Eve’s Burden

A neighbor weeps over wayward offspring



Three houses over from mine, Wanda, a 72-year-old woman, lived with Marsha, her 47-year-old daughter, and Devan, her 17-year-old granddaughter. The teen got pregnant, and not long after baby Gary was born, the kid’s father was knifed to death in a gang fight. His lifeblood pooled in front of my next-door neighbor’s driveway. I helped clean up, consoling her with “This could’ve happened anywhere.”

Fast-forward three years. Wanda, now age 75, and daughter Marsha have had a huge feud over how to properly raise the baby. Because Marsha when drunk had threatened her mother’s life, they do not talk to each other anymore. Wanda levied a restraining order on Marsha. Devan, the boy’s unmarried mother, has had to work at a job, so her weary grandmother is forever babysitting Gary. Devan’s mother cannot visit the house at all. It is complicated.

Devan, now 20, got off to a bad start. However, with her grandma’s free room and board, she has been getting a decent education and will soon qualify as a medical assistant. Gary has no father, so I sometimes fill in with a chat or a checkers game.

Marsha, meanwhile, had been in and out of homeless shelters, applied for Section 8, federal SSI, and San Diego County General Relief with little results to show for all her efforts. She stayed at an Interfaith shelter house for three months until their quota rules put her out on the street again. She has claimed 25% Native American Indian blood and has waited years for monthly gratuity checks from a tribal casino-funding grant, but to no avail.

She told me she had a steady job as a cashier and as an all-around shop helper. But she somehow contracted hepatitis C and her employer dismissed her. Why? She didn’t know. Has she been on medication for her liver disease? No, she doesn’t trust doctors. This I’ve learned after listening to her plight, never knowing how much of it was true. But I listened anyway, to help if I could.

Another neighbor confided that Marsha was seen trying to enter garage side doors, likely to steal something to sell. “Be careful, keep your doors locked.” I explained to her that Marsha would be sleeping under my front yard juniper bushes, just until she can get into a homeless shelter. She had been sleeping in a new neighborhood park where other alcoholics molested her. They gather there now for like company and public rest rooms, left open until remotely locked at 8pm.

From my years in penniless pilgrimage, I know fear makes for a sleepless night. So I placed some cushioned cardboard for bedding under my tall, thick bushes. She put all her bag-lady possessions on a chair I left for her. I dared not invite her into my house to avoid her stealing or any appearance of lewd intent on my part (1 Thess 5:22). Another risk I’d face would be neighbors filing a nuisance complaint over depreciation of property values.

I drove Marsha to the Social Security office to apply for SSI. She told me she suffers from PTSD. On the way there, she wept and vented her rage at the world for being so cold and callous to her.

“Now I know why 400 people in a crowded stadium got mowed down with an AK-47,” she said.

“I’ll be back in two hours to pick you up,” I said, aghast at her statement justifying random violence.

She nodded. I arrived later only to learn she had left an hour ago, and did not tell the security attendant if or when she would return. She had walked back to our street — a three-mile jaunt. She is grossly obese, so maybe walking had done her some good. But when I got home she was lying on her cardboard bed, eating a big bag of french fries.

How she gets enough cash to buy food, beer, and essentials is anyone’s guess. I have given her no more than a dollar or two. Maybe she has begged her working daughter for money, or she has been stealing, like those two useable bicycles I saw her with that she likely sold cheap. “The rules don’t apply in survival mode,” she said. That gave me a cold shudder, as I visualized the consequences.

I keep Wanda current on her daughter’s condition and her frustrated efforts for public assistance. The old woman cried to me in despair, shouldering the blame for all that has happened. I walked home realizing that many grandmothers in a like circumstance have wept and mourned over their wayward offspring, unaware that God long ago condemned Eve: “in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children” (Gen 3:16).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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