Judy Mitchell, once homeless, now has a place to call home.

It’s not just any home; it’s the place she loves most, in rural Winslow, where the birds sing at her window and she falls asleep to the sounds of frogs and crickets.

“I’m extremely happy with my life,” she said. “I’m at peace and I’m where I want to be.”

But the last year has been anything but idyllic for Mitchell, 63, who is blind.

In February, she had to leave a small house she was renting in Fairfield because it was riddled with black mold and made her sick. Unable to find a suitable apartment, she and her live-in helper, Chris Carrier, 39, who is mentally challenged, moved to Fireside Inn in Waterville.

Their money ran out and mercifully, Mitchell’s friends, Jo-An and Jeff Cuares, owners of P.T. Cab, in Fairfield, took them in even though they already had a full house, according to Mitchell. Mitchell and Carrier stayed three weeks until they finally got an apartment that was lovely, but turned out to be in a bad neighborhood.

A blessing came when one of Mitchell’s former landlords sought her out and asked if she’d like to move into a house in rural Winslow, as his tenant was moving out. Mitchell went from desperate to delighted. She knew the house well, having lived there in the past before a social worker deemed she’d be safer in an apartment because of her blindness.

Mitchell said she is a country girl and so glad to be home.

“I love this place,” she said Monday, sitting in her living room next to a window that overlooks a large lawn and trees. “If you sit outside for 10 minutes, you’ll understand. You don’t hear sirens, you don’t hear people screaming and fighting. You hear birds.”

I met Mitchell and Carrier in February when they were staying at Fireside Inn. It was their last day there and they were frightened and lonely and at a loss for what to do.

The Cuares took them in temporarily and, after a column about their plight appeared in the newspaper, people came forward to help. One woman gave Mitchell a card with five $20 bills in it; another gave $30; and a man from Virginia who reads the newspaper online and grew up in central Maine sent a $25 check.

“There are so many people I need to thank,” Mitchell said, tearfully. “I get emotional, because this is everything to us, this house. There are a lot of people that made this happen — Dennis, who owns the house and fixed it up so we could come here, Jeff and Jo-An, Jo-An’s sister — my best friend, Debbie. And Alden, Sammy and Kevin — they are the people who helped us move all those times.”

She also wanted to thank Keystone Management officials who let her get out of her lease at the apartment in the unsafe neighborhood; Maine State Housing; Fireside Inn, who let them stay at a discounted rate; and her son, Gary, who helped her move even though he is overwhelmed with sickness in his own family.

“There are people in this world that came and restored my feelings about humankind,” Mitchell said. “Jeff and Jo-An took us in for three weeks. They fed us, they took care of us. She put us in cabs and never charged me. And Debbie — she is the most giving person I’ve ever known in my whole life. She gave up her bedroom for me and slept on the couch. If I call and say, ‘I’m out of milk,’ she’ll bring me milk.”

Mitchell could go on about the sadness she has experienced in her life, having been abandoned by her parents at a young age, being diagnosed 20 years ago with uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye that left her blind and destroyed her career as a nurse, suffering the removal of an eye in 1995 and undergoing 16 eye surgeries and two radical mastectomies.

But Mitchell prefers instead to focus on the positives in her life — Carrier, whom she regards as a son, her seeing eye-dog, Bridget, who never leaves her side, and the prospect of having a corneal transplant later in the summer at a Boston hospital, which is a gamble but may help restore some of her sight.

Most of all, she is grateful for all the loving people, some of whom she does not even know, who helped her get to where she is, in a beautiful and peaceful home where her only worry is how to mow a very large, lush, green lawn.

“We had our first barbecue last night out on the deck,” she said, beaming. “It was awesome. We love it. We just love it here.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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