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Updated on June 29, 2014
The Cleaning Woman
The Cleaning Woman | Source

Toophie was a sweet little homeless woman who lived in the downtown area of San Francisco. She had more friends than you could shake a stick at, and when she walked down the street everyone would greet her by name, “Hi Toophie!”

Early in the mornings and late at night she would sweep and mop a number of the local shop floors, there are a few shops that also have her keep their windows clean, and she does a beautiful job. Toophie is a very dependable and hard worker; shop owners appreciate having her working for them. Needless to say, she is never short on food or clothing.

Toophie is a nickname, her real name is Sue. When she was young her mother would tell her, “You’d better brush your toophies before you go to bed Suzy Q!” Her dad condensed the phrase down to pointing his finger at her and saying, “Toophies!” Eventually she became Toophie.

At one time Toophie was a wife and mother. Her whole life changed when she was forty, and her daughter died suddenly of an aggressive strain of virus. Toophie never got over losing her only child. She would have much rather her own life had been taken and her daughter’s life remain, she felt that parents shouldn’t have to see the death of their children; there’s something not natural about that.

After the loss of her daughter, Toophie tried for a while to hang on to the marriage, but her heart was no longer up for the task and she filed for a divorce. She wanted nothing from the marriage, she didn’t want half of anything, she just wanted out. The Judge ordered Toophie’s husband to cash out a Life Insurance Policy that he had taken out on her, and to give Toophie the money so that she could take care of her bills.

Toophie cleaned out her things from the house and got her affairs in order during the time it took for the divorce to be finalized. The check arrived from the insurance company and Toophie deposited in her bank account. She went downtown to the area where she was making her plan to move to, and standing in front of the old vacant building where Toophie was in hopes of taking up residency, there stood a young couple who were getting ready to have a baby. Toophie smiled at the couple and they said hello. She asked them why they were standing there looking at the old vacant building, and they told her that they were in hopes of moving in there soon.

The young man went on to tell Toophie, “We want to start our ministry here. It’s going to take a lot of money, but we trust that God will supply.” Toophie thought that the opportunity has been put before her, now what was she going to do with it. Toophie pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for the full amount of what was in her account. She gave the check to the young couple and told them that she wanted to sow into their ministry. She explained that she had just deposited the money into the bank so they will need to wait a day for the deposit to clear. The couple couldn’t believe that they were just handed the funding that would enable them to get things started. They thought Toophie was possibly an angel; they had no idea that the angel was going to become a longtime neighbor and friend.

The divorce was finalized and Toophie was completely ready to start her new life. Toophie gathered what few clothes that she kept, and she moved to the streets, where she has lived for almost twenty years now.

There was a newspaper reporter a few years ago who did a story on the “Street People” of the city, and Toophie was one that he profiled. He asked her to tell him her story and afterwords he asked her if she regretted walking away from her marriage. Toophie, in a very matter of fact tone, replied, “I was married for nineteen years, and all I did for nineteen years was worry about how we were going to pay the bills. The house payment and all the bills that go with having a house, car payments, credit card payments, insurance, cell phone, taxes; and the list goes on. It was a marriage consumed with debt.

I wasn’t prepared to live in that kind of financial dilemma. My parents lived within their means and usually that meant going without a lot of things that other people had, but we also didn’t have debt that other people had. My husband, on the other hand, never knew what it was to have to go without, he was severely spoiled. I couldn’t stand living that way any longer, especially since my daughter was gone, there was no reason to continue living in such financial bondage.

I haven’t had any of those kinds of worries. I sweep and mop floors at the same shops every day, just like a regular job, and they in turn give me food. I wash windows at the second hand store and at a few little hippie shops on the next street over, and they give me clothes when I need. I don’t beg for anything, I work as if it is my own cleaning business, but my pay is in food and sometimes clothing. I don’t want to carry cash, that’s the quickest way to get robbed out here. I’m not living out on the streets because life was cruel and unfair. Nothing happened that forced me to live out here, I’m here by choice and I’m happier living on the streets, than I was when I had a roof over my head that we were trying to keep from going into foreclosure.”

After that article came out in the newspaper, it was amazing how many people wanted to come and help Toophie. She had people come and offer her places to stay and regular work, but she always had the same reply, “What would all these people do without me?”

