Steve Jackson was sleeping soundly and safely, or so he thought, in September when a loud crash jolted him awake.
“I was sleeping in the living room,’’ he said standing beside his pink clapboard house on South Harrington Road. “As soon as it fell, I ran out here with my flashlight.”
What he saw was a dead water oak that that a storm that pushed over onto the roof of his house. He paid someone to cut the tree off his home, but he couldn’t afford to have it hauled away so it still lies in pieces on the east side of the house a few feet away from where tarps cover a gaping hole before trailing down the side of buckled wall.
The tarps kept the rain out through October, but now the roof is sagging more and, during the recent four days of rain, a lot of water came through.
Disabled and a diabetic, the 65-year-old Jackson said he had no homeowners insurance and doesn’t have the money to pay for repairs.
The house was not in the best of shape before the tree came down. The paint is peeling and the house, likely built during World War II, is showing its age.
“It was built before I was born. I was born in that house,’’ Jackson said. “We had the midnurse (midwife).”
Until a few decades ago, his few neighbors lived along South Harrington, which with parallel North Harrington Road, formed a historic community of African Americans. Before desegregation, African-American children attended one-room South Harrington School a few doors away from Jackson’s house. The house is likely among the three or four oldest remaining in a community that many want to preserve starting with restoring the school.
There were few dwellings in the woods between the two Harrington roads, but most of that land has been sold and cleared and houses have gone up cheek-to-jowl taking up most of the small lots. Many are occupied by retirees who moved south for the weather and younger people who found good jobs in the area.
It is one of those relatively new neighbors, a New Hampshire woman, who is spearheading an effort to raise money to make Jackson’s house sound again. Joanne Gauthier is disabled herself but is putting off treatment until she gets a few things done including remodeling her house up the street from Jackson.
“I walk every single day,’’ she said. “I’d see him. He’d wave at me.”
Indeed, Jackson and some of his friends or cousins are usually out in the yard sitting in the shade in the summer or by a seemingly constant fire in the colder months.
“Right after Thanksgiving, I asked, ‘Steve, what are doing about your roof?’’’ she said.
Jackson acknowledged about all he had done was appeal to relatives who have an interest in the property.
He was one of 13 children, and the six who are living own the house together.
“It’s heirs’ property. I can’t do anything unless all the others agree to it and they can’t do nothing unless I go along with it,’’ he said.
One of those heirs, his older brother Joe Lewis Jackson, also lives in the house part-time.
Gauthier doesn’t rest a lot herself. She has done most of the remodeling work on her house alone and even had to go back and redo some shoddy work by contractors and finish up projects others walked away from. But if they thought they could simply keep her money for work undone, they were wrong. In several cases, Gauthier has gone after them unrelentingly until she got her money back and that’s the same energy she has put into helping Jackson.
Having organized nextdoor.com in her neighborhood, she first wrote about Jackson’s plight on social media and has since appealed to churches and several agencies. Although she relies heavily on social media, she also believes in personal appeals and has made many.
She started a Gofundme page for Jackson that has raised about half of what she calls “a rough estimate.” Roofers have been asked to provide more detailed estimates.
But before tackling the roof, she learned the Jackson brothers had other needs including a couple of beds, a refrigerator and stove. Those needs were all met and someone donated a new gas range, but, she said, “We can’t put it in the kitchen because the floor’s rotted.”
Gauthier admits to rising late and she takes a break in the afternoon, but the rest of time she goes without stopping sometimes on her house and other times, at least recently, working to raise money for Jackson’s roof.
“I’ve spent 70 hours,’’ she said, “responding to emails, making appeals” and prodding Jackson.
She goes to see him about every day to keep him on a task that is new to him. That includes putting out fliers asking for help.
She asked him Monday, “You put out those fliers yet?”
When he answered he had put some out, she said, “Put out some more.”
If Gauthier can get a few more things done, she and Jackson won’t be neighbors much longer. Once the renovations are done, she’s going to move back to New Hampshire to care for her elderly father and mother.
“I was supposed to have moved in April,’’ but the work has taken longer than she expected, she said.
She hopes to get back home to her parents soon, but not before her house is ready to sell and Jackson again can live in all of his.