Patricia Shavers is 40, happily single and has worked the past 11 years in the high-pressure, low-pay world of convenience stores.
She’s dealt with naked customers, prostitutes and snatch-and-grab robbers. You’d think that would prepare her for almost anything, but six months ago she took custody of her niece’s boys from Florida: 4-year-old twins named Fredrick and Freddie.
Yes, Fredrick and Freddie.
In an instant, her blissfully quiet home turned into a three-ring circus of cartoons, spilled cereal, giggle fits and wrestling matches.
And now comes Christmas on a 7-Eleven clerk’s salary.
The twins are 100 percent convinced Santa is on his way – with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – so Shavers has turned to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau for help. The bureau, funded in part by the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund, supplies free Christmas toys for kids from low-income families.
Shavers wishes Santa good luck in telling the boys apart.
“Fredrick and Freddie? Why would you do that to your kids?” she says, laughing.
“For the first three months I had them, I’d call one and he’d tell me he was the other one. I finally made up names for them: Man-man and Bug. They didn’t like that.”
This is not the first time Shavers has been a parent. Her 22-year-old daughter, Theresa, is an ambitious college student in Florida, working on a degree in business management and marketing.
But raising a girl is nothing like raising boys, Shavers says. The twins are into everything, they’re loud and they eat like they’re always starving, she says.
It was Theresa who suggested her mother take the twins, partly because she didn’t like the idea of Shavers being all alone in Charlotte.
“Those boys were going from house to house and didn’t have a stable place to live,” Theresa says. “Now that I’m an adult, I’m realizing all the things my mother did right bringing me up, all the sacrifices she made as a single mom. She’ll do the same for those boys.”
Theresa works part time at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Fla., and won’t get to come home for Christmas. There’s a chance that even Shavers will have to work that day, because working on holidays comes with the territory at convenience stores.
It’s an 11-year career the Mississippi native turned to after her job making clothes for department stores was out-sourced to Mexico. The first nine years were spent working at convenience stores in Orlando, which she says is filled with “crazy people.”
“Home in Mississippi, everybody knew everybody, and all of a sudden I moved some place where they had prostitutes walking down the street half naked,” she says. “There were times I thought I might get killed.”
Still, the outgoing Shavers found simple pleasure in the unpredictability of it all, and the comings and goings of strangers.
She came to Charlotte three years ago to make a fresh start, and says she was working at two convenience stores across from each other (one full time, one part time) when the twins moved in.
The part-time job was the first thing to go.
Now, she’s getting up every morning at 5 ironing clothes, cooking breakfast and hustling the boys off to a baby sitter down the street. Then she does first shift at a 7-Eleven on Park Road.
Fredrick and Freddie have been told that Christmas Eve is going to be spent baking cookies, then it’s off to bed by 8 p.m.
“I told them we have to leave cookies out, and if Santa eats them, it means they were good this year and he’s leaving toys behind,” she says. “But we all know who’s going to eat those cookies.”
Shavers laughs at the thought, and it’s clear she’s enjoying her return to a place where Santa and the Easter Bunny are once again alive and well.
She put her Christmas tree up two months ago.
“These boys made my house alive again with love,” she says. “I’m not alone anymore.”