It was 103 degrees Sunday afternoon when my doorbell rang unexpectedly and I met Sally Good for the second time.
She looked smaller and more pale than I recalled. Her hair looked almost too perfect to be real.
I first encountered this petite, talkative woman about a year ago after she arrived on my doorstep holding a small wicker basket full of her hand-made costume jewelry. At the time, I bought a small pair of earrings, and never expected to see her again. Sunday, she held what seemed the same thin, round basket, filled to the brim with small pieces of white, thick paper with decorative edges upon which were suspended earrings, mostly, but sometimes bracelets. She had a plastic bottle filled with a colorful liquid for hydration during her walk mile after mile, from house to house, street to street.
She accepted my offer of a glass of water as she sat in my living room and asked if I cared to see the jewelry she'd made. I said sure, and maybe my visiting sister would want to see, too. Cheeks flushed from the heat, she talked as as she set out what seemed a bottomless basket of earrings, bracelets and necklaces, a loaves-and-fishes version of the costume-jewelry world.
She's 64 and her name is Sally Good, no tricky spellings, Sally said as she quickly lifted out earrings and arranged them on my ottoman. The prices ranged from $5 to $25 dollars. Some were made from store-bought beads, or mail-order beads, or from old costume jewelry, and yet others were created from vintage pieces. Sally sells beaded earrings and bracelets, too, a talent she learned from a Native American gentleman some years back. Altogether she's been making jewelry off and on for about 20 years.
Life took a real turn for the worst last year after she she traveled to Pennslyvania to visit relatives, and while there Sally was diagnosed with cancer. She returned home to Redding to seek medical care, and be near her two sons and three young granddaughters. Sally's almost finished with her chemotherapy treatments. Right now her biggest dream - aside from regaining her health - is to find a place to live. She subsists on her disability check. She's a military widow (her husband died in '86), and she's having a heck of a hard time scraping up enough money for first and last month's payment for a modest home, not to mention that even if she were to get the money, it's really tough to find a place that will accept pets.
"It's funny," she said with a laugh as she held up earrings for our inspection, "I notice that often the people who say "no pets" are people who have pets.
That's why, for now, she's OK with sharing a motel room with Cheyenne, her Golden Retriever (he's all about belly rubs) at a pet-friendly Motel 6 in Redding, where Sally said she's been for about two months now. She lacks a cell phone, and a computer to check emails, which is why she must use the library for that. Her motel room is pretty bare bones, but Sally says she's getting by OK, and her goal is to get enough money to find a decent place to live that will be within her budget, and will welcome Cheyenne.
Soft-spoken, she doesn't allow a lot of grass to grow beneath her words, and she easily transitions from topic to topic, weaving the details together as tightly as a row after row of tiny, colorful beads. Although she's a smiler, she admitted that her current situation has tested her mightily, and has pushed every button, and the thing she was talking about that morning wasn't even the cancer, but such seemingly "simple" tasks as walking from her motel on Bechelli Lane and crossing the Cypress Street Bridge over the Sacramento River, even though she's scared to death of heights. But she did it, all to reach neighborhoods like mine to sell door-to-door jewelry. In 103-temperatures on a Sunday afternoon.
"Crossing that bridge, and seeing how high it was, and how far down the water was below - that really pushed me past my limits," Sally said as she held up pair after pair of earrings so they could dangle freely and we could admire the hue and sparkle of them. "The hardest things are the most important lessons," she offered.
So many colors. Some earrings could reach clear to one's shoulders; others were tiny posts. Some earrings were shaped like hearts, and may resembled angels, like beaded snowmen with wings. Angels are big with Sally Good. That could be why she writes messages on the back of each jewelry card, like "Miracles Happen," and "Expect Miracles."
I don't know about you, but I could use a couple of miracles these days. I swear that's not why I purchased from Sally a pair of green beaded earrings - not too long, not too heavy.
But the thing is, Sally could use a couple of miracles, too.
Who knows, maybe as she goes door to door she might find a miracle - or a bunch of little miracles - in the form of enough customers to help her save enough money to find a place of her own. And Cheyenne. And her jewelry-making supplies. Fact is, Sally expects nothing short of a miracle. But in the meantime this mother, grandmother, widow and chemotherapy patient will make her jewelry, and walk in 103-degree weather to sell it.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.