The Wind Chill Is 46 Below and Our Roof Is Full of Holes

We need a new roof but we need a new car more.

We live in a cabin in Trescott, Maine. Our nearest neighbors are a half-mile down the road in one direction and about two miles in the other, with woods surrounding us. There are two variety stores about 6 miles from us in either direction, and a larger store is 11 miles away.

Our roof has been leaking for a few years. My husband patches whenever we are able to buy a bundle of shingles and tar, and covers the undone sections with plastic tarps. He has pretty bad arthritis but we can’t afford to hire anyone to help. If we did hire someone, it would use whatever savings we’re trying to scrape together for that elusive new, used vehicle. Meanwhile, we put repairs to our current car on a must-do list since it’s two-and-a-half months past inspection and we know it won’t pass. For example, we had a rusty gas filler pipe, so gas would puddle on the ground. To alleviate that we only put in $5 at a time — smaller puddle. You wouldn’t think that would be a $300 job, but when you add up the estimate for what else needed replacing it was closer to $400.

Both of us are collecting Social Security — I have additional income through part-time work with the Senior Community Service Employment Program. We qualify for food stamps, but an experience 35 years ago has made it a choice of last resort. It was our son’s eighth birthday. We splurged on strawberries and cream for a strawberry shortcake, and on steaks, for his birthday dinner. We may have had to scrimp the rest of the month but at least we would celebrate his birthday. The looks. The cashier and the woman behind me in line watched me handing over the food stamps, and then their eyes went to the steaks and strawberries, and then back to me with an expression I could only describe as scorn.

We built our cabin in 1980-81, and except for five years in Orono while my husband went back to school, we’ve lived there ever since. Yet the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) wants more proof that we live there before we can complete an application for heating assistance. We don’t have electricity — we heat with our wood stove — but we’ve had propane delivered here all this time, and bank statements mailed to this address. None of that counts to MSHA, so we don’t apply for heating assistance.

We live in a state of constant anxiety, making a good night’s sleep tough to come by.

Recently, things became harder for us when we discovered our cell phone account was closed. SafeLink had provided us with a phone that would work in our area. Then, for reasons unexplained, they terminated our service without notice. (Services that help low-income seniors seem to be getting cut, or made more difficult, quite a bit these days.) It’s mean to cut a service that in rural areas can be lifesaving. Our solution was to purchase a simple Tracfone and a card with minutes. The new phone doesn’t keep a charge longer than 2 days and sometimes doesn’t ring when calls come in.

We live in a state of constant anxiety, making a good night’s sleep tough to come by. It’s well-established that prevention is cheaper than crisis care. But if your state refuses to adopt Medicaid expansion — even after the people vote for it — a lot of people are S.O.L. That’s the boat we were in, and the boat some of our friends are still in. We have Medicare but it doesn’t cover hearing, eye care, and oral care. All luxuries. My husband went without glasses for three years after the ones he’d patched with duct tape had a lens fall out and shatter. We found you could get prescription glasses online fairly cheap, but first you had to have a prescription. As far as I know hearing aids aren’t available online cheaper. Luckily, that’s not an issue for us.

So, we make do. We feel grateful for fairly good health (‘cept for the arthritis). We try to save more — although it’s the time of year when a cord of wood at $260 is my two-week paycheck, nearly. We’ve hit a cold spell — forty-six below with the wind chill. The trip to the outhouse becomes less pleasant each morning it goes below zero. And I hope it doesn’t snow too soon, because I haven’t found a pair of winter boots in a thrift store that fits.

And we have to save for that car.