Late for our appointment, I prayed I hadnâ€™t missed her. I badly needed help with the house and had been dismally unsuccessful in finding it. This lady came highly recommended by my neighbor Elaine, who gives new meaning to the word â€œpicky.â€ As I rushed toward my cul-de-sac, I met a weather-beaten SUV headed toward me. Hoping it might be Gloria, I waved it down, and luckily, it was.
She was a large woman; very pretty with skin the color of honey and a ready smile. I estimated her age to be 40-something, and her ample breasts and broad hips suggested multiple childbirths. There was a peaceful manner about her, but there was something more. Something elusive. Something that seemed to insulate her from the chaos around her.
Gloria waved off my apologies for being late even though the round trip to my house would have cost at least five dollars, given the price of gas at the time. She quickly went to work, assessing what needed to be done, shaking blinds, running her hands over door jams, moving furniture, lifting sofa pillows. Given the extent of cleaning she proposed, I was expecting her service to be expensive. But her estimate was suprisingly reasonable. (Did I mention that ElaineÂ is also good with a dollar?) I seized the opportunity.
From the first day, I knew I was uncommonly lucky to have found her. Gloria and her crew were fabulous. They were fast, thorough, professional and embarrassingly affordable.
But in spite of the fact that she spent several hours in my home twice a month, I really knew very little about Gloria. She was always courteous, but she answered any questions not directly related to housekeeping with a polite â€œYesâ€ or â€œNo.â€ Gloria never discussed her personal life, and I never pressed. So I expected only a polite â€œThank you,â€ when she received her Christmas bonus. But as she opened her pay envelope, her face lit up, and she smiled broadly.
â€œWell, THIS will come in handy,â€ she said, happily waving the check in her hand.
â€œGood!â€ I said, expecting to hear about something she wanted for herself or her family.
She continued, uncharacteristically animated.
â€œMy mom works at the hospital, and thereâ€™s this lady they brought in last weekend – I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s wrong, but sheâ€™s real sick. Sheâ€™s in ICU. And the saddest thing, she had a little boy with her. He just sits by himself in the family lounge. Heâ€™s been there all this time. The nurses bring him food and blankets, but he never leaves the hospital. He only speaks Spanish, so Momâ€™s the only one can understand him. The little boy, his name is Lucas, said they came here to see a doctor for his grandmother, and that he was five, but Mom couldn’t find out anything more. They seem to be alone. Mom thinks theyâ€™re homeless. So this will buy a present for him and some clean clothes!â€
She smiled broadly. And then suddenly to my surprise, she gave me a bear hug.Â â€œThanks,â€ she said. â€œAnd Merry Christmas.â€
After she left, I sat for several minutes thinking about what had just happened. I had expected she would do with extra money just what I would have done. But unlike most of us, Gloria had not lost her balance in the whirlwind of the holiday season. She still knew the true meaning of a Christmas gift. And that was her gift to me, the one I needed most.