JANET MARTIN SITS at her kitchen table in Skowhegan, worrying and, yes, crying frequently.

She is at a loss what to do since discovering mold in the sewing room of her mobile home several weeks ago, and she has been unable to find anyone to help without her promising to fork over a lot of money, which she doesn’t have.

To make matters worse, the 76-year-old is sick, possibly from the mold.

“I’ve had a lot of headaches and sore throat and at night time, I get stuffed up really bad,” she said. “Sometimes I have trouble swallowing. I get about four hours of sleep.”

Martin lives on Big Bird Street, which is lined on either side with mobile homes. Hers is a tidy lot on which is parked the small white pickup her son gave her with wheel-wells painted pink and the words Fight Against Breast Cancer painted on the tailgate in pink letters.

“I’ve had cancer twice — breast cancer and uterus cancer,” she said. “I have four tumors in my brain, and they have to keep checking those all the time to make sure they’re not growing. I have an MRI about every year.”

In addition, she has had two knee replacements and suffers from high blood pressure, but Martin, who is on a fixed income, is not one to ask for help. She is a quiet, dignified woman who looks like a kindly grandmother, but if you look closely, there is sadness in her deep brown eyes.

She apologizes when the tears come easily as she talks about the mold situation, which to her is very real and serious.

“I’ve done this a lot,” she said of the crying.

As we talked in her impeccably neat kitchen, I had to wonder how someone like Martin falls through the cracks in a society that prides itself on helping people in need — particularly seniors. The more I heard of her story, the more I began to see how a seemingly small problem such as a leaking window can turn into a big one and potentially bankrupt a person.

These are not the golden years Martin had envisioned. A Dover-Foxcroft native, she married young and had two children but life changed drastically when she was 21 and her husband drowned in Brighton Plantation while fishing. She later remarried and lived in Solon, but 11 years ago, after 37 years of marriage, her husband died. She could not afford to keep their home so she moved to Skowhegan and bought the 29-year-old trailer and moved in.

Seven years ago, she had to have the windows replaced because they were in bad shape, so she bought 11 windows from a hardware store and found a contractor through the store who installed them. She paid $3,600 for the windows and labor.

In March, her daughter-in-law was helping her clean some items out of her sewing room, and they discovered large patches of mold on the carpet under the window of the 7-by-11-foot room.

Martin called her homeowners insurance company. A man came and looked at the mold, took pictures and informed her there was nothing the company could do because the mold had not developed recently — it had been developing for a while, she said. He also said the carpet would have to be removed in the sewing room and possibly the floor and insulation as well, but it would have to be done by a licensed person. Other windows in the trailer also are leaking water, she said.

Martin began to explore possible sources of help.

“I was so worried, and finally I decided to call Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and they told me they do things like that, but I’d have to be put on the bottom of the list. I called last week and they had already run out — the grants had run out. Then people just told me different places to call. I think I called 22 different places. A lot of them won’t do anything because I don’t own the land that my trailer is sitting on.”

Martin’s daughter is unable to help as she has a family to support. Her son was laid off and had a knee replacement, so he also can not pitch in, but he went to the hardware store where she purchased the windows to try to find out who installed them, but no one there knew.

Sifting through a stack of note papers on her kitchen table that contain names and phone numbers, Martin said she called a state representative’s office to see if someone could help her, but did not get a call back. Then she called the U.S. Department of Agriculture and left a message, but no one returned her call. She also called the state Department of Public Health.

“They said there’s nothing they could do. I called the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), and they put me in touch with the hospital, but no one called me back from there. I called Angus King’s office and was told to call 211, and I called the Salvation Army — that was in Waterville. They called me back, but I’m not in that area. So they gave me a number to call and it happened to be a minister, and the person who answered the phone said they were all out of money.”

Martin moved stuff out of her sewing room and threw a lot of it away because it was moldy. She now keeps the door to the room closed.

These days, she stays mostly in her bedroom with the door closed, as she is afraid the mold in the trailer will maker her sicker.

“I read a lot and I have a television in there, so it’s OK,” she said.

What will she do if she can not find help? She bites her lip and shakes her head.

“I don’t know. It’s all that’s been on my mind.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: