Zetta Williams remembers only the start of the horrific crash four years ago that led to her permanent disability and this sparse Christmas.
Her daughters, Zikiya and Zamaria, had visited Williams sister in Florida. Williams drove down to pick them up and headed for Charlotte on a Friday morning.
They were almost home, in Columbia, S.C., when a rear tire on her sport-utility vehicle blew out on Interstate 77. The vehicle, traveling 70 mph, flipped four times.
The girls escaped with cuts and scratches but watched, horrified, as their unconscious mother was cut from the vehicle and airlifted to a hospital.
Williams, 37, arrived with severe brain trauma and was not expected to live. She awoke unable to speak or walk and spent a year in a Florida rehabilitation hospital relearning the basics of life.
She thanks God and her daughters, whom she raised as a single parent, for helping her recover.
They have been my heroes because they have been right there by me, helping when I learned to walk, when I learned to talk, showing me family photos. They have been my strength.
Before the accident, Williams had gone to work at 15, attended Gaston College and was managing a Mount Holly apartment complex for low-income residents. She was actively involved in community service.
Where the Empty Stocking Fund is helping me now, I was the one to give the gifts, she says. I dont even know how to express the change.
Her memory and comprehension are better now. But nerve damage on her left side gives her severe pain when sits or stands for an hour or more.
Zikiya, 19, has graduated from West Mecklenburg High School and is in her first year at Gaston College. Zamaria goes to Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology.
Williams income is $1,024 a month in Social Security disability payments.
We figured out a budget as a family, and we just try to stick to it, she says. I use coupons; I bargain shop. I have to pay the mortgage and things that have to come first, and everything else is secondary. We watch every penny, every dime, every nickel.
As for the girls, Williams adds, Thank God theyre not picky. They really are considerate.
The familys closely calculated budget suffered even more when their homes air conditioning went out last summer and had to be repaired.
Theres not any extra money, so the Empty Stocking Fund will provide something for them so Christmas will come, Williams says, and we dont have to look at it like its just another day.