Thursday, March 7, 2019

They meet at the U.S. Mexico border: The needy, the helpers and the guards

2/27/19 The Chatterbox 
Cottage Grove, Oregon
Betty Kaiser

Chris Heritage is a born helper and she is one busy lady. I first got to know her as the talented bell choir director at 1st Presbyterian Church. She’s also a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend. Plus, as a PeaceHealth Certified Midwife, she has always felt a call to help refugees around the world. But most of the places she hoped to go were too far away.

Then she heard about the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas—across from Reynosa, Mexico. The Center was started in 2014 in response to exhausted Central America refugees arriving in the U.S. to escape violence and poverty. They were alone and bewildered upon arrival.

Enter the church nuns. Their missions statement says in part: “We believe that human beings who have no food, no security, no access to shower, etc. are people in crisis. We will continue responding to the needs of these families in crisis as long as there is a need.”

Last year a request went out from the clinic for help from Spanish speaking medical volunteers. Dr. Lauren Herbert, M.D., a PeaceHealth pediatrician, answered the call and invited Chris to come along. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Travel to a crisis at our own border was reasonable, people were suffering, she speaks Spanish and the timing was good. She thought, “I can do this.” Another nurse from Bellingham, WA joined them.

Upon arrival at the clinic on Jan. 13, they were put to work immediately. Buses arrive daily from the ICE detention facility with several hundred refugees who have been released to enter the country. Here, they are greeted by the volunteers with smiles and given help in connecting with their U.S. sponsors, a hot meal, warm showers and bathrooms, beds, clothing, shoes, medical help, phone services and safety courses.

Chris says, “Most of them are headed east. They stay for a day or two before continuing on their journey. People who felt especially sick came right away to the clinic for medical help. There was usually a surge of children and adults needing our help in the afternoon and into the evening. We would go to bed and the next morning there was a line again. We took care of everything from minor colds to bruises, scrapes, headaches, stomach aches, athletes’ foot and occasionally more serious illnesses. People with life threatening problems are sent to the local hospital ER.

“They have so much hope,” she says.  “Even the ones with ankle monitors who would likely be sent back to the dangerous situations they are trying to escape. I have met and worked with similar families here in Oregon. They are hardworking, kind, hopeful. They have strong family values, are attentive to their children. So happy to be here. Now, having worked in Texas, I have a new respect for their struggles.”

The volunteers occasionally had opportunities to take a break around lunch time to learn firsthand about the border situation.

“One day we visited La Posada, a place where Catholic nuns provide longer term housing and support for refuges that don’t have an immediate place to go. Another time we visited a 19th century chapel that will be torn down if the wall is built. Then, the next group would arrive, and the work would start again until the early evening.”

Chris’ stories about the common humanity of the people she encountered are heartwarming. There were the needy, the helpers and the guards. The needy, of course, were the most obvious. There was a 12-year-old boy, separated (and later united) with his father in a truck accident, where people were killed crossing the border. Another boy had an infected leg from the wreck.

A woman who was 6-1/2 months pregnant fell in the Rio Grande River and was tossed about by the current. She was worried about her baby. Chris got out her stethoscope and they both laughed out loud as they heard the baby’s heartbeat. There were tears of happiness.

People from all walks of life come to help. There are clothes to be sorted, floors to be mopped, meals to be prepared and cleaning of all kinds to be done. A group of Mennonite men and women come regularly and prepare the soup of the day. A local church group comes often as does a church from Iowa. A Facebook group helps people in the McAllen area to donate pizza dinners to the Respite Center.

One day, Chris observed some official looking men with clipboards watching the children play. She was suspicious. Turns out they were sketching plans to build a playground. Kindness abounds.

And then there was an hour-long discussion with a border guard. The government was shut down, but this man was working without a paycheck for his family. Chris began their conversation by thanking him. The guard’s response was, “If I was not working, people would die. I could not live with myself if that happened.”

So, what can we do? These are not illegal immigrants. They are legal. They had a destination. Still, they are needy. Getting from their country to ours is not easy even when they’ve done the paperwork. Of course, the easiest way to help is by direct donations to organizations like the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande.

