“I’ll live ’til I die.”

28 02 2010

“I wish that I would just hurry up and drop dead!” exclaimed  our next-door-neighbor, Carrie. I told her that she had better do no such thing, as we had every intention of celebrating her 88th birthday in April. She chuckled and shuffled back into her trailer as AJ and I continued to repair her HVAC and rake up the leaves in her yard. As she walked away she mumbled “I hate having to depend on others to do things for me.” and with a laugh added “It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.”

I was feeling a good deal of guilt associated with the discovery of her recent $429.00 electric bill. We had always been impressed with how her power bills never exceeded $25.00. The previous one was only $21.00, and that was for the cold month of December. Now, we were trying to determine what could have caused so much usage in a single month.

In the process, we learned some very disturbing things about the way Carrie has been living.

Carrie is a stubborn and resilient old gal who reminisces about the days when she worked and played hard. her face softens with sadness and guilt as she tells the story of losing her first husband. They were a young, married couple traveling in the mountains, with their daughter and her friend in the back seat. Carrie had offered to drive, but her husband insisted upon taking the wheel. An oncoming car swerved into their lane, hitting them head-on. Carrie and the children survived, but her husband was killed. “It should have been me. I should have died instead.” she repeats, each time she tells the story.

She never remarried, but she did spend 40 years with the person she refers to as “My Man” (her common law husband). They retired and moved to Florida together. Not long afterward she came home from work to find him dead on the couch. For reasons that I’ve yet to unravel, neither his children, nor hers have contact with Carrie. To top it all off, her trailer was damaged by the hurricanes of 2004, which ripped off her front porch and carport and created numerous water leaks. She is completely alone except for her “family” here in the park. Until recently she never failed to bake a cake for everyone’s birthday, which she would always present with a recycled greeting card. No one may stop to sit with her without being offered a can of Natural Light. I suspected that something was wrong when the cakes stopped, but I assumed that it was her memory going, not her stove.

“Don’t take my picture! I look like a witch. I’ve got to go get my hair permed.”

Carrie

I won’t delve too deeply into her financial situation, other than to say that she makes do on nothing more than $600.00 per month. She is fortunate to live in a park where the owner is kind-hearted and hasn’t raised rent in a very long time. It doesn’t take great math skills to determine that Carrie is a master of getting by on very little. The $429.00 electric bill, however, was too much for her to handle. A fortuitous fuel credit (whatever that is) did bring the bill down to $246.00, but that is still ten times her regular bill! Once she showed us the bill, we got busy trying to figure out what could have caused it. This is when we learned the lengths to which Carrie had gone in order to retain her pride and independence.

For over a year she has been without heat or air. At least three months ago, her water heater stopped working. Afterward, she was heating water on the stove; until it also broke. When we went over to investigate, we found that the breakers for all of these things had been switched off, months ago, by a neighbor. We also found out that she really needs help in cleaning (although she adamantly refuses) and that she has been reduced to wearing clothing that is in rags. This is compounded by the fact that her roof and windows leak, and her floors are all dangerously rotted out.

She still insists upon doing her own shopping, and won’t consider the idea of going into assisted living. She never comes back from the store without gifts of food, beer and wine for all of her neighbors. We have come close to fighting more than once, when I refuse to take cash for driving her around or doing her laundry. She can hold a grudge, but only as long as her memory allows. Dependence upon others upsets her more than she can describe. On warm evenings, her laughter echoes throughout the park. Her closest neighbors are always around to check in on her and help out with things like mowing grass, raking leaves, taking out her trash, driving her to the store and doing her laundry. She can’t recall our names, but she goes to great lengths to remember which brands of alcohol we drink and which snacks we like. Anyone who takes the opportunity to sit with Carrie will be treated to one of her many humorous songs or sayings.

I’m a rambler and a gambler and I’m a long way from home. And if you don’t like me, just leave me a lone.

I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry. If the whiskey don’t kill me, I’ll live ’till I die.

On Thursday, a delightful man named Yoel from Florida Power & Light came to do an evaluation. His only theory for the astronomical power usage was the leaking water heater. At this point it is FPL’s word against the neighbor’s (who claims to have switched off the breaker so long ago). Regardless, Yoel’s supervisor is unable to do anything about the bill but freeze it until Tuesday, while I try to locate assistance. Although the county funded assistance agencies are out of money, the Salvation Army has alluded to the possibility of finding a way to help her with this bill. I hope to contact the supervisor on Monday and see what she can do.

In a desperate plea for assistance, I turned to the internet in hopes of finding a used water heater and some clothing for Carrie. Although I’m still looking for a water heater, I did meet quite a few angels. A woman named Tracy has offered to donate the labor of her and her family to help fix up Carrie’s place. She has also been a wellspring of ideas and supply resources. Today I picked up a huge bag of clothing and some food from a woman named Sandy. Along with the aid from these two great ladies, I have gotten many helpful suggestions from other online strangers. I truly appreciate the support from so many people who don’t know Carrie or me.

