They have no electric. They have no running water. They have no heat. They have none of the many things the rest of us take for grantd.
But they have each other.
While most of us were hoping Santa would bring us some extras like another TV, a drone, or robotic vacuum, one Bladen County family was hoping for one thing – electricity for the shed they call home.
Grace — who preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons — and her family live in a child’s playhouse. About 10 feet by 10 feet, the shed has a small door that one has to stoop low in order to enter. Inside is one queen-size bed – shared by two adult daughters – that takes up the majority of the space. Grace and her husband sleep in a car outside their “home” so that they can listen out for people – neighborhood drug users — they fear are trying to do them harm. They have a broom over the door as a security system.
Sunlight can be seen streaming in through the gaps in the walls, and the 35-degree temperatures invade the home. When it gets too cold, the family retreats to the car to turn on the heater. For light, they have a few battery-operated candles, but have run out of batteries and can’t afford any more. There is nowhere to walk once inside the “home” — falling on the bed is the only option.
Serving as the family’s bathroom, beside the bed, sits a toilet chair. Below the chair is a bedpan, which they carry outside and empty into a septic tank on their small parcel of land.
They eat out of cans because they have no way to heat food. This year, for their special Christmas meal, Grace bought a pound of bacon and took it to the gas station to cook in the microwave and came home to surprise her family. She was quite pleased at being able to provide her family this treat. The totality of their Christmas will consist of a $75 Walmart gift card they received through the Bladen Journal’s Empty Stocking Fund (which sparked this story), but that would be an improvement over last year, when they had nothing.
When Hurricane Matthew came, the family stuffed the cracks of the door and windows with plastic garbage bags, huddled inside the playhouse and rode out the storm.
On Wednesday, outside her home, a late-model white car pulled up.
“This is going to be bad,” Grace said as she watched the two men pull in. They were there to repossess her car — the one she and her husband slept in, the one that was the family’s refuge from the cold, the one she uses to get to her job. When asked where she and her husband slept before they began sleeping in the car, Grace said she slept in the bed and her husband slept on the toilet chair.
They have another vehicle, but cannot drive it because they can’t afford tires for it, and one of them is blown out.
They have been living this way for about 15 months.
Grace never complained and, in fact, showed off how she was making the most of her situation. She showed her “dresser,” which consisted of a couple of boxes stacked on top of each other; her “medicine cabinet,” which was a plastic bag; and her “bathroom cabinet,” which consisted of a bag containing body wash and toothpaste they all shared. She has hung wind chimes on the “porch” and placed rusty yard art in the front to make it home.
Once a month, when they get their disability check, they go to a motel and take showers and enjoy heat. She called it their vacation and knows exactly where the cheapest motels are. When the disability money runs out, they return to their car and “home,” and go back to washing off outside at a spigot behind the playhouse.
“When I get enough money, I want to get an electric meter so I can put a heater in the house,” she said when asked about her goal.
This is her long-term goal — the thought of having a home with heat and running water and electricity so unattainable to her that she’s not even dreaming of it. In her wildest fantasy, she sees herself sleeping in a car while her family sleeps in one bed in a shed with a heater. She doesn’t know when she could get a meter, however, since she owes the power company money she cannot pay.
Grace and the 20-year-old daughter work, the father is on disability, and the teenager recently dropped out of school in order to get a job.
Grace wiped away tears as she told her story and showed off her meager possessions.
“I’m sorry, I’ve cried a lot,” she said, leaving one to wonder whether she meant since she’d been living in the shed, or if her whole life has been as sad as her current surroundings. “Maybe this is all God has for me.”
Though they may qualify for public housing, Grace wants to stay on the land she owns, since it is all she has left of a dear family member.
After telling how she gave her life savings to a family member and then lost her own home to foreclosure when she had only hundreds of dollars left to pay on it, Grace said, “I just couldn’t take it,” to the possibility of moving off her precious land. Her fragile state attested to the truth of what she said.
Grace never asked for anything, and, even when asked what she would like, the quiet woman refrained from seeking charity.
Surely she wants electricity. Surely she wants a bathroom. Surely she wants a home – a real one, on her land. Surely that’s not too much to ask.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.