HOLIDAY — The surgery and the treatments might yet save her life, but Gretta LaVerne Steinberg is practical and faces things head-on. She is two months shy of 73, and she has Stage 4 breast cancer. She doesn't want to burden her children with her final arrangements.
So the afternoon of April 15, Steinberg took out the gray metal lockbox with her birth certificate and other important papers. She tucked in $600. She placed the lockbox in the trunk of her silver Toyota Matrix and headed out for appointments with the attorney who would draft her will and the cremation society that would handle her remains.
The trip went bad as soon as she pulled onto U.S. 19. There's no traffic signal on the highway for residents like Steinberg coming out of Tahitian Gardens.
"When you do get a chance (to go), you have to floor it," Steinberg said. "That's what I did."
She gunned it, and her hatchback popped open. The lockbox tumbled onto the busy highway.
Steinberg could see the lockbox in her rearview mirror, but she couldn't pull over. A semi-trailer was barreling down the lane next to her. After a few blocks she managed to pull into the parking lot at the Salvation Army Family Store.
"Lord," she prayed, "my cup runneth over. Please help me with this, if it be your will. Help me find the box."
She walked back and searched the road. She checked the median. She crossed the highway and even searched the northbound lanes. A couple of people from the Dunkin' Donuts came out to help.
"I'm sure someone saw it and picked it up," said Steinberg, fighting back tears.
"It was stupid of me to do that."
Steinberg — Granny Verne to her extended family — has lived her whole life in Florida. Born in Clearwater. Raised eight children. Left her abusive husband when the youngest child was 2 and worked all kinds of jobs — certified nursing assistant, waitress, maid — to pay the bills.
"I had to be the sole breadwinner," she said. "I had to be both mother and father."
She considers herself blessed with 19 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and three great-great-grands. She is hopeful the mastectomy scheduled for Friday at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, and the treatments to follow, will conquer her cancer.
"They have so many things available today, the doctors told me I could live another 20 years," Steinberg said. "Maybe I will. It's up to God, really."
She filed a report with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office about the missing lockbox. She has replaced some of the lost documents already, but she doesn't expect anyone will return the cash. She just hopes whoever found the money needed it, and that they didn't spend it on drugs.
She tries to see God's plan, even in the bad things. Maybe he was telling her to focus on her life, on her surgery, on getting better, on enjoying her children.
Maybe, she thinks, he was telling her to let everything else go.