Grandmothers and moccasins

Driving a friend home.
Henry with Elizabeth and Dan in the Street Help van. © Zora Zebic 2018

I wrote the following on Victoria Day. Street Help Homeless Centre is open with regular hours on all holidays.
I was in my office, which is a rare occurrence these days when a staff member told me a man was requesting to speak with me. I went into our dining room we affectionately call The Stone Soup Kitchen. He looked frazzled, dirty and desperate. I asked how I could help him.
He answered, “Someone said you would be able to help me.” I asked what his need was. Henry, as I will call him, told me of his plight. Stranded in Windsor, he had been beaten and robbed and had no way to get home. In his outstretched hand, he held two tiny moccasins his grandmother had made. I was offered them as payment for his transportation back home.
I refused the moccasins, but I did tell him I would get him home today. He insisted his offered gift was worth a lot of money. I said his grandmother wanted him to keep this gift; it was his heritage.
First, I wanted him to take a shower and change into clean clothing. Henry said he was hungry and I told him to go to the counter for a plate of food. Our volunteer cooks, Virginia, Anthony, and Paul had prepared a wonderful feast. The fare at Street Help is fantastic. Most are creations from leftovers and other donations, and we have to be inventive!
After his meal, I led him to the showers, while our volunteer Jennifer fetched hygiene products and a towel.
I searched online for Greyhound and VIA Rail ticket prices. I was surprised VIA Rail offered a lesser cost, however; the fare was not available until tomorrow. He wanted to go home today. I asked Dan, our volunteer driver if he would consider driving him. Dan agreed, and Elizbeth, another volunteer, asked if she could go along as the support person. We generally have two staff members in the car, so I happily agreed. I didn’t want to be the other staff rider today!
Meanwhile, our clothing room volunteer Tim selected clean clothing for him to wear. You are reading the word “volunteer” a lot. It is because, at Street Help, we are all volunteers. It is essential to this story, as I often am the one receiving the thanks or kudos, but in actuality, I can’t do this job without the help of my team!
Freshly showered, he asked to see me one more time before he left. Henry again offered me the mocassins, which I accepted and slipped into my apron pocket. I could see the intense pain in his eyes as Dan started the car. I didn’t know what I had precisely seen, but I knew something in Henry’s eyes betrayed a need for the car not to drive away.
I asked Elizabeth to fetch water bottles for everyone, and I shut Henry’s door. He asked, “Can I have a hug please; I need two of them?” I opened his door and hugged him. He fell into me weeping, and it was as though I was holding a little child.
Henry, tears streaming down his face asked, “Can I have back my grandmother’s moccasins?” He further explained, “I was going to bury myself today, and I wanted to give them away, instead of taking them with me. I don’t want to do that now.” I reminded Henry I had told him his grandmother wanted him to keep her gift; however, I would give them back on one condition; he had said he wanted two hugs, and I wanted the second one.
A brilliant smile appeared on his face, and at that moment, I saw the little boy Henry’s grandmother had loved. He gave me another hug. I placed his grandmother’s moccasins into his outstretched hand. Henry closed his hands in mine and said, “Miigwech!” “Miigwech!” I responded, and Henry smiled. He looked at me with understanding; I was grateful to have been able to help him.
Elizabeth returned to the car with the water bottles, and Henry was driven back to his community. I wish him Godspeed.
I was most impacted today by the memory of a dear friend who has left us behind. Joan Bergwerff loved all of us at Street Help. She was the “grandmother” who enjoyed giving all of us hugs. Joan didn’t know, but she was the only grandmother I’ve ever had. I miss you my friend, and I am so happy you taught me the abundance and healing of a hug, or two.
© Zora Zebic 2018

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