Toophie knows that she’s not living the American Dream, but for her the American Dream is nothing but a nightmare, unless you have enough money to where you don’t owe everybody and their cousin. Toophie associates owing people with being owned by people, and she doesn’t want to be owned by anybody.

Every Sunday morning you’ll find Toophie out in back of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church. She loves Gospel music and she sings along with the choir, she knows all the same songs they know, because ever since the young couple opened their doors almost nineteen years ago Toophie’s been standing at the back door for every Sunday morning service. For years the young Pastor, his wife and many of the Congregants have invited Toophie to come in, but she always politely declines their invitation. One Sunday the Pastor’s wife could hear Toophie singing her little heart out with the choir, as she always did, and the Pastor’s wife had a thought, so she talked with her husband and the Music Pastor and they devised a plan to hopefully coax Toophie to finally come inside. After all, this was the angel that God used to give them their start in ministry; they couldn’t just give up on her.

The very next Sunday the plan went into action. They left the door opened that Toophie stands near; this way she could hear them talk. The Pastor and Music Pastor stood just inside the door and talked in a normal voice, but loud enough to where they knew Toophie could hear them. The Pastor asked if the choir was going to do the special song that he requested, ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’ The Music Pastor said that they couldn’t do that song because he didn’t’ have a soloist to sing the part. The Pastor replied that his sermon was built around the theme of that song; he really wanted that song to be a part of the service. Pretty soon they heard a faint little cough, it was Toophie, they peaked around the door and said, “Hi Sister Toophie, how are you? It’s always such a blessing to see you.” Toophie said, “Pastor, I know the solo part to the song you want for today.” Pastor asked, “You mean, His Eye is on the Sparrow?” Toophie replied, “Yes!” Pastor asked, “Would you come in and sing it for service?” Toophie replied, “If I didn’t have to stand in front of everyone I would.” The Music Pastor said, “We could have you stand a little off stage, in the curtain area.” Toophie smiled and said, “Okay!”

The Pastor walked up to his wife and gave her a kiss on the cheek and whispered in her ear that she was a genius, and she agreed with him. Toophie came in and they put a choir robe on her and gave her a microphone. They did a quick sound check and went right in to practicing the song. The whole choir knew what was going on, and most of them couldn’t hold back the tears when they saw Toophie standing inside for the first time after standing outside for so many years. The pianist played the intro and then Toophie began to sing. If there were any dry eyes in the choir, there weren’t after she began to sing; she was awesome. Toophie had a beautiful voice that resonated throughout the sanctuary. The Pastor was in disbelief. When the song was finished the Pastor walked behind the curtain and told Toophie, “You mean to tell me that you’ve been hiding that voice outside all these years. No more standing outside during service, I want you in here singing with the choir, and I’m not going to take no for an answer.” Toophie replied, “Okay Pastor.” When he turned around from lovingly scolding his longtime friend, he gave a big grin to the choir.

The service began and Toophie was excited but a little nervous. She sang along with all the worship music and then the time came for the special piece. The pianist played the intro; Toophie grabbed hold of the microphone, took a deep breath and surprised everyone by walking out on stage. She looked at Pastor and his wife and they were both crying, and then Toophie began to sing. The whole congregation stood, it was an atmosphere of fervent praise; you could see it on everyone’s face and in their body language. After the special music, the Pastor was so caught up in the anointing of the room that he didn’t speak from his sermon notes, but he spoke directly from his heart. He made sure that everyone knew that the woman, who sang the solo so beautifully, is the same woman who has been standing outside the back door of their Church every Sunday since they opened their doors almost nineteen years ago. Pastor said, “Her name is Sister Toophie, and she will be standing on the inside of the Church for Sunday Service from now on.”

That was one Sunday never to be forgotten. It was the beginning of a new chapter in Toophie’s life. Toophie was going to be doing something that she really loved; singing in the choir. Toophie’s father was Pastor of a small Baptist church, and her mother was head of the music department, so Toophie grew up in that environment, and she was happy to once again be a part of something so dear to her heart. It was as if her life had come full circle.

Most people don’t understand how Toophie can live the way that she does, she simply refers them to the words of Jesus at Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” She is content with very little, for Toophie, less is better. She has friends who love her, a descent little cleaning business and above all she has freedom from the debt of this world that she was drowning in for so many years. Toophie knows that she is not alone; that the very same God Who is taking care of her precious daughter in heaven, is watching over her as well, here on earth.

