Our interview with Jeanette was completely unplanned. At the time, we had already completed our interview with Belinda and were traveling back to 30th street station on foot from City Hall, passing out sandwiches along the way. As we were approaching the train station we saw Jeanette walking in the opposite direction. She was heavily bundled in clothing and had multiple bags with her. Kathy and I made our way over to her retreating form and asked if she would like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (contributed by one of our supporters, Chris Popso). Her reaction was absolutely priceless.
Jeanette graciously accepted our offering and immediately started thanking us. She began thanking God for sending us to her and claimed that we were signs sent to her from her two children in Heaven that everything is going to be okay. Jeanette was having a bad day and claimed that we were two angles on Earth sent to her to make sure that is alright.
Although we had already completed our interview for the day we spontaneously asked Jeanette if she would like to be a part of our blog and she became absolutely ecstatic. We ventured out of the cold and into the station to begin our interview.
She nearly started crying because of our random act of kindness and began telling us about some of the hardships she has faced during her lifetime. As a child growing up in the 40’s Jeanette was diagnosed with meningitis and doctors were not sure that she would recover. However, she overcame the illness and now treats each day like a blessing.
Jeanette was crippled as a child, has wore braces on each leg. Doctors said that she wouldn’t walk again but, she says, “My father put a sting down on the floor every night and told me, ‘Walk.'” She worked hard everyday and she carries that same willpower with her to this day, saying, “You don’t give up. You keep trying.” Once she started walking again her father enrolled her in catholic school. Having meningitis at a young age held Jeanette back academically as well physically. She was late to starting her classes and was slow with her studies at first as well, although she quickly overcame this too and succeeded in achieving straight A’s.
Her family had also been victimized by a fire when her two children were young and unfortunately only one survived this tragedy. She lost her daughter Veronica, who was her youngest child, 3 weeks after the fire due to the severity of her burns. Jeanette continues to wear scars from the fire decades later, physically and mentally.
Jeanette was also a victim of a car accident years later. Her and her son Rodney were walking in the city and they had the light to go but the driver was speeding. Jeanette thankfully saw the vehicle before impact and was able to push her son out of the way, making her a hero. Unfortunately, this means that Janet took the full force of the impact. Over time she recovered but continues to carry scars on her face from this incident but she says, “I don’t try to hide it because God let me live.” If her son had died during that car accident Jeanette says, “My life would have been over,” she revealed to us that she takes things very hard.
As we began our interview Jeanette kept saying, “You wait until I tell them!” due to her excitement of being the subject of an interview. Before we stopped Jeanette she was heading down to Suburban station to meet up with some friends of hers and to ultimately stay out of the cold weather.
After speaking with Jeanette for a few minutes it was revealed that she is not actually homeless, although she had been previously for years. She is currently living in a personal care home. Before we knew that she was staying at a personal care home Kathy intervened and asked if Jeanette would be staying at the station for the night. Jeanette turned to me and said, “See, that’s another thing, get your pen ready.” Personal care homes are defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as being, “residential facilities that offer personal care services, assistance and supervision to four or more persons. They are inspected and licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.”
Jeanette began our interview by telling us about her younger days. She was a straight A student and she says, “Now, that’s something to brag about, and I brag about it.” She worked hard as a student to achieve her goals. Knowing that I am a college student myself she began giving me some advice, “You can have the books, but it’s up to you and God to gain the knowledge.” Jeanette had studied business in high school although she always liked listening to different stories and creating different stories for herself in her writing courses.
Jeanette was able to further her education and attend college through public assistance. She attended Temple University and studied to become a Paralegal because she enjoys helping others and, “batting the devil back into the corner.” However, she never finished her degree and would still need 20 credits to graduate.
When Jeanette began speaking about some of the influence that her father had in her life she turned to me and said, “Write this down.” Jeanette’s father had always told her, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is a piece of advice that she has applied throughout her years. Jeanette grew up with both a mother and father and received a strong upbringing that shaped her into the woman that she is today. According to Jeanette, “[My father] knew that he was going to leave me in this world and he wanted me to know how to treat others and how to tell others to treat me with respect.”
