July 9, 2010

Lessons from a Beautiful Poor Woman

Forty-eight years ago today, Wanda Jean Taylor was born to Sadie Mae Weston in Chicago's Cook County Hospital.

Hers was a life, anything but rich.

On 7 November 2009, she died of dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged and damaged heart compounded by many other physical ailments). She collapsed at the nursing station in a psychiatric hospital where Chicago police had forced her admission several days earlier on grounds of "impaired judgment." Guess they couldn't find reason enough to put her in Cook County Jail, although she had spent, in her lifetime at least the better part of a year there.

The years in between, the girl had barely a dollar to her name although she did receive a monthly disability check after the father of two of her children bashed her in the head with a brick causing permanent brain damage. Born poor, lived poor, died poor and buried somewhere along the fenceline at Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

I honor Wanda today. She tried to teach me a lot; many of her repetitive lessons didn't get entirely through to me. I still think about them.

She often said, "You rich. You got nothing to worry about. You got no record, you got a car, you got you a nice crib. You rich. I don't know what you complaining about. You can get any job you want, anywhere. You don't have a record. Girl--you so rich. You got nothing to worry about. You don't even know."

After I ID'd Wanda's body at the County Morgue and threw a memorial service for her at one of the shelters she frequented, I sent an email to a local columnist who then published this story about Wanda and me in the next day's Chicago Tribune.

(Photo copyright , The Chicago Tribune.)
Coffee at Caribou Cafe with Bob and me
Happy days, the Borders on N Broadway in Uptown


  1. Wanda made me be her friend...wouldn't stop talking to me at Deborah's Place - the homeless shelter I volunteered at many years ago. I kept trying to "fix" her by exposing her to how life could be for her. It never quite worked but I always held out hope.

    One of my most precious memories of her was when I was to meet her downtown and take her to lunch after church. I couldn't find her on the street corner where we agreed to meet. I wasn't feeling well and was tired from looking for her so I headed home to Brookfield. By the time she phoned, I was under the covers with the chills feeling aweful.

    An hour or two later there was a knock at my door. Wanda took the bus, train and walked the rest of the way to give me a two-pack of alka seltzer to help me feel better. Now if that's not friendship, I don't know what is.

    Rest in Peace my dear friend.

  2. Melissa, your story leaves me sobbing for the woman that was Wanda. I never knew her to be able to figure out trains / buses navigation to get somewhere. She kept forgetting where I lived, I think...and that was walking distance -- no more than 1.5 miles, from the shelter where you and I both met her. I can't believe she figured out how to get to you. Must have been before more deterioration / dementia robbed her of her abilities and (obvious) smarts.

  3. Everyone should be blessed as to have a Wanda in their life.
    I would have loved to have met her.