Caring Couple Are Answer To Elderly Widow's Prayers

They Bring Love, Aid After Reading Of Plight

December 19, 1990|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

It was, she says, as if God had brought them to her doorstep.

At first, though, Henrietta wanted nothing to do with the Odenton couple.

The 72-year-old widow, living alone in a faded blue mobile home, wasn't about to open the door for these strangers with a newspaper in their hands.

Through a window, she told them to go away.

But Tom and Lucy Coward, both defense contractors in their late 50s, would not leave.

They stood outside holding up the newspaper with her photograph, and more important, the picture of her mobile home.

They explained how they'd tried for almost a week to find her after reading of her plight in the Anne Arundel County Sun's Dec. 2-5 series on elderly people in need, "Golden Years, Tarnished Promise." (The newspaper kept Henrietta's last name out of print at her request, to protect her privacy.) The Cowards found her by relying solely on the newspaper photograph and references to a mobile home in the central part of the county.

When they finally arrived there the Saturday before last, they told Henrietta they wanted to help make sure she never again shivered in the night because she couldn't afford the heat.

They told her they wanted to help make sure she no longer had to choose between prescriptions and groceries and that she had someone to talk to other than God and her dead husband, "Honey."

They told her something was wrong with a society that put ailing seniors on waiting lists for basics like housing, health care, help paying for medications and heat and food.

They told her she had waited long enough.

Finally, Henrietta, a retired nurse and bookkeeper, opened the door of her narrow mobile home to the strangers.

Since then, the couple has "adopted" Henrietta, taking her for rides, inviting her to dinner and Christmas festivities, buying her more than $170 worth of prescriptions and groceries to fill empty cabinets and an empty refrigerator.

On Monday, they arrived at her door again. In their hands, they held an artificial Christmas tree and all the trimmings.

"I haven't trimmed a Christmas tree since my Honey died!" Henrietta exclaimed.

She recalled last Christmas -- her second without "Honey," her husband of a half-century, Nelson. Running out of money, living alone, isolated, poor, she had no tree, no visitors, no joy to share.

At night, she listened to cassette recordings of the Bible. Often she shivered, when the heat became too expensive a luxury.

Eventually she escaped the cold in a warm room -- at the hospital with pneumonia, her latest in a string of hospital stays for several heart attacks, bypass surgery and other ailments.

All the while, she clung to her rosary, looked to the pictures of Christ adorning her walls and prayed.

When the Cowards first arrived at her doorstep, she had $14 to her name, no food in the refrigerator or cabinets -- and two weeks to survive until the next Social Security check.

When the Cowards left, she sat down in one of the worn chairs that crowd her living room and gave thanks.

"I just sit here and thank God all the time now," she says. "I prayed and prayed, because I was just wondering if I should get something to eat and do without my medication or do without my heat. I was preparing to suffer a few weeks more and see what God had in store."

Tom Coward, who saw a striking resemblance to his late mother in Henrietta's face, says helping Henrietta may mean some small sacrifices for the middle-income couple.

But he says they have more than they need -- a warm house, food, tickets to Redskins and Orioles games, dinners out and other nights out here and there. And they have each other.

"There must be thousands of people in Henrietta's boots," he says. "I can't take them all on, but if I could just help just one, if everybody could help just one, isn't that what Christmas is about?

"I sit here in a nice warm home with my wife. I could go out and buy a $400 suit, or I could buy this poor woman her $170 of prescriptions and make sure she has heat and food. I'd much rather help her. Life shouldn't be like this."

Many others shared the Cowards' sentiments and offered their help.

Readers responded to Henrietta's plight with an outpouring of sympathy and support, offering help paying for prescriptions, heat and groceries, handiwork around the trailer, companionship, dinners, even a warm room in a big house.

Others featured in the series also received offers including financial help, assistance with tasks like shopping and housework, home-repairs, moral support, companionship and a whole lot of prayers from more than 30 readers who called or wrote.

Bill, a 60-year-old grandfather, had been living at Sarah's House, a homeless shelter at Fort Meade, because the pay for often-sporadic painting jobs couldn't cover the rent. More than a half-dozen readers offered him a place to live or help finding and paying for one.

But he had moved out before most calls came. He left the shelter about two weeks ago after almost two months there, his second stay in a year, when area churches pitched in to help him pay for a security deposit and monthly rent at an apartment.

This Christmas, Henrietta and Bill and other elderly folks in need give thanks to God and to all those people who offered their time, their money, their labor, their love.

Theirs, too, is a story befitting the season, a story of the desperate, of the forgotten, of those turned away from the inn 2,000 years later.

This story's for all those who cared enough to remember the forgotten -- and to bring small miracles to their lives in this, the season of miracles.

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