As a construction worker Jeanette’s father was able to provide for his family, she says, “Oh, I was brought up with everything, although, I never asked for anything.” Her house hold was not material crazy like many are today. Jeanette stated, “I was brought up with the silver spoon. But I never asked for anything, I worked.”
Jeanette described her mother as being a good clean woman who kept a good house. She respected her mother and listened to what she preached. Her mother was very religious and would tell Jeanette about the Lord’s word often as she was growing up. Her father also respected her and listened whenever she got stern with him.
Her father was also in the military during World War II, wearing the title of Sargent Sinkler.” His enrollment in the military allowed Sinkler to travel to places like Japan, where he stayed for four years, he also traveled to France. This was during the early 1940s before she was born. Jeanette was born in 1947 and celebrated her 70th birthday this past September.
Jeanette was so excited to be speaking with us that she kept interrupting herself with her own thoughts. In the middle of telling us something about herself she goes, “I’m sorry, I just can’t believe how young your mother looks!” She continued to flatter us throughout the duration of our time spent with her.
Jeanette began speaking highly of her two granddaughters and seemed especially proud of the work that they do at Penns Landing as managers. She has made note of the change in gender roles that have taken place over the years and how the women that you see today are always working, she says, “They’re not in the kitchen like they used to be.” Jeanette says that you will never catch her in the kitchen and she offered my readers and I a piece of advice, “Find you a mans who likes to cook!”
When she still looked at boys Jeanette was very particular. Looking at my mom and I she said, “From looking at the two of you I’m not sure if there’s a daddy or not, because you can’t find none, but if you find one let me know, okay!” Growing more serious, Jeanette says she finds it hard to find a man that she would like to spend her time with. She claims that, “Everyone is on ‘dope’ (drugs), they walking around trying to rule, and calling you ‘b****’ and all of that, and you can’t find no one!”
The type of men that Jeanette had dated in the past were always “Prince Charming” at first and earned her trust with “pretty words.” Jeanette says that any man that she is with better be talking to her with pretty words because she will not tolerate being spoken to with ugly `words and they’ll hear her still fussing about it as she’s walking away. “When I finish shaking my finger and letting them know that they’re not going to talk to me like that, they’re gone.” Her father would often tell her that she needed to stop scaring men away.
Despite having a great deal of respect for her father Jeanette revealed that they didn’t always get along when it comes to her dating life. Her father had once told her that if she keeps treating men the way she does she would never get married. She responded, “did I ever tell you that I wanted to [get married]?”
Jeanette prefers to keep a close knit circle and says that she does not need a lot of people around. However, that does not mean that she doesn’t enjoy being in the company of others. Jeanette has a good time with everybody– unless they say something wrong. According to Janet, “What you say and what you do, that’s what’s important.” Although, she has never been one to hold grudges.
Jeanette has one male friend that she is very close to to this day. Except, she had to take him to trial in order for him to learn his place. When back on the topic of men she referred to them as, “those pairs of pants, or whatever you want to call them.”
As we began asking questions Jeanette again clarified that she is not homeless although she had been for years before she was placed in the personal care home that she is currently residing in. Jeanette pays for her room and her food so that she can continue to stay there with the help of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that she receives.
Jeanette shared that a lot of the residents that stay at her personal care home with her are not very happy and smiles are few and far in between, she added that many of the men staying there are alcoholics and drug addicts. When asked if she liked living there she replied, “I don’t care about them, it’s nice, clean, and I get fed well.” Although Jeanette likes staying at the home she does not care for her neighbors so she’s usually only there late at night and in to the mornings before she leaves for the day because, “God says not to stay around evil.”
Back on the topic of homelessness Jeanette told us that she does not look down on anyone and said that during trying times one needs to know how to ask for help, “Like I told you, I have a big mouth. My parents told me that if you really need help, because we all get there, you ask.” Although, Jeanette found that you can’t ask everyone for help and that some people will use your weaknesses against you. At the age of 70 this shocks her because she feels scared because you can’t trust everybody. In regards to homeless Janet says, “I have nothing bad to say about that, because we all have our ups and our downs and you never know what kind of tragedies that you’re going to have.”
