded. James thinks he must have become separated from his mother as they were swept downstream from the Waccamaw River. He sleeps in the big oak tree behind the house and plays hide and seek most days. He's a fat little bear so he must be getting plenty to eat. His presence has been a great diversion for James.
Charlie the Bear

On our way in and out of the road that leads into this community, we were dismayed to see the results of the flood. We only took a few photos, but every single homeowner seemed to have all their belongings ruined and out at the curb for trash pickup.
I look at this chair and wonder how many children and grandchildren have been held and comforted in it; how many family gatherings it has seen in its day; how many generations of this family have placed their weary bodies in it after a hard day's work. I look at this chair and I see myself; my own favorite chair sitting atop a mound of memories and I want to crawl up into it and cry for the person who placed it there. 

When we heard about the flooding in that area, we had struggled with how to help. When you donate your money to flood relief, you don't know where it's going. But then God put James in our path and we knew exactly what to do.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Update on James

My heart is so full right now as I write this update from my post from yesterday. You know, we watch world news and political rants until we're heartsick, but we tend to forget that our world is also filled with so many KIND-HEARTED people! Here's an update on the story about our friend near Whiteville who lost basically everything in the flooding. He has now made his own repairs to the floors that were falling apart. After I posted James' story I got many responses from people who want to know how they can help. We'll get to that later. Then my post was shared by many people including my dear friend, Linda. It reached one of her cousins in Whiteville who has a true servant's heart. I just now chatted with this cousin whose name is Susan and she said she had been praying for God to reveal the next person for them to help. Her husband is in the logging business and knows James but didn't know his circumstances. In one day's time, these gracious people have already visited him, assessed his situation fully, found out his basic needs (refrigerator, small stove, and a bed.  I am just blown away by their kindness.
Now from this end, we'll be working on buying James some transportation. When we get back from a planned trip this coming week, Henry and I will be planning a BBQ fundraiser to help fund the cost of the vehicle and other pressing needs. Also, I plan to donate all proceeds and royalties from my books so we may be calling on people to buy BBQ and books. Books make good Christmas gifts and BBQ makes for good Fall of the year eating!
And, as Linda's cousin Susan says, God works in mysterious ways! Yes, He does!

Friday, September 28, 2018

His Name is James

His name is James. He lives in a little shack in the isolated community of Crusoe Island deep in the Green Swamp of coastal Columbus County, NC. It's located right off Highway 130 between Whiteville and Shallotte. He’s proud of his family surname, or at least until it trickled down to his own father, who along with James’ mother, was an alcoholic. James’ family once owned big blocks of land in downtown Shallotte, North Carolina, but when James’ daddy got his inheritance, he began to sell off bits and pieces. During his drinking binges, he sold the land for way under market value to buy whiskey. He eventually squandered it all away. The children had a rough time of it. James didn’t have much of an education. His parents didn’t think it important.

James grew up a rebel with somewhat of a temper to match his red hair, but somehow, he met and married a “good woman” (in his own words). Even though James knew by his own family history that alcoholism can tear families apart, he followed the path of his father and he lost his good woman. Addictive cycles are hard to break. He was a hard worker though. Without an education, he took menial labor jobs, most of them on shrimp boats, but a few carpenter jobs here and there. Not much money, but he was paid in cash, so he scraped by.  He drank and hung out with his buddies on weekends and would probably have continued along that path until he died.

But one day, something fabulous happened that would change his life forever. He got saved. He quit drinking then and there, cold turkey, he said. He started going to church every time the doors were open. He found some better jobs and saved up a little money and pretty soon he was wooed by another woman and remarried. A woman who talked him into buying a little piece of land and making a down-payment on a double-wide. It was the best house either of them had ever had and she was happy with her new-found wealth. And she was a good housekeeper; you know the kind that keeps the house and throws the husband out the door. And that’s what she did. She had a job and said she would make the payments. She didn’t, and she didn’t let him know that she was so far behind on the payments, neither of them could have come up with the money to pay what they needed to pay to keep it out of foreclosure. So that’s where it went, foreclosed by the bank. And there went his life savings and along with it, his credit.

And right after that is when we met him. James loves working with wood and is very talented. He makes beautiful vintage-style dough bowls and other smaller wooden bowls. I bought a few things he had made, not knowing that this was his main source of income along with a few odd jobs. He was sixty-two by that time and it’s hard to get a job at that age. He resorted to drawing his social security early, but it was less than $500 per month because of the years of scraping by on the cash he was paid and not paying into social security. Some people would say this was his own fault not paying into SS, but when you don't have much of education and you're just scraping by at a poverty level, you live for the here and now, not the future. When we found out his financial condition, Henry hired him to come to work in our weekend tackle business at the beach. He worked for us seven-plus years until we closed the business two years ago. We came to love him and we’re proud to call him our friend.

What drew me to James was his witness for the Lord. He didn’t have much - an old shack in the swamp, a beat-up old truck that was always breaking down - but he was happy. The Lord provided for him, he said - maybe not the things he wanted, but the things he needed.

After Hurricane Florence came through, the news stories of the flooding in Whiteville caused us to worry about him. We called him several times but got no answer. We left messages. Today he called us back. He lost everything he owned in the flood. His home, his old pickup that was no longer working, and even the small used car he had bought by saving up money from selling dough bowls. He was home when the flooding occurred. His power was out, and he hadn’t heard the threat of floods or he would have left with at least his car. The “house” had filled with two feet of water. He knew he needed to leave and when he stepped off his porch, he was in water up to his neck. He took his one-man boat to the nearest road and got a ride to a shelter. After the flood waters receded, he came back home to find most everything inside ruined, including his refrigerator. He said he salvaged his mattress by drying it out in the sun for the next few days. When we talked to him tonight, he was waiting for his niece to pick him up to get a few groceries. He bought some lumber yesterday to rebuild his floor.

The bad thing is that he will get no government assistance because he doesn’t own the property, he only has a lifetime estate from the owner to live there. James has fallen through the cracks. When Henry talked to him on Friday, he said, “I’m blessed. So many people had it much worse than me. They lost their lives, or they lost their children. I’m still here and I don’t know why.”

His biggest blessing, he says, is that he knows God and knows He’ll be with him through thick and thin. He always has. And here I am thinking that this poor guy has gone through a lifetime of hardships and how could he possibly not throw up his hands and say, I quit. But no, he’s blessed, not materially or physically, but with spiritual blessings that exceed all understanding. That’s James.

I’ve thought about setting up a “Go fund me” page for him or a fund through a church for donations. I’ll try to figure it out in the days ahead and let other people be blessed by helping the man who is always “blessed” no matter what his circumstances.

One of the many small bowls I've purchased from him over the years.

 UPDATE: I just talked with James, telling him we are trying to get some help for him. His most pressing need right now is transportation. He is hard at work at this very moment replacing his floors to make his house livable. They were made of particle board and were caving in from the flood. He is living in it as he is working on it. He will need a refrigerator and some kind of small old truck that runs. He wanted me to know that he didn't call us just to ask for help. "I'll get by," he said. "The Lord will take care of me." I said, "James, sometimes the Lord takes care of you by using other people." His answer, "I never thought about that.