Arrival of the Newest Quirky Family

As I stated earlier, numerous families live together in this program and give each other the nod and smile of passing strangers. When we go to our individual rooms is when we all vent out the frustrations of how the other families agitate us or comfort us. Of course, there’s a huge mix, even considering just four very different families who’ve fallen on hard times in this crisis our country is headed toward.

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The members of the churches offer their services by providing homemade dinners they’ve prepared themselves, and delicious breakfasts as well on the weekends. If ever there’s a time one considers whether God exists, it’s when good people step in front of the harsh words of discriminating people and allow these people center stage. I can’t say I believe in a singular body claiming to be all-powerful any more than I believe Santa delivers coal to children who’ve misbehaved. But it’s clear as day that whether or not a singular god does exist, as long as people continue caring for each other with the goodness of their hearts, there’s hope for humankind. Let’s reveal our recipe.

Breakfast at Church
A member dedicates her time to a meal she’s created on her own for four families she’s never met.

Family One: The family that’s been here the longest is going on their third month. They seem happy enough, although their accumulation of children is extremely original. Justin and Erika are white and have four children between them, but only the dark-skinned one is hers, Z. The cutest bright-eyed, testy, and full-of-energy little four-year-old you could ever hope to meet. Everyone loves Z. They have an additional array of children from hopeful and happy Jade, who is about seven; Tyler is their reliable and trustworthy boy at about nine; and Sean who is extremely responsible and often times a parent himself, at the age of twelve. Justin has another child who remains with her mother elsewhere.

They arrived in a camper. Oft times, the couple “takes a break” from the kids by disappearing on occasion into the camper for a period of time. This is when Sean steps up to the plate to break up any occurrences between his siblings—a rarity for someone who isn’t yet a teen himself. He and my daughter get along splendidly.

Family Two: Is the family who’s lived here about two months. That’s Sydney and her crew. She has two hefty children, a broken leg, and a deviously grinning grandmother Laura who claims not to understand a lick of English. Anytime the squatty woman sees me she waves and smiles, “Hola!” It was sort of cute at first. But after a week, I’m thinking, “Why can’t she just say ‘Hello’?” But her daughter, Sydney, learns more English every day from her daughter, Alex. It’s awesome when people set out to learn.

I discovered the grandma has no interest in having anything to do with this country. We used Google Translator to communicate, and I learned a lot of what goes on behind that smirk of the “friendly” grandma. In November, when Sydney’s husband is released from prison, grandma plans on returning to her home country. As twisted as she is, I see her point and can try to resonate with her discomfort. I mean, going shopping in a store where all the labels are a different language would be hard enough—but trying to exchange currency with someone who’s unable to communicate would be really difficult—especially with all the family’s stuff packed into garbage bags. Their youngest, Jay, is a relatively large six-year-old, and he is the interpreter for the children to parent communication. Although I have no idea what he’s communicating he’s seen that day.

Still, they allow “little” Jay into the women’s bathroom where he periodically climbs on his hands and knees to peer beneath the doors calling, “Grandma! Grandma!” Doesn’t she answer him if he doesn’t look? My daughter no longer uses the restroom without a guard—me. Can’t say I blame her. And this family is by far the messiest.

Family Three: Is Shawn and Kassandra, who goes by Kiwi. I believe she’s about fourteen with special needs, and I also have a fairly strong suspicion he’s schizophrenic. He often speaks to himself and “spontaneously combusts” during sleeping hours. He also refuses to acknowledge that anyone has a variety of skin color. He and his daughter are black, but for some reason, he’s hung up the Hi-fi Shop killings from the early 1970’s and claims it happened in the early 80’s. He revealed that because the killers were black, he’s disassociated himself from the race. I wonder if he’s heard of Hitler—white and not the best example. They’ve been here about four nights, but the first one was the worst. I’d slept from 1:30 a.m. to four.

The heavy curtain drawn to separate the rooms wasn’t enough to block the noise. And with my exceptional hearing, the situation proved to be extremely trying.

Every hour the first night his daughter would cough so hard I thought they needed a stick to cram her lungs back in. Each time he’d say something inaudible. Once he shouted clear as day, “Get the fuck away from me!” I wondered if both would emerge from the room the following morning.

Kiwi whimpered and cried, but apparently stopped trying to get close. I was heartbroken by the incident. Still, I couldn’t do anything. I was told we couldn’t intervene unless there was visible physical damage. Since I can’t do anything, I do my best to prevent my children from hearing what goes on with the others.