Advocating for just treatment of the immigrants is another way to help. Sometimes government needs a little nudge to tell them that what they’re doing is kinda crazy. Here’s an example from Chris:

 “When people cross the border and turn themselves into the border patrol, they are sent to ICE detention. Their shoelaces are removed and taken away. Everyone needs a new pair of shoelaces when they arrive at the Center. One of the volunteers tried to get the shoelaces back from ICE, but so far, ‘NO” is the answer. There may be a logical reason for this, but to have them replaced days later by donations and volunteers seems pretty inefficient.” Betty sez, “That’s government for you.”

Many thanks to Chris for sharing her story and to all who care for these newcomers with open minds, hearts and expertise.

 God bless them all and God bless the USA!

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox by email 

Saturday, February 23, 2019


1/23/19 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Laughter cures the winter blues for this senior citizen

One of the reasons that my husband and I moved to Oregon was to experience “the seasons.” You know, spring, summer, fall and winter. The latter, however, is my least favorite season. It’s cold, wet and dark and as I sit down at my computer to write this column, it’s another dreary winter day. True-blue, born and bred Oregonians revel in this weather. You can tell by my grumpy attitude, I’m an import waiting for spring.

Fortunately, my family, friends and readers have been cheering me up with lots of crazy computer cartoons, jokes and words of wisdom. Most are for senior citizens. And since my birthday this month, they have been working overtime to send me words of cheer that begin with “You know you’re a senior citizen when…”

Some of them are only too happy to add, “Of course, you’re older that I am!” So, just exactly what age is considered a senior citizen? Well, various sources say the age of a senior citizen begins at 60- 65. The Social Security Administration says that 67 is the age of retirement. I was about 60 when Taco Bell asked me if I was a senior. So, I guess anyone with gray hair is fair game to be elderly.

Last month my daughter Kathy started a flurry of senior jokes and advice with a “Welcome to the Golden Years” dialog. Someone passed it on to her, to pass on to me. It sounds like a mom and dad conversation because I am prone to lose keys. Visualize Chuck and me and prepare to laugh.

 “The keys weren’t in my pocket. Suddenly I realized I must have left them in the car. Frantically, I headed for the parking lot. My husband has scolded me many times for leaving my keys in the car’s ignition. He’s afraid that the car could be stolen.

As I looked around the parking lot, I realized he was right. The parking lot was empty. It was gone. I immediately called the police. I gave them my location, confessed that I had left my keys in the car and that it had been stolen. Then I made the most difficult call of all to my husband. ‘I left my keys in the car and it’s been stolen.’

There was a moment of silence. I thought the call had been disconnected but then I heard his voice. ‘Are you kidding me?’ he barked! I dropped you off at the mall!’ Now it was my turn to be silent. Embarrassed, I said, Well, come and get me. He retorted, ‘I will. Just as soon as I convince the police that I didn’t steal your dang car!’”

The following senior citizen quotes are mostly one-liners with attitude. My friends and I don’t like to waste words explaining ourselves. We tend to be bluntly truthful and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. After you read the following quips ask yourself, if maybe, you too are a senior citizen.
Today I was in a store that sells sunglasses, and only sunglasses. A young lady walked over to me and asked, "What brings you in today? I looked at her and said, "I'm interested in buying a refrigerator.  " She didn't quite know how to respond!

When people see a cat's litter box they always say, "Oh, have you got a cat?" Just once I want to say, "No, it's for company!" 

It’s okay if you disagree with me. I can’t force you to be right.
Aging:  Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it. 

Hospital and medical forms always ask who is to be called in case of an emergency. I think you should write, "An ambulance.”
The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight because by then your body and your fat have gotten to be really good friends. 

Being young is beautiful but being old is comfortable.

Some people try to turn back their "odometers." Not me. I want people to know WHY I look this way. I've traveled a long way and a lot of the roads were not paved.

Reporters interviewed a 104-year old woman. ‘What do you think is the best thing about being 104?” “No peer pressure” she answered.

Ann Landers said: “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

That’s it for now. Thanks for making me laugh and forgetting it isn’t springtime. May your troubles be less, your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door.

