Written by Dale Buchanan
Gayle and I caught up with Victoria on a recent Friday morning in the office at Big Red where she was busy folding the monthly newsletter “The Grapevine.” Preparing this mailer is a labor-intensive project that requires hours of work. Your reporter knows from experience the volunteer labor required to get this mailer to your mailbox.
Victoria is a thirty-four-year old single mom who is always busy and on-the-go. To illustrate this, she just returned from a trip to Hawaii with her two sons Max and Rex. “It was a last-minute decision. We just went! Traveling is a vital part of my life. In fact, by the time I was twenty-two years old I had visited twenty-two countries.”
At one point while she was folding hundreds of Grapevines, I asked her what she reads. With a disarming smile she said, “I belong to a book club so I read lots of books, but my joy is reading children’s books to Max and Rex.” This is a perfect illustration of a mother’s love.
I first approached Victoria about this column several months ago. She was busy, and we failed to connect for an interview. A couple of weeks ago I approached her again apologizing for my failing to get back to her. She immediately responded, “Yes, I have been waiting for months.” With this subtle sense of humor Victoria began to shape the interview into the story you are reading.
“Dale, I had to grow up fast. Death and separation were a dark part of my youth. I learned early on that grief changes everyone and certainly provided me a different perspective. The step-father who came into my life when I was in kindergarten was a train buff and we visited every possible railroad museum in California. He died of cancer when I was in the sixth grade. Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in the seventh grade and passed away when I was seventeen. Many adult responsibilities became mine. I often feel as if I have been thirty-four years old for the past seventeen years. After mom died my sister, who is a year younger than me, and I moved in with our birth father who had disappeared years before. This was a disaster, so by my senior year in high school my sister and I had moved to an apartment. I had three jobs, school, and my sister, who could rebel while I had to be responsible.
I did not get past these tough years alone. The principal and a teacher at Fresno High School co-signed for that first apartment which was a valuable experience of community. I suppose that sense of community is a core value in my life. In junior high and the first two years of high school I attended Edison Computech and was involved in the after-school program called A Circle of Friends at the Big Red church as well as the Big Red Youth Group. This was my first introduction to the value of the thing called community. We were mostly Computech kids and our closeness bolstered my strength through the tough times.
As a young mother I was involved in a horrendous automobile accident and came face-to-face again with the need for community. It was a serious accident and my injuries were incapacitating. At the scene of the accident a paramedic remarked, “There must have been an angel riding with you.” Max asked, “What is an angel?” Out of the mouths of babes! I needed and my boys needed a faith community.
I left the church heart broken when my mother died and I returned heart broken when I realized that I was not tough enough to navigate life alone. So this accident was pivotal in my understanding and opened the door to my coming back to the Big Red Church. I determined that my boys would know the love of God and enjoy the protection of a church family.
My memories of my mother are blended together. She was for the most of my life a single mom and worked to support my sister and me. She struggled with alcohol and finally succumbed to breast cancer. Balancing all that, I remember she loved working in the yard and gardening. She always had dirt under her fingernails which was a childhood embarrassment but is a precious memory today. The three of us—my mom, sister, and me—went camping often in the Sierras. We rode our bikes up and down VanNess. I understand today that in spite of her difficulties, there was even then a sense of community being instilled in me.
As I reflect on what you have called my story with your prompts, it seems obvious that my home, my children, my church and the communities they provide have proven to be the foundation that I am building on as I take on the responsibility as Chairperson of Christian Education and as I continue my education and look forward to a career as a teacher.”
Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.