Sunday, December 2, 2012

TAMMY BOTTO - A charming Southern Lady

     Tammy Botto is Doug Knapp’s fiancé. She is fifty-four years old.      She became homeless at the same time as Doug. She and Doug were living with Doug’s mother. But then, Doug’s mother sold her house and moved into an assisted living facility.
     What’s the hardest part about being homeless for Tammy?
     "Right now, it’s the rain. Just trying to stay dry.
     "We can’t put up a tent, because as soon as you put up a tent, the police come and run you out. So, we’ve been sleeping outside without even a tent.
     "We have a tarp. We tied the tarp up to a tree. We put our sleeping bags under the tarp, and that’s where we’ve been sleeping.
     "You learn a lot on the street.
     "The people that we’re living with... they’re thieves. They’re liars and thieves. This last week, one of them stole my purse.
     "I only looked away from it for just a second. There were three other homeless people who were sitting there. I turned away to put something into the trash. And when I looked back, my purse was gone, and so were all three of those people.
     "Another thing about the homeless people around here is that they’re filthy. Some of them don’t clean up their camps. They leave piles and piles of garbage in the places where they camp.
     "This is something that the sheriffs could do something about. There is no place where we homeless people can legally take our garbage to dump it. Instead of just running homeless people out of where they are camping, they should bring a dumptser to a place near the campsites and tell the homeless people that either they clean up their camps, or they have to get out."
     Tammy is upset about the loss of her purse. She had $250 in it that she had just received. She was planning to use that money to travel to Lake Tahoe, to see her first grandchild for the first time. But now, she doesn’t know how long it’s going to take her to get there.
     "Ninety-seven percent of the homeless people around here will steal from you," she says.
     "That’s just not right.
     "You’ve got to have the same morals and values that you were taught when you were young," she says.
     Tammy has a charming Southern accent. So, I ask her where she is from.
     "I grew up in northern Mississippi," she says. "Actually, it’s not far from Memphis, Tennessee.
     I smile and tell Tammy that it’s a small world. My mother was raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father was the sheriff. He was shot and killed when my mother was just sixteen years old.
     I also spent some time stationed at Columbus Air Force Base, in Mississippi.
     I tell Tammy that I miss drinking banana daquiries, and she laughs.
     Then, we joke about drinking wine out of a paper bag that you have to hold under the table while eating dinner at a restaurant in one of Mississippi’s "dry" counties.
     "The first time I was married, I was still in Mississippi," Tammy says. "I was seventeen years old.
     "We were married for about two years. Then, my husband was in a car accident, and was paralized.
     "I had to make the decision to have his life support unplugged, and to let him die."
     I sit back in my chair. "Wow. That must have been a pretty tough thing for you to have to do, being only nineteen years old," I say.
     "It was hard," she says. "But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. My husband and I have been fighting, and had been breaking up and then getting back together again, for several months before his accident. Besides that, he told me what he wanted to do. So, I did what he wanted.
     "The worst part was that my husband had been drinking when he crashed. He had been drinking because of a fight that we’d had."
     I ask Tammy, if she had a magic wand, so that she could be or do absolutely anything, what would she be doing?
     "I’d be doing drug and alcohol counseling," she answers. "Or I’d be doing life coaching.
I’m an excellent counselor. I have two AA degrees, and I have my certificate in drug and alcohol counseling."
     I ask Tammy why she isn’t counseling right now.
     "I have a bit of a drug problem," she says.
     I tell Tammy that since I began doing these interviews, I’ve met several people who were formerly drug and alcohol counselors, but who now have an alcohol or drug problem themselves. I ask Tammy how that happens.
     "Well," she says, "Back in about 1933 or 1939, the American Medical Association made the diagnosis that alcoholism is a form of disease. And some people have a genetic pre-disposition to becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.
     "So, when you have that gene, like I do, when I took that very first pill, I was on my way to addiction.
     "My father was an alcoholic and my brother was an alcoholic. The addiction gene seems to run in my family.
     "My form of addiction was to prescription pain pills. I took Norco. It’s hydrocodone, which is the pain killer that they give almost everyone at the hospital.
     "The man that I married later was a doctor, and he’d prescribe it for me.
     "I was married to a doctor for eighteen years. And I had four children with him. But we eventually broke up because I couldn’t overcome my addiction to Norco.
     "I got arrested, and went to jail for drugs. I was sent to a prison that is located in the little town of Norco, California.
     I can’t help laughing when Tammy says, "I got sent to Norco for doing Norco. Go figure.
     "When I beat my addiction, I became a drug and alcohol counselor. And I was very good at it. Because I know all about it."
     But now, Tammy has a drug problem again.
     I ask her if she has a message for the world.
     "Be open-minded about things," she says.
     I ask Tammy what she believes makes her special and unique in the world.
     "When ever I walk into a room, I bring joy. I bring light. I bring laughter. I bring warmth, and energy. I am a very good person.
     "I have four beautiful children. And now, I have my first grandchild. I have four of the most beautiful children in all the world. And they’re not really my children. They’re actually God’s children.
     "Right now, my goal is to get to Lake Tahoe, to see my first grandchild. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but somehow, I’m going to get there. No matter what."

     A few days after interviewing Tammy, I hear that Tammy’s purse was found by a homeless man, who returned the purse to her.
     The contents of the purse had been scattered all over the ground. But when the purse was returned to Tammy, it still had one hundred and fifty dollars in it. That money was inside of a zippered pouch in the purse that had not been unzipped.
     When its raining down here in Auburn in the winter, it is usually snowing up at Lake Tahoe. And the roads are really bad. But I hope that Tammy makes it up to Lake Tahoe to see her first grandchild soon.
     There are few things in all the world that are quite so magical as seeing your first grandchild for the first time.

     The is the one-hundred-and-third article in a series of articles about Auburn-area homeless people, written by local attorney, author, and Sierra College Instructor Bob Litchfield.

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