Last morning was a bit different. I awakened to hear “other noises” omitting from beneath the curtain. It started with an “Ooooh!,” ended with a sigh, and his door opening and closing, before the men’s restroom door across the hall did the same. When I asked him how he slept, he replied, “Good. Too good, actually.”

Sleeping quarters at the first church
After the first house we stayed in, the church was another shelter for a week’s visit.

Glad I don’t have to clean their room. It’s enough we all share one shower and must plan accordingly. Because the families generally shower in the evening, we get up at 5:00 a.m. to cleanse ourselves and prepare for the day’s events–traveling to work and school despite where we awaken.

Cameron still tries adjusting enough to be successful at school. Everyone at the churches is enchanted with his level of respect. He shakes the hosts’ hands and introduces himself before offering his assistance around the church. The adults always seem to be taken with this, and it makes me proud.

Danika, or Nikki as she used to be called, excels in school and has her sites set on becoming a squad leader this year and a sergeant next year. Her grades show commitment, so we bought a huge black backpack for her to carry her computer back and forth to school because her other one was pink zebra-stripes and unacceptable by the school’s standards. Her potential is limitless.

Me, on the other hand, I can’t say I’m up-to-par with the circus. I had my one-on-one with my manager last week and it isn’t looking good. That means I need to work a little harder. Sure, coloring and cutting my hair is an issue, as I’m used to doing it myself. But without my supplies, guess I’m going back to gray and having to buy a haircut from a local salon—something easy to keep up.

Grandma's in 08.2018
We delivered a huge salad and made Grandma Bev’s day with a visit.

Today, we broke up our day by swinging by to visit Grandma Bev. She’s one happy lady, even if she can’t hear us half the time and weighs half of what my daughter weighs. She’s stopped repeating the same stories she’s used to telling of her father painting and her grandfather, Francis Scott Key, writing the national anthem. I have a feeling she’s beginning to wind down but fighting it every step of the way. I’ll truly miss her when she’s gone, but we’ll have created wonderful memories like the one we made today by bringing her a lunch that will last a week.

Harmons downtown
Harmon’s grocer downtown, located in City Creek Center, displays a whole new world of possibilities.

Tonight’s our first night in a church downtown. We’ve lightly canvassed, such as the Harmon’s in the picture.  I’ve heard the cooks are unbelievable, but I have a hard time believing that. After all, the last church did a bang-up job of keeping our stomachs and gas tanks full. People are wonderful!

We realize how fortunate we are to be cared for, but also prepare for our turn to care for others in the future.

I Dare you to Beat This!

I’ve always been competitive as a kid growing up. Had a big family of nine kids total. The situation with our parents was sort of like puppies fighting for nipples when there never seemed to be enough nipples. With that many pups, getting your share was pretty tough. It took the right kick in the right place to ensure your place in line without getting caught by the watchful eyes of my parents and sent to the back of the feeding line.

The best part of being part of a big family was the hand-me-downs. There’s nothing like getting handed down your sister’s Halloween costume of a homeless person. It always fit each kid too, no taking anything in or letting it out. It was one of our favorites. Plus, on Halloween, we found the parents with the bowls would offer us more candy than they offered the pretty princesses. Once in a while, even the other trick-or-treaters would donate from their own bags. We’d make that candy last for six months! Sometimes we’d each place a share into our family community Christmas bowl. Trust me, there’s nothing like seeing a wicked chocolate witch mingling with a marshmallow Santa for the holidays. The true spirit of Christmas!

Sure, we were poor growing up. With that many mouths to feed and parents who missed graduating from high school, we had to fight for our food. Dinner time was the most organized our family was, we each waited until my father was served before we helped ourselves. No smacking, no reaching, and no talking ’til my father finished and left the room. Sort of like he was the king. But after he left, it was every man for himself.

Everyone had a favorite; mine was potatoes. You wouldn’t guess it then. I was so small, my choice was to either have the waistband so huge my belt gathered my britches around my waist or absolute floods that hit halfway between my ankles and my knees. I usually wore the belt cinching them up with safety pins strategically placed on each side. That way, no one could see my unmatching socks so big the toes were doubled over. All of our socks were interchangeable that way.

Because we couldn’t afford lunch, we reused our lunch bags for a week. Some people consider that cost conservative. It isn’t like there was anything to ruin the bag. Every day a peanut butter sandwich and some change for a milk. Multiply that with the number of kids and my father’s meager income and you can get a fuzzy picture of where we were.