I will continue this story as it unfolds.






Happy Anniversary, Baby!

21 02 2010

Today is February 21st, 2010. After a grueling week, I made an early night of Friday and slept in this morning until well after 9:30 am. For those of you who don’t get to spend a lot of time observing our quaint little life; let me give you a snapshot.

AJ and I typically get up in the mornings and go to work together. We ride in the car to our jobs, work and ride home. Sometimes we talk and sometimes we just ride in silence as AJ frets about money and fixing things and I think of ways to bring in more money and wonder which component of our auditing kit I forgot to load up. After work is finished we return home where we each retire to a computer and/or the TV. AJ often has some beer or wine and I usually have some wine. On other days I work the audits and AJ does the side job of driving Worker’s Comp patients to their appointments. Either way, our evenings rarely vary.

Just as in our car rides, we sometimes spend long periods of our evenings without speaking, while at other times we chatter away like the old pals we have become. Although quarters are tight, and we both often long for our own private space, there is a certain comfort in being so close. It’s hard to conceal things from each other. When one of us is feeling bad or has something on our mind, the other knows almost immediately. The lines of communication are always open. We have misunderstandings and annoyances, but those little glitches tend to get ironed out fairly quickly.

Last night we spent a good deal of our quality time talking about Carrie. Carrie is our 87-year-old next-door neighbor. Yesterday, AJ discovered that she has gone without heat or air for a year and that her water heater is also broken. She just received an electric bill in excess of $400.00 (up from the average $25.00 bill)! The best we can figure is that the space heater she has been using caused this. We try to look after Carrie, as she is completely alone. Her common law husband died years ago, and her children seem to want nothing to do with her. We take her to the store and other errands, mow her grass and fix things around her place; yet neither of us had realized just how bad it had gotten for her. Although our conversation revolved around this, we did briefly discuss the significance that February 21st holds for us.

This morning we awoke, had our coffee and headed over to help Carrie. AJ diagnosed the problems. The water heater is DOA, but the central heat and air unit was in working order. The ducts connected to the unit had become detached. We spent much of the day repairing this; including my crawling under her trailer to reattach the ductwork. Many cuts and scrapes, and much grime later her heat and air was working again. I raked her yard and picked up some trash. AJ finished cleaning up with the leaf blower while I went to the store to buy her some necessities.

It wasn’t until 4:00 pm that I remembered what today is…Our Anniversary! By this time AJ had gone to visit his friend Jay, and I was absorbed in laundry and the internet. Aren’t we romantic?

I know that our laissez-faire approach to romance strikes many as callous, but it works for us. We share companionship and partnership on a daily basis, and find romance in unconventional moments.

As a tribute to the fact that today marks the sixth anniversary or our marriage, I would like to share a couple of photos of that special day.

On February 21st, 2004 AJ and I drove to Kingsland, Georgia because we don’t plan ahead especially well, and there you can get married without a waiting period. I had found the Kingsland Wedding Chapel online, and made an appointment.

Kingsland-Wedding-Chapel

We didn’t bother to dress up for the occasion. In fact, we completely failed to consult each other about wardrobe, and accidentally wore non-matching red shirts. This just helped add to the campiness of the experience. Note the wood panel walls and artificial Ficus trees.

The most memorable part of the chapel (apart from the proselytizing minister) was the massive crack in the front window. I secretly hoped that it wasn’t an omen; although so far, so good!

Wedding-Day-022004

Next, we drove to Savannah, walked around and stayed the night.

Savannah-Honeymoon

Speaking of happy couples…Mark and Karen (Mom) came to visit at the end of January. We had a fine time. They cooed and giggled like high school kids (which they always do:), and we all ate well, drank wine and had a generally great time.

Mark-and-Karen

While they were here we had a spectacular sunset.

Sunset

So, what else has been going on? It’s been cold; too damn cold for Florida! Llami has been inside most of the time, but when she does go out, she snuggles up with Jorgi.

Snuggle-Cats

The Oasis didn’t take the cold very well. Here is a shot showing the decimated banana trees. Fortunately, they didn’t die, and now have fresh leaves emerging.

Garden

The broccoli seemed to love the cold. We have had broccoli greens more than any other veggie from the garden, this season.

Broccoli-Greens

I love how the waxy broccoli leaves repel water.

Broccoli-Closeup

Here is a shot taken today. The broccoli is blooming (much to the delight of the bees), and lettuce, rosemary and carrots are thriving in O2.

Oasis

It has warmed up a bit, and Jorgi is thrilled.

Jorgi

Sometimes I plant things to surprise myself. I can’t recall whether I planted a melon or cucumber here, but I will find out soon enough.

Sprout

The Tatsoi loves the cold as much as the broccoli, and although it is lush and healthy, I haven’t become adept at incorporating it into the menu. Anyone have Tatsoi recipes to share?

Tatsoi

Well, I guess that is enough for now. I promise to come up with something interesting for my next post. Thanks all for reading!