To follow the thread of a single life is to know that much of what we have knit together to protect us, shield us from harm and give us warmth can be undone.
The threads that keep us from hunger, ill-health, and poverty, can fray.
And when they do, like Constance Meyer, you find yourself inside an old J.C. Penney building in the Spokane Valley, filling out the paperwork for a $20 food voucher for Christmas.
This is not necessarily the way Constance imagined Christmas would be for her at age 56.
“Once, I had a tendency to think only of my losses,” she said one afternoon at The Spokesman-Review’s Christmas Bureau.
“No more. It’s not worth it to live like that. You go on. You try. You need to feel positive about life. I do,” said the woman who long ago won a beauty contest that started her on a journey through the highs and lows, and realities of America.
At 19, Constance won the title of Miss International.
She went by the name Stanny Van Baer in 1961.
She had grown up on islands in Indonesia.
She was young, beautiful and looking to America for her chance.
She got it.
The thread that led from a Japanese detention camp went to Europe, a Miss International title, then on to Southern California and modeling, endorsements … a high life.
It was like magic, or a fairy tale, rages to riches before age 25.
She met and married a dentist.
She lived in tidy houses in Huntington Beach and Long Beach.
But the thread of a life doesn’t always hang straight and true.
Constance didn’t reveal all of the details as we stood in line at the Christmas Bureau, but she said this much.
In 1970, she divorced her dentist husband.
In the succeeding 27 years he has never managed to keep to the terms of their separation agreement.
To make ends meet after the divorce she often took in troubled kids.
They robbed her blind over the years.
Her modeling and endorsement career faded as the years passed.
By 1991, Constance decided she had to leave California.
She hooked up with a man who drank.
They came to Spokane. He disappeared, and five years ago Miss International was living in Ogden Hall, a place where homeless women could find shelter.
Malnutrition from her time in the detention camp had crippled one of her hips.
She was 51, with no home, and couldn’t walk.
Spokane has helped Constance get back on her feet.
Catholic Social Services gave her a place to live, helped with her rehabilitation, and periodically has supported her in recent years.
She worked some odd jobs, rented a house, found people she could help, and who would help her.
It’s not the high life anymore.
The food voucher from the Christmas Bureau still means something to her. It will be a big part of her Christmas.
Constance drove to the Christmas Bureau in the University City Mall with Williams Dirks.
He is younger.
He has been in Spokane a week.
Constance met him at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
He needed help. She offered it.
“I used to be a fireman in Grant County,” Dirks said. “Eight and a half years.
“I had a good life. Drugs and alcohol wrecked it all.”
Dirks has been in AA for 12 years. Not always clean and sober, but resolved this day to stay on track.
He wears a cross on a chain around his neck.
He thanks Constance for taking him to the Christmas Bureau, and God for turning his life around.
“All the self-pity in the world won’t help me,” he said. “I’ve got to keep it together. Jesus Christ will be there.”
Constance was a beauty queen.
William was a fireman.
The threads of their lives didn’t play out the way they had hoped.
They haven’t given up.
They do need a hand.
Their stories are but two of the 800 a day that have lined up since last week at the Christmas Bureau. The bureau will be open three more days. To provide a food voucher, a toy for a child, and a bag of candy for a festive day will require $425,000 in donations by New Year’s Day.
Every contribution you make goes directly to people whose thread of life has been tattered and worn.
Time is short. The need is great.
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