A whole new life

Zenobia Carson / Photo courtesy of Carson

In 1989, I found myself without a job. I was still living in Illinois, the state of my birth, and when I  looked down the ”long hall” or as I like to think of it, “the long haul” of my life, I could see vestiges of the young me, who had given away all my potential as a writer, artist, and much more on a teenage whim that found me married at just seventeen. By the time I was twenty three, I was a divorced mother of four children, under the age of three.

My once hopeful and orderly life with my parents and little brother, had been reduced to ashes. I was unable, it seemed, to make a rational decision and was trapped in a world of many abuses, both physical and mental.

In 1989, I had a great job and was raising the two youngest of my children who were teens. I had lost and regained custody of the original four. The youngest of those passed away at age two, so I had two more children. I had never graduated high school, so I applied but dropped out because I had to work.

I had done all kinds of work. I have been a nurses’ assistant, pre-school teacher, domestic worker, and much more. My teen daughter ran away and during the search for her, which was intense, I lost a very good job, and there, the odyssey that led to my decision to move to Minnesota, by way of Wisconsin, began. I now had only my teen son with me, and was unable to find my daughter, but I knew I needed to move forward, or I would become “stuck” again in irrational and unhealthy thinking.

I was able to get our belongings into a storage unit in Waukegan Illinois, then in Kenosha Wisconsin, where we lived in a shelter until we moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. A friend put us up and I found a good job there, but it was in Grantsburg Wisconsin, while living with another friend, that I came across a promising article about Elim Transitional Housing, run by Sue Watlov Phillips. It was then that I really felt an “urgent” need to get to Minnesota.

We made our way here with the help of friends and help was immediate. I was able to get in touch with Elim Housing. We were given vouchers and other help along the way from organizations like Sharing and Caring Hands, and a shelter in downtown Minneapolis who provided a wealth of information that most people took advantage of to make their new start. Some did not, but I was on a “now or never” mission that took everything I had to keep going. Along the way I was called upon to begin raising the infant child of one of my adult children. I never hesitated and at age forty-five or so, I walked carrying that child, to find an apartment. With no money! Just vouchers and faith that God would help me along the way.  I found a two-bedroom apartment that was just right and, as soon as we moved in, I knew I would love the community, so I set out to find out more about it. It was in the Whittier community and soon I was in a program for women starting over! I enrolled to get my GED and obtained it in two weeks’ time! I was offered all sorts of help, both financial and through counselors and soon I was at MCC getting my credits as a Human Services Worker.

By 1992, I was working as an advocate for battered women and children at Harriet Tubman Women’s Center. I was often asked to speak in some of the places we lived, and received help from, to encourage others and inspire them to avoid the merry go round of poverty “thinking,” not just the poverty itself.

Well, that was a long time ago. I am now seventy-five years of age. I have won two writers awards at The Loft. I have met with Maya Angelou, met Nikki Giovanni, met Clarice Pinkola Estes, appeared on stage at Bethel College, appeared in a play at the Whittier lay group in a play called “Flying Crooked,” authored two small books, and have worked as an office assistant and events coordinator for the Lang Nelson company for the past twelve years. This company allowed me to grow as a person and I was able to obtain a grant to build four raised gardens here at Creekside Gables Independent Living, establish an in-house FREE food shelf (now closed since COVID-19), started up many groups for seniors and finally had to suspend everything as my eyesight began to fail a few years ago!

But I do not allow this to stop me! I work with Hadley (a wonderful place for those who are blind and visually impaired) and have recently been cleared to become a mentor for others who are experiencing sight loss. I am also aboard as a volunteer at Friends & Company in St. Paul for morning meetings with seniors via phone for Coffee Talk and Morning Companion. I write articles for Put Old on Hold Journal and write with a group from Massachusetts called Senior Scribblers.

I could go on, but one thing I want to emphasize is that though I had (and still have) a lot of encouragement from all those who encouraged me when I made my big move, one has to have the inner need to make changes. I love that old 70s song by the musical group America, where they say, “Oz never gave nothing to the tin man, that he didn’t already have.” I believe it in my heart, not just for some, but for everyone!

Article written by Zenobia L. Carson.