Eight-year-old Benjamin and Abby, his 13-year-old sister, have had good Christmases in the past.
This year, that may not be the case.
Recent medical issues affecting them and their 51-year-old mother, Alice, has changed their lives. The financial strain that followed threatens just how merry Christmas will be in terms of gifts.
To be sure, there are items on the childrens’ wish list. Benjamin would like the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game and the stuffed toys associated with it, a Pittsburgh Steelers bedspread and Heelys — “Any color, size 3 and a half,” Benjamin said.
Besides having her two older sisters come to visit from the Midwest and spending time with the family, Abby simply would like a camera.
“I’m into photography,” Abby said. “When I grow up I want to be a photographer.”
However, inside their modest, three-bedroom, low-income apartment in a complex near the Annaville area, the greatest gifts the family has — or could receive — cannot be wrapped in paper or tied with a bow.
“You get up and you do what you have to do no matter how much pain you have in your heart or in your body,” said Alice, adding the family relies on love and its faith to endure this tough stretch. “We’re pretty happy people, you know. We don’t have a lot and our life is real different than what it used to be. … It’s a thing of the past. But we’ve learned there’s more value at home than there ever could be outside. So we’re OK with that.”
“It just came down to what you get is what you get. You don’t have to have a bad Christmas,” Benjamin said. “It’s a fun Christmas every day for me.”
Abby and Benjamin represent thousands of youngsters who will be helped by the Caller-Times Children’s Christmas Appeal. The names of those profiled are changed to protect the privacy of the families, who will be featured in the newspaper to Christmas Eve.
Since 1973, the Caller-Times has reported the plight of needy children during the holiday season. Every cent donated to the drive benefits the children because all overhead costs are borne by the Caller-Times, United Way of the Coastal Bend and participating agencies.
Participating agencies include the Boys & Girls Club of Alice, Duval County Christmas Committee, the Kleberg County Welfare Department, Nueces County Department of Social Services, the Odyssey After-School Enrichment Program in Rockport, Sinton for Youth Inc. and the Women’s Shelter of South Texas.
A victim of domestic violence, Alice was forced to stop work as a nurse in 2013 because of her health. She suffers from lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and is having tests to evaluate liver abnormalities. She maneuvers with a walker. After 18 months of treatment, Abby is in remission from lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. Benjamin has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
They are living on a minimal income from Abby’s child support and Benjamin’s dependent benefits. Benjamin’s father, Orville, had been assisting but now is on a fixed income after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
“I try and do everything as possible for my mom because she’s having a hard time trying to get around,” Abby said, sobbing gently. “So if she’s trying to go somewhere, like the dining room or living room, I try to move everything out of the way for her.”
A donated, oversized L-shaped sofa is the dominant feature inside their cramped apartment. There are neat, but old stockings hanging from a shelf. A Christmas music box softly plays in a nearby bedroom, trying to spread good tidings amid trying times.
“You can look around. This stuff is what we’ve had for years. We take good care of it,” said Alice, who said she donated to the Christmas Appeal in better times. “But what is important to us is how much we love and how much we can give. It’s not about taking. We have never been that way. We’ve been very giving people all our lives. I believe that even when you have nothing you still have a lot to give.
“Where people may look at us and say that we’re poor, we’re very rich,” she said. “We’re rich in love, rich in life, and we’ve been blessed.”