Loma Prieta quake hero finds home, hope through Season of Sharing

When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit, John Abduljaami was living next to the Cypress Structure in Oakland, where he ran a scrap metal yard.

Abduljaami was able to grab some aluminum ladders, run across the street to the elevated freeway, extend them to the roadway, climb up and bring stuck motorists down to safety.

“That was one of the biggest moments of my life,” Abduljaami, 73, says as he struggles to get out of a kitchen chair and find the plaque of recognition that he received for his heroism. He goes into the bedroom of his tiny apartment but comes back empty-handed.

He’s lost the plaque along the way. He also lost his livelihood as a hauler and handyman, lost his wife to illness in 2006, and lost his home when the warehouse where he was sleeping had to be emptied out for remodeling.

Destitute and close to living on the street, he found his way to social services, where he got help finding an apartment in the Mark Twain Senior Community. With his Social Security benefit, he could swing the deposit but then had no money for his first month’s rent or furniture — that is, until The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund stepped in.

Shotgun injury

So now he’s in a furnished home for the first time in as long as he can remember, which is not all that long.

“Stuff runs together, and you forget which is what,” says Abduljaami, who has total recollection of two crucial moments in his life: the earthquake that happened 25 years ago and something else that happened 50 years ago.

He was home in Richmond, where he’d grown up, just out of the military and getting ready to go rabbit hunting with one of his seven brothers. Their shotguns were laid out on a kitchen table.

“He was trying to show me the gun was unloaded,” Abduljaami says. “I said, ‘Man, the gun is loaded. Get it off the table.’ As soon as he touched it, it kicked off a round.”

The blast caught Abduljaami in the gut just above the belly button. “Put a hole in me the size of a silver dollar,” he says. “That’s the only thing that ever happened to me, outside of falling off a building on my head while playing hide and go seek.”

He spent more than a year in the hospital after the “hunting accident,” as he calls it. When he came out, some of that bird shot came out with him. The little lead pellets festered in his back as Abduljaami struggled to make a start in the workplace.

His artistic passion was carving animals out of wood, something he’d been doing since grade school.

“As I got older, I wanted to do it,” he says, “but I couldn’t figure out how to make a living at it.”

So he became an odd-jobber. “I was a truck driver, driving a truck around hustling, doing whatever came along,” he says. “Made a living and got by. I was a pretty good handyman, doing some of everything.”

For that kind of work, you need a reliable truck and reliable health. First went the trucks. “One breaks down, and you try to fix it,” he says. “I kept running out of trucks.”

Finding home for carvings

Then his lower back went, that bird shot still nagging him. When he couldn’t lift and haul anymore, he stayed with the wood carvings. He has had shows and been reviewed, and had built up an inventory of 25 of them when his eyesight went about six months ago.

They are for sale outside a friend’s place at Magnolia Street and West Grand Avenue in West Oakland. Prices are $3,000 to $10,000 for zebras, camels, hippos, tigers and elephants.

“I’d like to give them all a home,” he says.

 

Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. He can be reached by e-mail at swhiting@sfchronicle.com.

The original article can be found here.