Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Her life's like a pretty little box full of surprises

Susan Haines holds one of the decorative boxes she has made to give away for the holidays.

SHARON TUBBS | Times

Susan Haines holds one of the decorative boxes she has made to give away for the holidays.

Let me tell you about a woman I know named Susan Haines.

Hers is the kind of story you'll want to hear if you can't afford the $200 Wii that little Andre has his heart set on, no matter how steep the Black Friday discount. It's a story you should hear if you're struggling to find something to be merry about.

Susan, you see, won't be shopping for gifts this weekend. Can't afford to.

But she's convinced she still has something to give.

I met her about a year ago as she prepared for surgery. She was in constant pain, her body rejecting her breast implants. She had gotten them in 2006, after having a double mastectomy because of tumors and a family history of breast cancer.

She had the implants removed on Dec. 15, 2008 — just a few days after her mother died suddenly. Still recovering from the surgery, Susan couldn't even travel to attend the funeral.

Needless to say, the holidays weren't a particularly festive time last year.

Not only was she in a bad place physically, but financially. Earlier that year she had moved here from Indiana and landed a job in health insurance. But her new position didn't pay nearly as much as she made in Indiana. In Tampa, she couldn't afford a condo on Harbour Island or one of those new townhouses surrounded by restaurants and little shops in the suburbs.

The 49-year-old settled into a University area studio apartment not far from Nebraska Avenue and a community with a reputation for drug dealers and prostitutes.

The tight budget. The mastectomy. The implants and the pain. Her mother's death.

"Why me?" she wondered.

Now fast forward to the present. I run into Susan at church over the weekend. Her smile is wide. She's eager to show me some pictures on her cell phone. I see images of cardboard boxes adorned with butterflies.

She got the boxes from her job at Blue Cross Blue Shield, she explains. The company bought new computers, and the cardboard packages that held keyboards and other accessories were shaped like jewelry boxes.

Susan got an idea.

She loaded them into her Hyundai Accent and headed home, where she had craft supplies that she hadn't used in awhile. For more room, she took her project outdoors, on a grassy area near the entrance to her apartment complex, and used the hedged bushes as a work table. She began painting the boxes. Then she'd cut butterflies and other designs from wallpaper trim.

Soon, neighbors in the complex were stopping by, offering help. One lady brought over a gob of what looked like Gasparilla beads to add to the boxes. The landlord offered to give extra paint, if needed.

And so, despite no budget for gifts or extravagance, Susan continues crafting her boxes. She'll likely go to a dollar store and get basic toiletries to put inside, she says. She plans to finish 35 by Christmas, although she isn't sure yet whom she'll give them to.

Now, Susan says, "I'm happier than I've ever been."

Years ago, "if you would have told me that this is where I would've been living and everything going on in my life, I wouldn't have believed it," she said.

The past year, however, brought a change — not in her circumstances but something on the inside.

She saw the man who had only one leg and a shopping cart hobbling along; she befriended the lady who had been addicted to drugs, did hard time in prison, then turned her life around.

"By the grace of God," she thought, "I don't have an addiction."

She started noticing neighbors in her complex walking along the street because they didn't have cars.

"Hey, do you need a ride?" she'd ask.

From her neighbors, Susan says, she got something more valuable in return: the inspiration to push on.

"Those that have so much less than me, I see them not giving up; it tells me not to give up."

One of her boxes has already found a home. A wide-eyed little girl walked by with her aunt as Susan was decorating one day.

Susan handed her one of the boxes.

Days later, Susan says, the aunt returned to tell her that the little girl was so happy that she had started putting everything she could find into her new little cardboard box.

Sharon Tubbs can be reached at (813) 226-3394 or tubbs@sptimes.com.

Her life's like a pretty little box full of surprises 11/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Plan your weekend Aug. 18-20: Elvis in concert, Jason Aldean, Monster Jam Triple Threat, Sing-Along Grease

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    The king

    Elvis: Live in Concert: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Ruth Eckerd Hall will have a Graceland-produced Elvis concert on a movie screen, accompanied by a full live orchestra. Graceland calls it the closest audiences …

    Handout photos of Elvis: Live in Concert, a tour spectacle featuring a live orchestra backing the voice of Elvis Presley, projected onto a movie screen. The tour comes to Ruth Eckerd Hall on 8/18/17. Credit: Graceland.
  2. Woman convicted in murder of 18-year-old with cerebral palsy gets lighter term

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Linda Bonck, a 90-pound Chamberlain High School senior with cerebral palsy, lived near Tampa's Lowry Park. She struggled to walk and talk but was known for being friendly and trusting of strangers until she vanished one day in 1992.

    Georgia Miller, 39, was convicted for the 1992 murder of Linda Bonck, an 18-year-old Chamberlain High School student who had cerebral palsy. Originally sentenced to life in prison, Miller was resentenced Wednesday to 65 years, the result of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life. With gain time, Miller will be released from prison in the next six years. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  3. Boynton Beach woman arrested on DUI, child abuse charges

    Criminal

    A Boynton Beach woman was arrested Saturday and faces DUI and child abuse charges after she blew a .200 on a breath test with an unbuckled child in the backseat, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.

    Brandy Lerma, 31 of Boynton Beach, was arrested on DUI and child abuse charges on Saturday. [Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Editorial: Why can't Hillsborough commissioners move Confederate monument?

    Editorials

    The violence in Charlottesville, Va., crystallized for much of the nation the danger of refusing to address painful symbols of the past. But not so in Hillsborough County, where the County Commission on Wednesday reversed itself yet again and left open the possibility of leaving a Confederate monument outside the …

  5. Former WTSP employee sues station's parent companies for gender discrimination

    Civil

    A former director at WTSP-Ch. 10 has sued the station's parent companies, claiming she was the victim of gender discrimination.