“I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free,
for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

(His Eye is on the Sparrow – Refrain)

Tommy and Giggles

Toophie is a fictional story about a woman who got fed up with all the baggage of living the American dream. She chose to leave it all behind and start a new and much simpler life for herself.

What I’m writing now is about real people; a girl we met at the park in 2009, and a couple we first met last year (2013), whose names are Tommy and Giggles.

The first time we met the couple was last winter (2013). My son and I had arrived at the Shul (Synagogue) to do our janitorial work. As we drove up, we noticed two dogs barking at us, and then we could see that there were people sleeping in the flower bed near the entrance of the building. I rolled down my car window and identified my son and I as being the janitors, and I apologized for waking them up; I wanted them to know that they didn’t have to leave the property.

The Girl at the Park - 2009

I learned a lesson concerning homeless people a few years ago (2009). I used to take my son to the public park to play tennis. One day there was a girl sitting on the grass watching us play. I’m sure it was obvious to her that I was not a tennis player. She approached us and said that she used to play. I asked her if she wanted to hit with my son and she said that she would really enjoy that. It was then that I could see that she was homeless. She brought her little bag of possessions and sat them on the ground by the fence, and proceeded to hobble barefooted onto the court. She hobbled because her feet were blistered so badly.

I could tell that she enjoyed interacting with us, but the concrete court was too much for her blistered feet, so she stopped after about ten minutes of play.

We talked to her for quite a long time; she was very open about her life, and came across as someone who wanted help; at least that was my perception of her. She mentioned having already stayed at a few of the local facilities set up for the homeless, but for one reason or another they didn’t work out for her, and at some point her and her son had gotten separated; she found out that he had been bused to the Los Angeles area and she hadn’t seen him for months.

It was heart wrenching listening to her tell her story. We had a hard time leaving her there at the park. Se we set out to find some help for her. We ended up at a Christian Shelter across town from the park. We told them her story and asked if they could do anything for her. The Pastor was so pleasant, he said that they would go to the park and talk to her, and offer her a place to stay until she could get on her feet. We were elated. I asked the Pastor if he would call us to let us know how she is doing, and I gave him our phone number. We left that shelter feeling like we had done something really good, but in about an hour and a half, we found out that all we had done was waste time and gas.

The Pastor called and said that they went to the park and talked to the girl, but when they offered to take her to the shelter she told them that she didn’t want to go; she wanted to stay at the park. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing him say, and I apologized for wasting his time. He told me that what the girl did was more common than not; she didn’t want to live in a shelter.

We found a different park to go to, and I never returned to that one. I totally misread the situation, and I felt like I’d made a silly fool of myself, but I chalked it up as a lesson well learned. The girl at the park enjoyed being a tennis player for ten minutes, but she didn’t want me treating her like a homeless person and arrange lodging for her at a shelter. I interfered in a situation that I didn't understand, and overstepped a boundary that I had no business crossing.

Tommy and Giggles – Winter 2013

Having learned what I did in 2009 with the girl at the park, I knew that I was going to need to be able to resist the temptation to fix this couple’s situation; unless they asked for that kind of help – which they didn’t. It was very difficult to drive away and leave them out in the cold; but they assured us that they were warm enough.

Tommy and Giggles - Our Reunion, Summer 2014

We didn’t see them again until a few evenings ago (June 2014). We were all very happy to see each other again, even their dogs seemed happy.

We found out that their names are Tommy and Giggles, and we told them our names as well. It was easy to discern by their conversation that they’ve been together for quite a long time. Giggles is as cute as a button and she and Tommy are both just as nice as they could be.

We finished our work and tried to leave as quietly as possible because the little family in the flower bed was asleep. I looked at them as we were slowly driving away; Tommy and Giggles were cuddled up as close to each other as could be, and the two dogs were snuggled up right next to them. I thought to myself that a normal person would look at them and be thankful to have a car to drive home in, to a house that harbors a bedroom where they will sleep in a cozy bed, and not a flower bed. But when I look at Tommy and Giggles I see a couple that have the most important thing that two people can have together; they are true companions.

They may not have a house, or a car, nor do they have all the stuff that people accumulate over time; but what they do have is all that really matters anyway; they have each other.


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