Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful for a roof over her head

11/25/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Today’s story is a breath of fresh air after a year of bad news from the financial sector, the jobs and housing markets and multiple personal tragedies. It is a tale of Thanks-giving and it began with a phone call.

“Betty,” a woman’s voice said, “Are you still writing your column? Because if you are, I’ve got a story for you.” She was so excited that her words tumbled over each other like rocks in a creek on a rainy day. Quickly she unfolded the story of how she had been the recipient of an unexpected gift of neighborhood kindness and generosity. She had a problem beyond her ability to solve and miraculously, her neighbors came to her rescue.

My caller stressed that the selfless volunteers in this story (including herself) wished to remain anonymous. She, however, wanted to share her joy and express her appreciation. I agreed to help.

‘Sally,’ a single woman with health and financial issues is known for helping others. She struggles to keep food on the table, care for her animals and literally keep a dry roof over all of their heads. She keeps up her place as best as she can but money is in short supply and she is currently out of work.

One day in Sept. Sally was up on her rooftop when ‘Jeb,’ one of her neighbors, stopped by. Shortly before his arrival she had stepped through her rotten rooftop while trying to repair some leaks. As she climbed down from her fragile perch he asked if she was cleaning out her gutters. In frustration, she told him that the roof was 20 years old and had been leaking for five years. She was trying to get the multiplying leaks sealed before the winter rains set in.

They exchanged a few casual remarks and Jeb went on his way. It was a short conversation. But he went home and considered his neighbor’s predicament. Eventually, he called a couple of times to ask her if she was open to getting some help with her roofing needs.

Sally was completely taken off guard by the offer and her response was dollars and cents practical. The answer was ‘No.’ “Do you realize,” she said, “that there is no foreseeable way to pay you back unless I get a really good job or win the lottery?”

Jeb’s response was deeply insightful. He turned her statement around and said, “What you are saying is that there is no way in the foreseeable future that you will be able to replace this roof.”

She described what happened next as something akin to an old-fashioned Barn Raising. Jeb checked into roofing costs, made a few phone calls and gathered together a group of willing neighbors from the area to remove and replace the leaking roof. Almost everyone he called said yes. Some, who could not help with the labor, contributed financially.

Sally’s house had been built in the 1950s and she knew that there was structural damage that needed to be fixed. One of the neighbor volunteers said “I thought that maybe we’d whip it out in 2 or 3 days but it took a full week. We started out by tearing off the side that looked the worst. The insulation was completely soggy. We worked steadily tearing the old shingles off.”

One volunteer took the project lead and others worked as they were able — a day here, two days there, whatever time they had available. Inch by inch, the structural damage was repaired; flashing and vents installed; and areas shored up with sheeting where previously there had been none.

Jeb said that the beautiful thing to him was that rain was predicted during the project’s time frame but it held off. It rained the day before the project began but not during the construction. The day after the roof was finished, the rain began again. Sally says that the roof hasn’t leaked since. Her days of lining the house with five-gallon buckets are over.

“This is overly humbling,” she says of the experience. “I can never pay (the volunteers) back. I’m just thankful that there are still Good Samaritans out there in the world and that I was on the receiving end of their help. I’ve been on the giving end but never on such a grand scale as this.”

Helpful neighbors are a blessing. Twice, while my husband was recuperating from back surgery, we had tree problems. One came down across our driveway during an ice storm; another came down on the side of the house. Both times we had neighbors up the hill drive by, see the damage, and come to our rescue with chain saws.
We treasure those neighbors.

There are many ways to be a good neighbor whether in your immediate surroundings or the greater community. Some folks look after elderly neighbors by raking their leaves and bringing in their trashcans. And while most of us won’t be taking on a roofing project, we can help pay a struggling family’s electric or gas bill. Last year EPUD Helping Hands program helped 125 needy families to the tune of $30,300. All we customers had to do was simply round up our payment to the nearest dollar. Easy for us. Priceless for them.

In many ways 2009 was a lousy year. But if we look around, there’s always something to be thankful for. The saga of Sally’s new roof — — constructed and paid for by neighborhood volunteers — should kick-start our attitude of gratitude. Her story is proof that even a rotten roof (or year) has a silver lining.

Happy Thanks-giving to one and all!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel newspaper.

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