Ninety-two-year-old Catherine Rosendary finally found her place in the sun, when in 1946 she moved from her birthplace in Savannah, Georgia, to the toasty home in Riviera Beach where she still lives.
“I like the weather — that’s the one thing right off the bat,” she says of what drew her to South Florida.
The problem is, Rosendary’s place in the sun is now infested.
Cockroaches sneak into her refrigerator and mice and rats have taken up residence alongside her. And although the house is mostly concrete, termites have eaten through the wooden frame, along with the kitchen and bathroom cabinets that had to be removed for safety reasons.
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Sticky traps designed to catch rats might have helped, she said, except she ended up snagging one frightening intruder she was not expecting.
“I woke up one morning and there was a snake on the thing!” she said.
With no one around to help, Rosendary was left to take the snake outdoors by herself. It still makes her shiver.
“I almost died, and now I think about it all the time,” she said.
All eight of Rosendary’s siblings are deceased, and she has no children of her own, she said. She gives herself two insulin shots a day to control her diabetes.
A florist by trade, Rosendary lost her job when her former employer and closest friend developed cancer and passed away quickly, she said.
Rosendary volunteered at a thrift shop for a while, she said, but while she still can walk and drive a car, she is not as mobile as she used to be.
Her four-year-old rescue dog, Baby Girl, needs shots, Rosendary said. But because of ongoing car problems and the high cost of gas, she said, she simply hasn’t been able to take the dog to the veterinarian.
“When you go without, and just don’t have anything, you don’t have a pity party, you just do the best you can and keep going,” she said. “God will make a way one day.”
While unwelcome critters and missing cabinets are frustrating, Rosendary said, her greatest challenge is dealing with the old plumbing.
“I need the plumber in real bad, real bad,” she said. “The plumbing and water backing up is overflowing the whole house, and the sink is stopping up all the time.”
Rosendary hired an independent adjuster to help file a claim with her insurance company over the damage to her house from flooded pipes, explained Sheila Fagan, a paralegal at the Elder Law Project with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County.
“They had their fee, and then the funds left over to fix the problem were not enough to cover the claim,” Fagan said.
The water leaked behind Rosendary's walls, causing dangerous electrical problems. Her water has been shut off until both can be fixed.
“I just can’t do it no more,” she said, sighing. “I don't know what to do.”
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Rosendary’s monthly Social Security benefit of $1,155 is simply not enough to pay for water, electric, real estate taxes, property insurance and payments on loans she has taken out to pay off other loans. After covering her debts each month, she said, she barely has enough to survive.
“I have $200 to $300 a month to get gas and food,” she said. “My car broke last month, and I was without a vehicle for about three weeks.”
Rosendary said she would love new cabinets, which would allow her to store things instead of leaving everything out on tables. And it would be a blessing to live in a house that is not infested with bugs and vermin, she said. The snakes? She can’t even think about that.
“I believe with her getting the assistance she needs, she’ll be able to age with dignity in her own place,” Fagen said.
Rosendary said she knows her wish list doesn't come cheap. She has trouble even imagining that complete strangers might step up to help her when no one ever has before.
“Some people are just fortunate enough to have more income than others do,” she said, adding that she refuses to spend one minute feeling sorry for herself. “Money is one thing, and being comfortable, but happiness is everything. Money can’t buy that."
Still, she said, she hopes God will lead someone to her who wants to help, because eventually, everyone will die and money will not mean anything.
“You didn’t bring nothing here, and you’re not going to take nothing away,” she said. “You only pass through this world one time, and you just go on and do the best that you can.”
Rosendary wants to stay safely in the home where she has spent most of her life. To do that she will need plumbing repairs amounting to about $5,000 and another $5,000 in repairs to her home's electrical system. Her home will need professional extermination services amounting to about $4,900. Appliances, including a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave oven that would enable her to store and prepare food safely would cost $1,200, and cabinets will cost about $11,000 to replace.
Nominating agency: Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County