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox 

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018 Family Memories of Christmas Past

12/19/18 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The older I get, the more reflective I become during the Christmas season.  At this stage of my life, the joyful ghosts of Christmas past bring me great joy and fill me with gratitude.

The heart of the season—the birth of Jesus— has not changed. But everything else has. Especially gift giving. I miss the old days of fulfilling childhood dreams with big and small surprises. Today we buy gift cards. Come along with me on a trip down memory lane and see if you can relate.

My family’s early history (both sides) was one of poverty. An orange in the toe of a stocking was a big deal. It also became a tradition.

My parents were born at the turn of the 20th century. My dad’s family of seven was dirt poor in Missouri. I don’t remember him ever talking about receiving a gift. He and his siblings were barefoot and wore dirty hand-me down clothes. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was in the 6th grade and he quit school to go to work to put food on the table.

Mother was an only child and her dad originally was a roughneck in the oil fields of Mexico. Early pictures of her show a barefoot girl in a dirty dress in the blowing desert sand. Later, things picked up rather dramatically for her family and I now have her beautiful French china doll.

Mom and dad met and married in Missouri and moved to California near her parents during the Great Depression. Grandpa established a business and by the grace of God they all survived and went on to buy houses and live the American dream.

Chuck’s family immigrated from Wisconsin to Calif., during WWII. In Long Beach, his dad welded the Victory Ships. It was a dangerous job but it both helped the war effort and put food on the table for his family. Later, his job at Sears bought Christmas gifts for his three sons.

One year when Chuck was about 8 or 9 Santa brought him his favorite gift ever—a Gilbert Erector Set.  He spent hours building cars and even a motorized roller coaster. It foretold his future as a craftsman extraordinaire.

In my family, I remember what seemed like lavish Christmases. Oranges and apples were in stockings. Under the tree were new clothes and a toy. I still have my Madame Alexander bride doll. My favorite was a Schwinn bicycle. The same one that I would later fall off while racing the boy down the street. It put me in the hospital with a compound fracture of my left arm.

Our kids were blessed with toys. Their dad managed stores for Toy World! A childhood dream world. They always knew what the latest and greatest toys were. Chuck would put them on lay-away to be brought home and wrapped at midnight after the store closed on Christmas Eve.

Kathy, our oldest, was an avid doll collector and had her own dad-built playhouse in the backyard. Her favorite? “My bike,” she said. “In the pre-car, parents drive the kids to a million activities days…bikes were our freedom, our connection with our friends, the beach, shopping and more!”

Son Jeff was all about speed and music: skateboards, model cars, model airplanes and trumpets.

 Grandson Matthew says, “My absolute favorite gift was a used MacBook when I was in middle school. This gift allowed me to have something to create music on; illustrate and sketch out ideas; learn about things through sources like YouTube. It was an incredible gift that allowed me to learn everything from music mixing to video editing and graphic design. It is something that will forever stick out in my mind and I am super grateful for.”

Ashley, our granddaughter-in-law remembers her family’s on-going puzzle tradition. Every Christmas morning there’s a new puzzle for everyone to enjoy. She says it keeps them connected and doing something together with very little effort.

Finally, John, our youngest son, passes on a lesson learned:
“When I was 13, I wanted a 12-string guitar more than anything in the world. Knowing that no one would buy me a brand new 12 string guitar for Christmas—too expensive, too extravagant—I put a janky, used,
"trampoline action" 12 string guitar on layaway at Heck Music in Ventura.

“When my mom heard about it, she drove me to Heck Music, demanded they give my money back, and lectured me all the way home saying, ‘Never buy yourself something before Christmas!’

“I was humiliated, and angry. I knew darned well I wasn't getting a 12-string guitar for Christmas.

“On Christmas day, my grandparents arrived. Grandpa tossed me the car keys and said, "Well, you better get the presents out of the trunk." I opened the trunk, and sitting right on top was a guitar case!

“I had to wait until all the other presents were opened before I opened that guitar case. Inside was a brand new, beautiful Yamaha FG312 12 string guitar. I played that guitar for decades, until it was (sadly) stolen from my office about 10 years ago. Best gift ever!

“The moral of the story is, never buy yourself something before Christmas...because you never know what you might get!”

Merry Christmas, everyone! And may all your memories be ones of joy.

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