Commentary

Saunders: Thanks to you readers, Frankie will have grandparents for Christmas

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 23, 2013 

Last week, Theresa West was so distraught at the thought of her son and her spending another lonely Christmas together that she could hardly talk. She wrote me an angst-filled letter lamenting that she wouldn’t be able to get for Frankie the gift at the top of his list. She sobbed when we talked.

When a kindergarten assignment called for Frankie to write a list of what he wanted for Christmas, West told me last week, “he drew a toy helicopter with remote control, but a grandma was first on the list. He’s 5, so he doesn’t write a whole lot, but he drew this picture of a lady holding his hand. I thought it was me, so I said ‘I love you. Why are you asking Santa for that?’ He said ‘No, I’m asking Santa for a grandma.’ When he said that, it broke my heart. How do I get that?”

In the desperate letter to the paper, which I cited in a column about Frankie’s and her potentially lonely plight, West wrote, “The greatest gift I want for my child is family. My heart is breaking right now. As hard as I try, I can’t do this without support. I write this tonight to tell you I am scared because I can’t do it. I need help, please. We need love and support, just someone who cares.” Her son, she said, wanted “a grandma or pa like his friends.”

That was last week. Now, when you talk to her, she is giddy. Why?

Because mother and son have so many people wanting share the holidays with them – to be Frankie’s grandma and grandpa – that they can share them with others.

‘Changed my life’

I called West, who works in the dietary and nutrition department at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, the day the column ran to ask whether anyone responded to her plea.

“Did they?” she squealed. “Oh, hundreds and hundreds wrote, everybody wanting us to join their families for the holidays. Y’all have changed my life. I didn’t know so many people were out there who cared. ... Some are older people who are alone, some are not older people. This was the sweetest thing: This lady e-mailed us and wanted to make Frankie something for Christmas. Wanted to make it! How sweet is that?”

Very. “We’ve had so many families wanting us to come over for Christmas, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, but very exciting. I don’t even know what to do. Maybe we’ll start out early in the morning and drop by each and every one.”

Her joyous laughter was a welcome contrast to the tears of our earlier conversation, to the heartache one felt while reading her letter.

Making connections

West thinks the huge number of responses may be one reason her computer started acting up and is preventing her from thanking everyone personally. “I’ve been trying to e-mail everybody from my phone because my computer went down,” she said.

When it comes back up, she also may contact you to let you know there is no shortage of lonely people who need someone to care. One of her plans, even before she was overwhelmed with your show of kindness, was to start a nonprofit organization that helps lonely people with no family connect with people who have love to share.

Hmmm. Rent-a-Granny? I like it.

“I know a lot of single mothers who are in the same boat I’m in, and they’re asking if they can come over and pick” out a family from the flood of inviting e-mails she received, she said, laughing. “I have a friend who’s a single dad and his wife ran off and left him and his son, and the son hardly ever sees his mama. They want a family, too.”

West said every one of the responses she received was “absolutely” positive, with not a single jerk replying. I received just one jerkish response that incoherently stated, “The very notion of family is ... lost” in today’s decadent society. “In a world with same sex marriage, people changing their sex, kids legally allowed to use bathrooms at school assigned to a different gender, I guess the idea that blood relationships are a matter of convenience to be claimed or disavowed as needed makes as much sense as any of it.”

Huh?

It wasn’t signed “E. Scrooge,” but it could have been.

The front-runner for her Christmas family, West said, may be an older lady in Raleigh. “She walks with a cane because she’s going to have hip surgery. She said ‘It’s not going to stop me; it’ll just slow me down.’ The picture Frankie drew? The lady had a cane. I thought that was kind of ... kind of ... cool.”

It is. And so is everyone who reached out to a young boy who wanted a family for Christmas.

Cool.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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