Ever since Sheila Ford learned she would have to leave her apartment after 14 years because the building was being converted to condominiums she couldn't afford, she has been browsing online for houses for sale in Oklahoma, where her oldest daughter lives.
Sheila, who was born and raised in Washington D.C., said she is amazed at how much land and how big of a house someone can buy in Oklahoma compared to where she lives now for the same money.
"Cleaner air," she added. "A yard big enough so I can walk around and get any exercise I need to. When I had a house I would lay down in the yard and I'd like to look up in the sky."
The dream of owning a home and living in peace has often eluded Sheila. The last time she owned a home was in 1993. But she said it was burned down in a drug deal gone bad that didn't involve her. She had 30 days to move out of her last apartment by Jan. 1, 2017, and she briefly found herself homeless.
"I've been taking care of myself and others and my grandchildren for 41 years," she said. "I thought, ‘Lord if you want me to be on the street then that's where I want to be.'"
She ended up staying with relatives.
Sheila said she has four children, 10 grandchildren, and many others she considers step-children. Altogether, she counts 30 great-grandchildren, which leads to some larger-than-average birthday parties at the nearby Turkey Thicket Recreation Center.
Sheila lived about a block away from our store at 645 Taylor St. NE, where we interviewed her during one of her routine visits. She kept her belongings at our store as she prepared to move out of state.
She retired in 2001 after working for 24 years and six months at the U.S. Government Printing Office on North Capitol Street. "Taxes, important papers," are printed there, she said. "Everything for when Nixon was getting impeached. Everything Trump is doing is probably getting printed there, too," she said, laughing.
Since her retirement, Sheila has done a lot of babysitting for her family. Her former apartment building was being renovated into two-bedroom condominiums that included jacuzzis in the bathrooms, she said. She was interested in four homes but was unable to secure financing for three of them. In the other case, she eventually concluded she didn't like the layout.
Sheila credits God for giving her the strength to endure her difficult times. Even though she hasn't attended church in a while, she was raised Catholic and has since attended Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal churches.
"Everything mankind does comes with a manual," she said. "Even the cheap trinkets, even Bazooka bubble gum, comes with something. Well, the creator has a manual called the Bible. Whether you believe or not, or are devout or not, there are instructions in there that helps.
"When David was down he wrote the Psalms and by the time he finished the verse he relieved his stress and was up praising God," she said. "You can learn from (these verses), and feel some of what they feel."
She quoted her favorite scripture, Philippians 4:8, using her index finger to trace the words in the air as she said each one: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (English Standard Version)
At the time of our interview, she planned to move west on Sept. 1.
"We are rolling out to Oklahoma," Sheila said. Her new home with her daughter has two porches, two dining rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows. "And it's cheaper," she said, repeating her marvel at the cost of living there.
Sheila looked forward to laying outside in the grass of a big yard again. She loves to watch the cloud formations.
"They are so different right after the rain," she said.
Sheila messaged us after we met her. She made it to Oklahoma.