How a Sprained Knee and a PB&J Restored an Affton Woman's Faith in Humanity

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PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK/VELP
  • PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK/VelP
By the time the stranger knocked on her door last Wednesday, Deb Woods was getting stir-crazy. She'd fallen down the stairs and sprained a ligament in her knee, putting her on crutches and keeping her cooped up in her apartment. "Five days of being housebound, you open up the door to anybody," she says.

Woods is 47, white, a St. Louis native. The kid at the door looked like he was eighteen. He was black. He explained that he'd knocked on seventeen different doors, but no one was willing to help him.

Woods wasn't surprised. Her apartment complex in Affton has an uneasy mix of older white native-born residents and Bosnians. "They don't talk to us and we don't talk to them," she says. "Which is a shame, because their food smells really good." 

But even though Woods demographically falls in with the older crowd, she doesn't identify with it. She was horrified by the way the neighborhood busybody, a woman who's always sitting out in front of her unit, actually went inside rather than have to deal with the kid seeking help. She's proud to be the kind of person who opens the door.

The kid told her he was really sick. "I'm diabetic, and I need something to eat or I'm going to go into shock."

"Well, kid," she replied. "It's your unlucky day." Those crutches hadn't just kept her from work; they'd kept her from the grocery store, she explained. "I've been subsisting on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and milk." 

She detailed the rest of the story in a lengthy Facebook post.
He says, "Well that would work honestly, ma'am. But could you please put a little extra jelly on it?!"

I said, "Have at it! I can barely make my own on these stupid crutches!"

I notice he is breathing heavily, perspiring terribly and seems shaky & weak.

So he goes in my kitchen and makes a sandwich and a tall glass of milk. He brings it into me on the couch on a plate and says, "Now you don't have to make yours when you get hungry." He goes back in my kitchen comes back out with two peanut butter sandwiches oozing jelly and drinking the milk like he hasn't had liquid in days.

He then says, "Your fridge really is empty. Can I get some food for you!?"

At this point I'm thinking, "Well he didn't kill me with a kitchen knife and he could have tried" — even though my Glock was in arms distance in my purse on the couch.

So I say, "Wow, that would be great. The store down the road has these great protein bars too that are high in sugar — get a few of those for yourself in case you have a sugar problem again." I gave him $30.

He accepted it, gladly, and left. And then five minutes passed, and then ten. And even though Woods is the kind of woman who gave a sandwich — and then money — to a stranger, she couldn't help but assume she'd been an idiot. Her $30 was surely long gone.

The clock ticked. Thirty minutes went by, then another thirty. She decided to let it go.

And then ... the kid returned.

"He comes back and unloads all my groceries for me," she says. "He even bought me a gas station rose."

She can't say she's thrilled about the rose. That was her money — like she wanted to spend it on a plastic rose? But the fact he came back, and brought her groceries to boot? Now that's a happy ending.

"You didn't have to help me today, and I can't thank you enough that you did. Nobody else even opened their doors when I knocked, but you did, and you're on crutches," he told her.

Later one of her neighbors asked her about the visitor she'd seen go into Woods' house — and was shocked when Woods explained what happened. "You should have never opened the door to that scary-looking negro," the neighbor said. "You're lucky to be alive right now." 

Woods does think she's lucky — but not for the reason her neighbor suggested. "There's always the people who turn their head and look the other way, and then there are the people who try to help," she says. Last Wednesday, Deb Woods was happy to be one of the ones who didn't run, who opened the door and trusted a stranger.

She's got the plastic rose to prove it.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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