by Cassie Klapp
A tall, dark and smiling man walks by, carrying a plateful of food. His shoulders slump slightly when he walks, and his smile has a gap in the middle. He wears a pair of small green glasses that sit on his nose and make his kind eyes appear larger than they are. He seems to know everyone in the kitchen and just by looking at him, many wouldn’t know he is homeless with 24 kids.
Charles Gordon, 63, grew up not too far from the St.Vincent de Paul food bank in Casa Grande. He was one of the oldest of 19 kids whom his grandmother raised on a farm. Gordon and his cousin Dennie Jean were like second mothers to the other children.
Caring for the other kids and doing everything from cooking and cleaning to sewing, milking the cow and diaper changing were among their daily tasks. Though they did so much around the house, his grandmother never let them miss a day of school. He graduated high school in 1967.
“I’m glad she forced it into me,” Gordon said.
Tragedy split the big family in all directions that same year, when his grandmother died. They spread out from Kentucky to Texas to California. Gordon moved in with his mother and was able to attend Central Arizona College. He studied business management, but then changed his focus to handling heavy equipment and received a certificate.
Another loss affected Gordon when his mother passed away from cirrhosis.
“She drank herself to death,” Gordon said. “Some people cuss their moms out and when something happens to her you’ll cry your eyes out.”
Gordon said he regrets not being able to get to know her better despite the choices she made. He said no matter what she did, he still loves her.
Gordon began working odd jobs after receiving his certificate at CAC. One job was laying roof shingles on a home. A wrong step led him sliding down the rooftop.
“I decided all I could do was jump,” Gordon said. He landed and badly damaged his back. Gordon has relied on Social Security benefits since the 1989 injury.
Throughout all of his trials and tribulations of his life, he also fathered 24 children.
“I had my first kid when I was 15,” Gordon said.
He is very fond of companionship and said he cannot wait to see his grandkids for Christmas. He half-joked part of the reason he is homeless is from getting presents for all the grandkids. He has 12 daughters and 12 sons.
Two of his daughters live in Phoenix, along with 13 of his grandchildren. He said they stay in contact. Just the other day, he gave one of his daughters money to help buy Christmas presents for the children.