Answering the call to feed His sheep on Thanksgiving

by Boots LeBaron

Nikie Tedesco at the Hermosa pier during her 40th annual free Thanksgiving dinner. Photo

From her tall stool at the Starbucks in the Ralph’s shopping center, Nikie Tedesco reaches out her slender hand to each passerby and asks, “May I bless you, lovy.

She looks fragile and doll-like in her ankle-length purple gown and sparkling Jesus brooch pinned to her high necked blouse. Her silver hair is pulled back tightly in a ponytail. Yesterday, she turned 85.

If her offer of a blessing is rejected, she blesses the person, anyway.

Dan Winterbottom, a husky, 24-year-old roofing company salesman with a master’s in finance from Claremont College, said, “Sure,” when she asked him. Nikie took his hand. Dan closed his eyes and listened to her heartfelt words. He left with his coffee with a peace-of-mind smile on his face.

A man approached her with a box of school supplies. She stuffed them into her satchel and promised they would go to needy children.

Spotting a family of nine visiting from Naples, she asked them, “May I bless you, lovie.” She and the family joined hands and recited the blessing in Italian.

The children were giggling when they left.

Nikie’s face is etched with tiny furrows and pencil-thin brows arching above hazel eyes. They’ve seen their share of sadness. Her mother died giving birth to her in Chicago and she was raised in a tiny village in the province of Corato in southeastern Italy, She contracted polio, was abused and lived in poverty.

Although she was a U.S. citizen, when she returned to the U.S from war-ravaged Italy in 1947, she didn’t speak a word of English.

Her relationship with “Daddy,” she said, began in 1970. She was alone in a dark, beach motel room when He first came to her.

“I was lonely and hurt. My husband had been very cruel.  He called me a ‘crip’ and threw me out of the house.  I had no food for seven days.  All I had was a Bible.”

She felt her body rising from the bed.

“He laid a hand on me and said, ‘Love them.  Take care of them, my child.  Feed my sheep.  And I will take care of you.’  I’ve been trying to do that ever since.”

She took the admonition to heart.

Last Thursday, she and her helpers from Hope Chapel and the Breakwater Foursquare church in Redondo, celebrated their 40th year of serving a free Thanksgiving dinner to at the Hermosa pier.

Not everyone responds kindly to her proselytizing.

“I was walking down the beach in Hermosa carrying a cross that was almost as big as me,” she recalled, “when this man physically threatened me, and called me a religious bigot, I told him:  ‘Go ahead, hit me. I have my bodyguard.'”

“The man didn’t say another word. He just went away.”

“People have thrown rocks at me, and given me the finger. I’ve heard every swear word in the book,” she said, a sad smile.

One day, while she was preaching at the corner of Pier and Hermosa Avenue, she said, “A man threw urine at me from a truck. I was drenched. It was terrible.  I said, ‘God bless you. God help you.’  I went home and cried in the shower.”

She said she has a two way conversation with God every day.

“He has brown curls hanging down the sides of His face.  He looks like a rabbi.”

Adapted from The Human Race by Boots LeBaron. He may be reached at lebaron2@verizon.net. ER

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