Home repairs put mother, daughter on financial brink

Stephen Igo • Dec 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM

APPALACHIA -- Elderly mother and daughter, Bernice and Gilda, have lived together for decades in their tidy home in Appalachia.

But even a neat as a pin house that is itself pushing eight decades in existence is prone to the ravages of time. When infrastructural sorts of things begin to fail in an aging house, they can begin to fail in a cascade of catastrophes.

"We're broke," said 85-year-old Bernice. "We've had a mess."

That was largely due to broken waterlines under the house that left Bernice and her 67-year-old daughter dealing without water service for well over a month -- including all of November -- a problem revealed only when the pair received a $700 water bill from the town.

A few days before this interview, the lines had just been repaired, finally, so at least they had running water restored.

Bernice and Gilda were still keeping their fingers crossed on that one, an understandable skepticism after more than a month without water. Now, if only they had hot water, things would be even more tolerable.

Yes, the hot water tank, as if taking a cue from the water pipes, gave out. Bernice and Gilda heat water in pans on the stove in order to wash standing up at the kitchen sink.

The ladies have no money for a water heater because fixing the pipes, after a month of scrounging and using every available financial resource they could manage, which isn't much, is a financially burdensome undertaking even in the best of circumstances.

Bernice and Gilda also wondered, since they had a shower installed about five years ago, why it leaked so badly onto their bathroom floor. Turns out, in an amazing feat of incredulous handyman incompetence, it was installed upside down.

But at least Bernice and Gilda were no longer mystified why soaps and shampoos couldn't be placed in those handy little alcoves molded into the unit for just that purpose, seeing how those items are more likely to remain in place in upside right shower stalls as opposed to the inexplicable reverse.

To top it all off, as if the upside down shower finally convinced the water pipes and the water heater to join it in a truly devious home repairs conspiracy, all the baseboard heaters have also surrendered to time. There is no other built-in heating source.

When it rains it pours, the saying goes, but in the case of Bernice and Gilda, it's Noah's Flood.

Bernice and Gilda have sealed themselves into the back part of their home with an assortment of electric space heaters, an 'it'll do for now' solution that, while cozy, also borders on the desperate.

"We don't even have money for Christmas," Bernice said. "We have never been in a shape like now. It's awful being like this. I don't know what or how we're going to get by and get a handle with all we've had to try to handle. It's been just much too much all at once."

Both ladies suffer from diabetes. Bernice is a cancer survivor. Gilda broke a leg over two years ago "and it's got a rod in it and nuts and bolts and I don't know what all, and they tell me I need a replacement for that, too," she sighed. Plus, as a result of getting bitten by a dog, she's been getting rabies shots.

Not that Gilda hasn't been there and done that before, too, much to her dismay.

"I got bit by a dog when I was growing up and I had to get rabies shots in my (abdomen), was how they did that back then," she said. "Now here I am 67 years old and having to do it all over again. Can you just imagine?"

A caretaker/aide with Mountain Empire Older Citizens, Inc. is about all the company Bernice and Gilda receive any more -- a shame, because a more welcoming and delightful pair is difficult to imagine -- and it's clear the threesome are in high regard of one another.

The aide helps all she possibly can, including assisting with the kitchen sink bathing, but major league home repairs are understandably far beyond both the scope and abilities of an in-home aide for the elderly.

"They've really had it rough," she said of her not-merely-clients she fusses over like a mother hen, but friends. "They really, really have. I wish I had the money. If I did, I'd have everything done that needs done to this house, just for them. But, I don't."

"We would appreciate all the help we could get," said Bernice. "You hate to need it let alone have to ask. But, we've never been in a shape like this. Ever. We need a hot water heater. Bad. But it seems like you can't hardly get any help any more, like folks used to."

Even the Times-News Rescue Fund has its limits, particularly when it comes to needs as costly as home repairs. What the Rescue Fund strives to do every year, with a $60,000 annual fund raising goal, is help those in need in our area to have at least a little more to eat during Christmas.

All donations will be listed in the newspaper, although donors may choose to remain anonymous. Many who have donated to the Rescue Fund through the years have done so in memory of a loved one.

Tax deductible donations can be made to the Times-News Rescue Fund, 701 Lynn Garden Dr., Kingsport, TN 37660.

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