Still, I remember fighting this big kid named Mike in elementary because he wanted my lunch. The kids were standing in a circle around us as soon as I told him I wouldn’t give my peanut butter sandwich to him – sort of a modern-day David and Goliath story going on in the schoolyard. A hefty boy against a scrawny, four-eyed little girl too hungry to back down. One hefty punch was all it took. Yes, from him. I was a twiggy-armed girI half his size! I didn’t see him for the rest of the day – or anyone else for that matter. He’d knocked my glasses halfway across the playground and broken them. The rest of the school year I looked like one of those nerds from the television sitcoms with tape holding the nosepiece together. But the bullies still didn’t bother me after that and I’ve never trusted another Mike. And I continued to receive little notes in my lunch from my mom–usually the highlight of my day and the main reason I was excited about lunchtime.

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Here I am, allowing Mike to draw first blood for my peanut butter sandwich!

We moved a lot too. The longest I went to school in one district was two years. There were several I went to less than half a year, and that was tough. As soon as my name was no longer “the new girl,” it was time to change schools. You can imagine my horror when at one school another girl stole my “new girl” title. I was pissed. That’s when I became “Michelle Z.” There were already two girls who had the name “Michelle.” It made sense that in addition to being new, I was also always the last in line. And no one could ever pronounce my surname. Nine letters long and starting with a Z; I was proud of anyone for making an effort to sound out the extensively long German name. Even the people of my immediate family had an individual way of pronouncing it. I chose the shortest – Zetner.

I remember in school one time, in third grade when we lived in Bradenton, Florida. I went to a school called Orange Ridge Elementary. Yep, third grade was a long time ago. But I’ll never forget that school and Mrs. Sanders, this black woman that kept forgetting I was in her class. The principal called over the speaker system to, “Please send Michelle to the office.” Mrs. Sanders explained she had two Michelles and needed to know if he needed Michelle Winters or Michelle Barker.

There was silence for a moment before he continued, “Could you please send Michelle Z-e-h-e-n-d-n-e-r to the office?”

My third-grade teacher exploded, “We ain’t got one of those!” That’s when I understood why she was a third-grade teacher.

I raised my hand from the back corner of the room. “I’m talking to the principal,” she reminded me. That’s when I explained my name was Michelle Zehendner. Her face softened for a second and then she said to the speaker, “Here she comes.” You’d think she’d remember me after that – but she didn’t. That’s okay because we moved a few months later.

I have a feeling my parents moved so much to dodge the bills. You can’t do that as easily now. Yep, those were the Good Ol’ Days. It finally occurred to me one Sunday after church. My mom had already run away from home to “find herself.” I don’t think she ever did, but I’m certain she had more fun searching than sticking it out at the “Zehendner’s Funny Farm.” So my father and five kids get home from church. I was the new mom at 14-years-old and four siblings remaining. My dad jumps from the car and runs up to grab a paper from our front door. He comes back to the car and announces, “We’re going to play a game, okay?” I was old enough to understand anytime my dad said there was going to be a game, you definitely didn’t want to be the loser.

But we loved games, so we were chomping at the bit. Perhaps that’s where my competitive edge stems from – everything was a competition. “Who can eat their liver first?” was always a game I lost at. But this game was to see who could pack their things the fastest. The amazing part was how many of the toys we’d been fighting over the day before were lost in the name of winning the game. For us, winning was everything!

I believe I won that time. My brothers were only six and four, so they still didn’t have their bearings straight. They packed all their toys. Clothes weren’t that important. Then again, they would have been happier naked with an excuse to remain that way. But it figured their toys were always first because they were never taken out of the box. They stayed in the bottom of the closet with the flaps tucked inside like big toy boxes. But if they ever got tired of their toy box, they’d simply stomp on it so they could have a new one to decorate with markers. They actually became pretty good at styling their boxes.

My sisters who were about 3 years younger than me were about eleven months apart. A lot of times my parents would dress them as twins, although one was blond the other brunette, and they were absolutely nothing alike. Still, the real fun came when only one outfit was packed and when we unpacked, they fought over who actually left their outfit behind. They became so engulfed in winning, they’d rip the outfit to shreds fighting over it. Needless to say, my family participated in cheap family entertainment. Perhaps I’ll share some later.

But we did something that day that I bet 98% of American families could never do. We moved within 5 hours – in my favorite white church dress and heels.  So you can guess where my tenacity of being a single parent with a university degree, and standing up to fight rather than running comes from. I may have been born in the depths, but I’ll be damned if I don’t rise to the top!

Beat that!