Ask her about the house, and Frances Vidrine will say her memories will always be tied to her ex-husband – and not in a good way.
“My husband moved me in back in 1970,” she said, “and didn’t move me out when he went to Fort Ord, Calif., to live with another woman.”
Vidrine and her son and daughter survived that decades ago. They’ve survived most everything life has thrown their way. And today they own that house on Orchard Street North in Tacoma.
A few months ago, it was about all they had. And, like the family it held, the house had seen better days.
The roof leaked for years. Ceilings drooped, walls peeled. There was no running water in the kitchen. The one bathroom didn’t have a usable tub or shower.
The Vidrine family did their dishes – and gave themselves sponge baths – in the laundry tub near the washing machine. They stayed clean, but cleanliness was the least of their challenges.
Frances is 74 and diabetic. Son Hamilton, a 52-year-old Army veteran, had a pair of strokes last year. Daughter Letitia, 51, suffered from encephalitis as a 2-year-old and has speech and motor-skills problems.
Last year, Frances went to the City of Tacoma to see about low-income housing loans. The city put her in touch with Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit best known for building new homes from the ground up. Habitat also has a program aimed at helping military veterans with home repairs.
Mike Taggart, a construction manager with the program, was among the first to see the Vidrine house.
“It had mold issues in the entry and bathroom,” Taggart said. “The bathroom was unusable, the kitchen almost 100 years old, and it all needed a new roof.”
Work began in early December, with volunteer crews working two days a week. Today, the roof is new and everything else is in one degree of renewal or another.
“It does seem a lot warmer without cold water dripping from the ceiling,” Frances said.
The kitchen and bathroom are torn up, all but off limits. Taggart expects the project to be completed by late February. By late next week, he said, the family should have a shower – one that’s wheelchair accessible for Hamilton.
“We haven’t had a bath or shower here in three years,” Frances said.
As with most Habitat projects, the Vidrine home remodel was made possible through a zero-interest loan. The cost of the work will be about $25,000, and the loan will be repaid on a schedule put together with the family.
There’s also a “sweat equity” requirement. The family can meet it cleaning up after the work crews leave, baking goodies for the volunteers, working in the Habitat store in Tacoma or helping with on-site work.
“Hamilton has helped with a couple of walls and Frances has done some cleanup work and some baking for the crews,” said Amanda Trothier, an Americorps volunteer assigned to Habitat.
Frances, who spent more than 30 years working for one Tacoma car dealership or another, retired in 2006. She became her son’s caregiver after his strokes.
It is hard, she admitted, not to become frustrated by the time the home repair is taking, with only two days of work accomplished in any given week.
“I didn’t know how long it would take, and right now we don’t have any cupboards in the kitchen,” she said. “We’ve had as many as six people working here at once, though — a Gig Harbor church crew, plumbers, electricians, roofers.”
One day a week, Taggart said, he’ll send a subcontractor to the house, but that’s not how most of the labor is done.
“Ninety percent of the work is by volunteers,” Taggart said. “I meet with them, teach them what they need to know. Some of them are retired, others just trying to help.”
As for the house, it is owned by Vidrine and her family, who kept up payments long after the man who moved them in moved himself out.
“Never heard from him again,” Frances said. “Never wanted to.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
To learn more
For more information about the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate or its veterans home repair program, call Elliot Stockstad at 253-627-5626, ext. 114, or go to tpc-habitat.org