101-year-old sees wrong turned right

by | Apr 1, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

This week, she will make cookies in a brand-new kitchen.

This week, she will sit in a brightly painted living room.

This week, she gets her house back.

She never should have lost it.

After 101 years on this Earth, Texana Hollis deserved better than to watch from the street, in a wheelchair, as her possessions were stacked on the sidewalk like garbage.

But that is where she found herself last September, evicted from her home of nearly 60 years, after her son Warren failed to make tax payments.

Since then, this sweet, slight woman – who was born four years before the start of World War I – has been living with a caregiver, Polly Cheeks – a woman Texana once taught in Sunday school – hoping and praying her fates would change.

They have.

“You don’t know how happy you have made me,” Texana told us, a soft robe over her shoulders, a blanket on her lap. “I get my house back?”


“Lord, have mercy!”

That should have applied six months ago.

A ridiculous federal issue

Like many of you, I watched Texana’s story with dismay. How could a 101-year-old woman be evicted from anywhere?

After weeks of back-and-forth with the federal agency that took over the property – the Department of Housing and Urban Development – I offered to buy the house to return it to Texana. It’s something many Detroiters would have done. Only it wasn’t enough, HUD said. The house was unlivable and needed major work. OK, I said, we’ll get the work done.

More bureaucracy. More paperwork. Assurances that mold and lead paint would be removed. More waiting.

Finally, last month, the deal went through. Working with our charity to help homeless people, S.A.Y. Detroit, the good people from the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, some studs from Tamer Builders of Dearborn and plenty of big-hearted volunteers from all around town, we ensured the west-side house on Carbondale was completely refurbished: new floors, walls, appliances, repaired roof, heating, electrical, a security system donated by Guardian Alarm.

We even painted it the colors Texana said were her favorites: canary yellow and light green.

“I gotta get someone to clean it,” she said.

“We’ll clean it,” she was told.

“You gonna do that, too? Lord, have mercy! … I’m the happiest person on Earth.”

An easy way for more to help

The mark of a society is how it treats its neediest citizens, especially its neediest senior citizens. Texana Hollis should never have been thrown out – no matter what mistakes her son made – and it should not have taken this long to get her back in.

But she is made of tough stuff. Married for six decades before her husband died, she once had cancer so widespread that the doctors who “opened me up” gave her up for dead. “They couldn’t save me. But the Lord said, ‘Stand back! Man has gone as far as he can go. Now watch my glory.’

“I was in my 30s. Here I am, 101 years old.”

And here she will be, this Wednesday at 2 p.m., when we give her the keys to the house she never should have lost. She had owned it outright until her son talked her into a reverse mortgage – essentially taking money out of the house. It is not the first time such a deal has gone badly for senior citizens.

Texana told us often how her husband bought her that house after World War II, and how dearly she missed sitting in it, cooking in it. On Wednesday, she has promised to make cookies for the well-wishers. And despite the wheelchair, she said, “I think I might have to dance.”

That would be a sight.

Texana Hollis cried on the sidewalk when she was evicted; I hope she is laughing this week. She is a joyous piece of our city’s living history, and we should cherish her.

If you would like to help her future expenses, we’ve set up the Texana Hollis Fund, c/o Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Room 101, 150 Stimson, Detroit 48201. Or you can call 313-993-4700 or go to www.saydetroit.org.

“I can’t tell you when I’ve been this happy,” she said. And considering how long she’s been around, that’s saying something.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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