Pat Simpson has every reason to believe that Thanksgiving might be a sham.
This woman worked 34 years at the Champion factory in York – every job, from stacking cans and boxes to running a machine to cleaning the place – until heart and kidney problems and so much more landed her in the hospital six times this year alone.
The job went away because she just couldn’t do it anymore. So did a second job cleaning offices at night at the Catawba Nuclear Station, and a third job at McDonald’s.
Her husband, her youngest son and her mother died.
The home she built 12 years ago and worked so hard to pay for went into foreclosure after the money from the jobs went away. Even with insurance, medical bills mounted and the many medications needed to be paid for.
A service Simpson hired to try to save her house from foreclosure took her money, but by September the legal action was official. Her house was not hers anymore.
Pat Simpson found out the hard way that trying to live on $400 a month in disability benefits just doesn’t work.
A proud woman who had worked all her life, Simpson, a grandmother, asked nobody else to help her, including her family.
“I didn’t want to be a burden on anybody,” she said. “I didn’t tell people how bad it got.”
Still, Simpson, 65, somehow managed to say, with Thanksgiving looming, “I might be the most thankful person in the world.”
As word of her terrible turn of fortune spread, so many of Simpson’s former co-workers raised money for her after she could no longer work.
“Those people at work, they were great,” Simpson said. “My supervisor, so many others. It’s not the company’s fault. I just got too sick to be able to work.”
Then, when it just didn’t seem like life could get any worse, it did. Her little dog got cancer and died.
Finally, the lady known around York as “Ms. Pat” was told to be out of her foreclosed home by Monday – four days after Thanksgiving.
“I’m a senior citizen, and I was looking at being homeless,” Simpson said.
But the people who have come to know Simpson over years – some just for a few months – found out what was happening. They did not close their shutters and draw their shades and go looking for Black Friday bargains.
The people whose lives have been touched by the hard work and gentleness of Pat Simpson rescued her.
Daris and Curtis Greenway, neighbors on Simpson’s rural road outside York, helped.
“This lady lost everything, her health and all the losses in her family, and we had to do something,” said Daris Greenway. “She’s a sweet person. Never asked for anything. How does this happen in America?”
A longtime co-worker at the factory, John Whitworth, bought Simpson a cup of coffee and asked how she was getting along. Many times Whitworth had given her rides to and from work when her old car broke down.
Whitworth heard the whole story.
“I figured, one way or another, somebody had to help Ms. Pat, and I would be one of those somebodies,” Whitworth said. “I was on an operating table some time back and my heart stopped. I died. A minute and a half I was gone. Dead. They brought me back. But all I did was die for a minute.
“Pat, I pray every day that she doesn’t have to go through any more. No person should work so hard for so long, and at her age face being thrown out into the street.”
One day, Simpson was at a store buying a water filter she needed to replace, even with the house ready to be vacated. She had to have water.
She ran into David Howard, whom she knew from her church, First Wesleyan in York. Howard and his wife, Sandi, didn’t know what had been happening to Simpson over the past year.
David Howard went to Simpson’s house and installed the water filter.
But he didn’t stop there.
“When we found out all that had happened to Pat, we figured we had to do something,” Sandi Howard said. “We were moved by it. This shouldn’t happen to someone 65 years old who has worked all her life.”
Other church members, the Greenways and others brought trailers behind pickups to haul Simpson’s stuff to storage, so at least she would not lose a lifetime of things locked up in a foreclosed home.
Whitworth started calling around to find legal or financial help that might save the house.
The Howards, with little kids at home, turned upstairs bedrooms at their own home into a place for Simpson to live.
“We just asked Pat if she would come stay in our house,” Sandi Howard said.
Simpson accepted the help this week. So many people helped move her and some of her clothes, enough to live on, into the Howards’ home.
“God has been so good to me,” Simpson said. “These people, all of them, have been so good to me.”
On this Thanksgiving, “Ms. Pat” from York was asked if she felt like part of the world had turned on her, that hope had left her home and her life after so much death and heart disease and kidney problems and misfortune that took away her ability to make a living.
Simpson looked at Doris Greenway and John Whitworth and Sandi Howard and talked about her church members and co-workers and others who have been so generous.
“I don’t have any money, but I am thankful,” she said, “I got these people.
“I got love.”