Jeanette had become homeless because her son and his girlfriend were murdered in 2000, they were both shot to death. Her son, Rodney, had been a doctor and had recently bought a home for them to live in, they had previously lived with Jeanette’s mother who passed away a couple of weeks before Rodney announced that they would be moving. Jeanette, Rodney, his girlfriend, and their two children had all been living at her mother’s because Jeanette did not like staying at the apartment that she had at the time because their were a lot of addicts living in that area. She was also not working at the time because she was sickly.
After Rodney had died Janet continued to stay in his vacant home in South Philly for two years, she says, “I cried every single night.” Eventually the heat was turned off and she could no longer eat because she was so heart broken.
People in Jeanette’s community, including her granddaughters and their other grandmother, would often come to see her while she was staying in the home to check up on her. She says she survived because she is, “stubborn as a mule.” After her son’s passing she did not lose her faith and although it wasn’t easy for her she eventually pushed on and reached out for help. She made her way over to City Hall in Philadelphia and asked them to put her somewhere clean and that is how she became a resident at the Robinson House.
She had lost her daughter Veronica years prior to this incident to a fire that victimized Jeanette and her two children. Jeanette and Rodney survived but each of them were badly burned. Veronica was ten at the time and was burned severely by the fire and passed away three weeks later. She would continue to take Rodney to the Saint Angus burn center for six years so that his wounds could be treated.
18 years later and there is still something about Rodney and his new home that continues to bother Jeanette, something that she constantly needs reassurance of. Jeanette was never able to find out how Rodney was able to afford his home, she feared that he obtained the funds through selling drugs although she did not want to believe this. She combats her suspicions with the fact that he worked as a doctor, insinuating that he was able to make good money.
She revealed that she later discovered that when Rodney was 18 her own mother had helped him sign for the house. Jeanette has been distraught about this factor because both her son and her mother had purposefully kept this information from her. Throughout the duration of our interview Jeanette continued to ask us our opinion of this chain of events and what we thought their motive was to reassure herself that foul play was not involved. Jeanette stated, “My mother brought me up to talk, and I think that that was definitely wrong that she didn’t include me. My mother went behind my back and my son also did not honor his mother.” She added, “They should have told me. Family is important.”
When Rodney was a child Jeanette had no problem with disciplining him. She was five foot and he was six foot but that wasn’t stopping her. Thinking of how she defends herself to this day she says, “You should see how the tall ones run!”
Jeanette is still devastated by the deaths of her two children but says she gets by with, “Good faith and good people like the two of you, your smiles, and the angles that I see that walk on Earth.”
Jeanette was very giggly throughout our interview and Kathy asked her if she laughs this way everyday, Jeanette replied, “No, only when I meet people like you.” Although, she did share that when others are in her presence they are always laughing and she says to them, “Wait a minute, you better be laughing with me and not at me.” She joked about approaching the police (she refers to them as “blue suits”) and informing them that there are people laughing at her and that they better go tell them.
When Jeanette had been recapping her car accident and how she takes tragic events very harshly she told us that because of all that we have done for her (since we met her about an hour prior) that if she heard something had happened to us after we left she would take it to heart and that it would take a toll on her. She told us, “You two are like family.” This just gives you a glimpse at the caring nature that Jeanette has and the kindness that she shares with everyone that crosses her path. She added, “I was feeling a little low and God sent y’all to come over and be with me at nighttime.” Nights seem be be especially hard for Jeanette.
Jeanette wrote our names down right in her bible so that she would remember us and be able to pray for us. She also took down our numbers while saying, “I really want to keep some friends like you two.” She looked up and said, “Oh, thank you. Thank you, Lord, for both of you.”
She claimed that I was doing her an honor because everyone had always told her that she should write a book. She later continued by saying, “She’s giving me an honor, and I mean that. For her to say that she is a writer and to think that I’m interesting, that is a blessing for me.” She later added, “And, I’m glad that I met the two of you, because you two have helped to remind me what God has brought me from.”