Boca Raton, FL- January 2006.
Kindness struck me directly one early morning in South Beach. I realize now that I was destined to encounter this homeless lady.
Mrs. Maupin lived in the alley corner of 14th street between Collins and Washington Avenues, in the center of the party scene. Although she was homeless, she owned none of the typical vices of the average street person; she didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or say bad words. She just lived in that corner watching each day become night over and over again; for more than 22 years. She loved her 2×2 spot in the street, and she became a landmark.
Her English was almost perfect, no stereotypical accent. I think she was Cuban. Her manners were better than those of the average person; she said “I beg your pardon”, instead of “sorry”. She pronounced each word, be it in Spanish or English, flawlessly. Furthermore, she had the capacity of brightening your day with a simple, “Have a Good Day”.
I noticed she was different when I introduced her to my family and she replied, “I’m very well thank you and yourselves?” Concluding with “It was very nice to meet you”. How many homeless do you know that can talk like a college graduate? Her vocabulary indicated a degree of education. At the same time, her taste in food (Roast Beef Sandwiches), her delicate ways and even her femininity (She sewed her own clothes) were a sign of a well lived past. Due to the lack of physical activity, she became overweight during the years. “I used to walk miles and miles and then go swim in the ocean”- she once told me while her eyes lit up with excitement. She stopped doing that when her stuff (toilet paper, food, walker, and bag) began to get stolen.
It is surreal to imagine such a character living in the streets of such a crowded location where on occasions drunks walked by her and insulted her just for being there. Even harder is to imagine the reasons why she lived there for so many years. She had a normal life, without a job, but respecting her fellow civilians and neighbors; buying from the corner shop and the gas station. She was a consumer without a roof over her head. She didn’t beg nor ask for money, and furthermore, she didn’t accept anything from strangers; she had pride.
Every morning before I went to work she was the first face I had the honor to see. “Hello beautiful”, she said while an instant flow of good energy ran into my body. “Hello Miss Maup”, I said while taking her money to go buy her coffee. (She didn’t allow me to pay for anything). Mrs. Maupin was so extraordinary that sometimes she would even give me cookies.
One day, I cannot describe how I felt but her kindness brought tears to both of us. I was running late for work, (one which barely covered for my monthly expenses) went downstairs and told Miss Maup that I was in a hurry, but still I would get her coffee. Before she handed me the $1.50 for her usual café con leche, she asked me what was I having for breakfast; I casually replied, “nothing today, I’m broke.” To my absolute amazement, she reached into her purse and pulled out $20 and gave it to me. Suddenly, life was strange.
I grew up in Venezuela with all the comforts I could think of, and now I was in Miami Beach, taking charity from a homeless. After refusing to take her money, she cried, and then, I cried taking it and feeling saved. I hugged her and began to walk with a different perspective on life.
She had the weirdest effect on the people I introduced her to. Many of them ask about her still. After 3 years, I moved out of that place where Mrs. Maupin was my downstairs neighbor. From time to time I went back to say hello. One day she wasn’t there anymore. I worried. I let it pass and then I returned, looking for her. She wasn’t there on her corner; her things were missing as well. I called the nearest hospital asking for Gonzalina Maupin, they said she left months ago. How am I going to find her again?
It has been about two years since I last saw her smile at me. I miss her like you can miss a relative. I felt protected by this 60-something year old lady who was just content to sit below that building, living. Now, after she took care of my soul, I would like to let her know I’m happy. She should know that I owe her a great deal; she made me a little more humane and I am forever grateful. Wherever she is, I have a feeling I will see her again, and if I’m wrong, at least I had the pleasure of learning the value of philanthropy through a homeless.
Mrs. Maupin is okay. She lives in Miami Beach in a elderly home, not the kind I would want her to be in, but her family has found her after more than 30 years looking for her. She left San Diego when her youngest offspring was 17, and I guess she lost her way. Her family is very nice and decent, she must be so proud of them. I saw her, I hugged her, I kissed her, I let tears flow freely because my feeling that I would see her again, became a reality. I’m thankful.
mrs. maupin/isa 1999
mrs. maupin 2007