Feature: A Different Kind of Christmas StoryDecember 14, 2014 Editorials
A Different Kind of Christmas Story
Malea Guiriba, Feature Writer
Special to Historic City News
You know someone, somewhere always has to begin a Christmas story with, “Yes, Virginia — there is a Santa Claus.” So consider this, that story.
But the Santa Claus in this tale looks nothing like the bearded, bespectacled, jolly, round fellow of lore. Instead, this Santa looks a lot like a sixty-something year old black woman, who rides a bike through the town of Hastings and brings her own brand of the spirit of Christmas giving, all year round.
I first met Diane many years ago and I admit, I was slightly intimidated by her and the reputation that preceded her. Tall and lean, she is soft spoken and polite, but I had always heard she was a scrapper and I am sure there is some truth to that. But she was always nice to me. Diane is one of 10 children born to farmworker parents who also grew up to work in the fields.
She lived in the family home on a tiny side-street on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Her skin is worn and her hands tell the story of many years of hard work. But Diane had another skill; she could cook. So after a while, she did just that, cooking on the camps for the crews of men who labored in the fields.
When I met her she had been hired to cook for Jewel and Roosevelt. That was the year Roosevelt put on 20 pounds. Every time I walked into their house, the aroma of fried pork chops, greens, peas and cornbread in the oven, would awaken my senses like an old friend and bring back fond memories of walking into my grandmother’s kitchen. Yes, Diane could cook.
After the fellas moved somewhere else, I would only see Diane passing by on her bike. She would wave, not really smile, but still it was sort of a friendly gesture.
And then one day some of the farmworkers were telling me about the great meal they had on a Sunday past. It was, many of them said, the only meal they had that week. When I asked about it, they told me that every Sunday a woman on “the back part of town”, cooked a big meal and everyone just showed up and ate. That cook, was of course, Diane.
I would also learn that she made sandwiches for the guys to take to work, when she had food to give and when she didn’t, she would give what was hers. Over the years, we helped Diane by giving large packs of sandwich meat, venison (which no one at the food pantry ever wanted) even 20 pounds of soup bones. Diane would take it all and turn it into a meal for five guys or 20 guys, whoever showed up at her house. It was very informal and probably as much about the social gathering as it was about the food, but the guys would hang out in the dirt yard, eat and talk; then walk away with a full belly.
Last year, Diane’s family home burned to the ground in an electrical fire. The home was uninsured and tangled up in a mess of probate snafus, so there was no chance of re-building. Diane went up the road, cooking for a crew to earn money. And then she came back, almost as though she had never left and on Thanksgiving Day, she brought three big ole’ plates of food over to John, Roosevelt and Jewel. She knew of course about John losing his foot and she wanted to make sure they all had a Thanksgiving meal, which the fellas all agreed was absolutely delicious.
So when the holidays come around I started thinking about Diane and thinking about how she is thinking about all of those souls all year long. She works quietly, in the shadows, asking for nothing, but giving so much. Pretty much everyone knows, if you need a bite to eat, go see Diane and she will give you what she has.
A while back I asked her why she did what she did. Being a woman of few words she said simply, “I know what it’s like to be hungry.”
I knew she didn’t mean hungry like, oh I missed lunch hungry. She meant hungry, as in going days without food, when your stomach literally aches from the pain of being empty and not knowing where your next meal might come from. That kind of hungry.
In a town that can often be ground zero for, “dog eat dog” behavior or as John once told me, “These folks are like crabs in a pot, they will pull each other down for the chance to get up and then nobody has nothing.”, Diane is an anomaly. Most folks don’t know what she does and if they do, they don’t much care. Many of those that have think those that don’t are right where they should be. But not Diane. I guess you might say she is one of them and although she has almost as little as they do, she still manages to give. She gets no help from anyone and yet she still manages to feed anyone who is hungry.
So I guess this story might be likened more to the story of The Good Samaritan rather than Santa Claus; because, at its core, it really is about compassion in its truest form. Diane has the habit of helping. She does it every day, without thinking, she simply responds to people in need. No big heroics, no grand gestures, just making a meal and sharing it with others. It really is just that simple.
One of my favorite quotes, “No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
The quiet power of compassion at work in Hastings. You just have to know where to look.