Eula Sims keeps her home neat. She has her Bibles, which she reads often. She pins a few unframed photographs of her children on the wall next to her daybed. She keeps a dish out with peppermint candy in it. And she makes room for a pink stuffed teddy bear that she says reminds her of her grandson. There’s nothing that a person could call clutter lying around.
“I like the way it is. I like the way it’s set up,” Sims said. She’s 88 now and appreciates simplicity. “I couldn’t even ask for anything else. … I don’t need no more.”
The most important thing for Sims, is the apartment itself, with its big windows and wood floors and a kitchen with lots of cupboard space.
“What’s it like to have a place to call your own, even though it’s small?” she asked as her voice trailed off. “I’m happy. I’m happy. Very happy.”
Partly that’s because, for a while, a place to call all her own felt nearly impossible. Last year, while Sims was living with her daughter, Delores Stringer, she started moving more slowly. Usually she could get around fast.
“I’m like, ‘Mom. Something ain’t right,’” Stringer said.
Sims could feel it, too. So one afternoon she walked herself over to the hospital. She ended up staying there for two months.
Sims was born in Mississippi, raised in Arkansas, met her husband in Michigan and made a family in the Bay Area. She speaks softly, but loves to talk. She’s made sure to introduce herself to the neighbors.
“I like to go around and talk to people,” Sims said. “It cheers me. It cheers me up. I’ve had a chance to meet some of them. I’m taking my time. There’s quite a few. But the ones that I’ve met are nice people.”
She loves color, too, and generally wears bright things. She looks for signs in her dreams and likes to be called “Miss Mary,” after the virgin Mary; it’s a nickname she gave herself. She keeps a box of Cheez-Its tucked between her bed and her nightstand. She gives out advice with the confidence of somebody who has been around for more than a while. She usually fibs about her age — shaving off a decade or so — and gets away with it.
Sims left the hospital last year still on a daily regimen of four prescriptions. She needed more help than her daughter could give her at home, so she headed an hour and a half away to a nursing home in Gilroy — the only place her insurance would cover.
“I had never even been to Gilroy,” her daughter said.
Sims stayed there for three months. She passed the time by reading Psalms and got through about 150 of them.
Then, one day, she’d had enough. Stringer had come down from Richmond to take Sims to the doctor. After the appointment they pulled up to the nursing home. Sims looked at the building. She thought a second, then turned to her daughter in the driver’s seat and asked her to go collect her things. She wasn’t getting out of the car, and she wasn’t staying another night there.
“She didn’t want to deal with the people,” Stringer said. “She wasn’t used to being away from all of us.”
There was a problem, though: Stringer didn’t have room for Sims in her home. Her mom needed her own room and her own bathroom. Stringer couldn’t give her that. So, for a few months, they moved her into an extended-stay hotel. It was “a lot of money,” Stringer said. “Lots of money.”
So Stringer and Sims applied for a place in a new senior residence in Richmond, close to family, and they prayed.
“We’re always praying,” Stringer said.
When they got the call saying they had a room, Stringer felt like crying.
“I did start crying,” Sims said.
There was one last hiccup, though. The extended-stay hotel had used up most of Sims’ money, and she didn’t have enough to pay the move-in costs. That’s when Season of Sharing stepped in. Independent Living, a group that helps people with disabilities and seniors to live independently, connected Sims to the fund. She applied and was able to get her security deposit covered.
“She had the biggest smile on her face,” said Lisa Hicks, an independent living specialist with the organization. “She was ready.”
Hicks is still working with Sims, trying to get her some extra help around the house. But for the past six months, Sims has had a place to call her own, and that’s the most important thing, Hicks said. “I was happy to call and tell her she received the deposit amount.”
On Thanksgiving, Stringer and the rest of the family came to Sims’ place for dinner.
“We did it all,” Stringer said. “We had ham, we had Cornish hens, we had peach cobbler, we had dressing … ” The list keeps going.
But before any of them had arrived, Sims had already made her signature sweet potato pie. It was waiting on the counter, ready to go into the oven.
“I used to be a heart-and-soul baker,” Sims said.
Stringer smiles when she hears that.
“She’s that kinda lady,” Stringer said. “She’s gonna fix stuff the way she wants it.”
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