I pulled into Elroy Gregory's dooryard next to where he sat in his pickup truck. Rolling down my window I asked "Coming or going?"
"Just going through some mail here in the truck," he replied. "Why don't you come in and see what the place looks like, if you've got the time?"
Gregory took me into his new house and showed me around. It had been more than a month since I'd last been there, and commented on the progress he'd made. "Are you all moved in now?" I asked.
"Pretty much so," he said. "The water and gas are all hooked up, and the plumbing works." He proudly turned on the gas burners at the kitchen stove and the water faucets at the sink to demonstrate. There was a couch and comfortable chairs in the living room and Gregory's bedroom had a dresser, bed and cabinets. Upstairs the loft had been finished off and there were some chairs next to the window. In the corner of the kitchen was a table piled with stacks of receipts and paperwork. "I'm getting a start on my income taxes," Gregory said with a grin.
"Look at this picture," he said. "This is an old picture that I had in the farmhouse before it burned. I had gathered up a bunch of them to share with relatives just before the fire, and they were in a box in my truck and didn't get damaged."
He then took me on a tour down into the cellar and showed me his woodstove there. "I'm heating the house with this stove now, but the propane furnace is just about ready to be hooked up. I'm just waiting on the guy to do it." Next to the woodstove putting out a cheery heat was a brand new furnace, all wired and plumbed, but with the cover off and connections waiting to be completed.
"It looks like you've come right along," I said. "I just wanted to let you know that I can't be to your open house on February 26. I'm off to my grandson's graduation from college in Florida, and will miss it."
"I've been talking with Diana Allen and she says there should be a good crowd here, including a lot of the folks that have come over to work on the place at the house raising last May, and since then on this and that," I continued.
My wife Penny attended in my absence and brought a house-warming gift of a large picture to decorate Gregory's walls. She said that it was like a Sebago family gathering, with all the familiar faces of folks around town. Diana Allen estimated that 50 or 60 people attended the open house, and Kathy Douglass kept a guest book for everyone to sign in. The crowd included friends and neighbors, as well as people who had donated their time or supplies to the community effort to raise a roof over Gregory's head after the disastrous March 22, 2004 fire destroyed his 100+ year-old family farmhouse.
Gregory (76) was not insured and lost nearly everything in the fire. His prospects were bleak indeed. Before the ashes had cooled the entire community pitched in with an outpouring of support and donations to build him a new house where the old one stood. In May, less than two months after the fire, they gathered for an old-fashioned house raising and built him a new 32' x 24' home. The house is now finished and furnished.
Allen sent me pictures and a report of the open house. There was a table full of good things to eat, and the house looked at its best for the event. Gregory had decorated the house with a big banner that said "Thank you so much!" which hung prominently from the main beam in the living room. The beam had been salvaged from the old house and contractor Kurt Christensen installed it during the house raising in May 2004.
A good number of the attendees were family, some from the Bailey Island/Cundy's Harbor area. Allen said that one them had fixed shrimp sandwiches for the event with shrimp that one of her sons had caught the previous day!
As my Sebago neighbor Robert Greene related to me, once of the highlights of the open house was the presentation by Ann Burns, President of the Sebago Historical Society, with a commerative plate and copies of "The Wreath", the yearbooks from each of the four years that Gregory attended Potter Academy, Sebago's High School. Gregory graduated from Potter in 1947, and had lost the yearbooks in the fire. Greene said "Ann presented them to Elroy as a 'housewarming' gift. Many other volunteers, friends, relatives and neighbors brought gifts - it looked a little like Christmas around his chair."
I wish that some of Gregory's Potter Academy classmates who voted the "most bashful boy" in 1945 could see him now, joking with guests and being a congenial host at his open house. I expect that they would quickly change their minds.
The open house symbolized the culmination of eleven months of hard work by many hands that brought a member of our community from disaster to achievement, from Gregory's old home to his new one. It is a testament to the wonderful things a community can do when they put their mind to it and work together. The entire community has every reason to be proud of what they have done, and Gregory gives his heartfelt thanks to his friends and neighbors for everything.
Last updated May 16, 2005
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on March 24, 2005 under the title "Fire victim in house built with friendship".