Hospice volunteer tells tale of “best holiday ever”

Published 12:08 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marlene Balog volunteers in the kitchen at Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum. (photo submitted)

by Maureen Smith for Hospice of the Carolina Foothills

Hospice of the Carolina Foothills volunteer Marlene Balog describes her 2010 Christmas holiday as her best ever. After reading her tale of “Christmas Recently Passed,” some might beg to differ.

Balog volunteered Dec. 23, 24 and 25 at Hospice House of the Carolina Foothills in Landrum, doing “whatever needed to be done.” She’s been known to wash dishes, sew patient pillows, visit residents and greet visitors. She even made pasta salad and delivered it to staff at the Hospice House on Christmas Eve.

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Then, on Christmas day, she set out in her car to pick up her share of many meals, prepared annually by the Good Shepherd Feast to deliver to shut-ins and local folks in need. There was not a snow flake in the air when she left home to pick up the 35 meals to deliver. Five minutes down the road, she says, she was driving through a curtain of snow.

Then, while making her rounds, her engine began to overheat; and her car slid off the road and got stuck in a snow-filled ditch on a deserted dirt road. Fortunately, although there was no one in sight and her car was dinged up a bit, it was still drivable. And since she had had the foresight to put a large bag of kitty litter in the back, she got out and spread it around the car. She rocked her way out of the ditch on the kitty litter trail by shifting gears back and forth – first drive, then reverse.

She scraped snow off mailboxes, looking for the houses of people expecting the meals. All along the way, she says, people came along and helped her find each the houses.

Balog got her car back on the road and crept into Landrum, eager to warm up with a cup of hot coffee at a gas station near the interstate. When she stopped for the coffee, she chatted with the staff for a while, but when she went back outside to leave for the Hospice House, her car would not start. Adding insult to injury, her road service declined to come and help her out in the near-blizzard conditions. A mechanic parked next to her volunteered to look under the hood, but was unfamiliar with her make of car and could not help.

She considered spending the night in the store, at the staff’s invitation, or leaving her car and getting a ride with a friend. But when she went out to turn the key in the ignition again, the engine turned over right away, just as two police officers drove up and offered her a ride home. She declined with thanks, and her car limped home, all the way up her steep driveway outside of Tryon. “I have a good relationship with my car,” she says chuckling. “I call her ‘Girlfriend,’ and she never lets me down.”

As she tells her tale, she insists: “Now don’t depict me as saintly or self-sacrificing. I got more out of it than anyone else.” The whole thing started, she explains, because she had decided to keep her spirits up by helping others this Christmas, since she was not up to making the 500-mile drive to be with family this year.

“Not a moment during the whole Christmas holiday did I not feel protected. I just received blessing after blessing.” She laughs, but you can tell she means it.

Now, several weeks later, Balog still takes delight in sharing her holiday adventure tale. She

now has her car back from the body shop, looking even better than new. And “Girlfriend,” reliable as ever, has already carried her back to the Hospice House for more volunteering.

Volunteers are needed every day at the Hospice House. For more information, call Tracey Brannon at 864-457-9125.