Author: Lisa E. Overton
Neighborhood: Spring Valley
Occupation: Writer and full-time mom
I live in a mobile-home park in Spring Valley, so it’s a neighborhood inside a neighborhood. We are bounded by Jamacha Boulevard and the reservoir on the south side and a housing development on the north and east sides. After my house was sold, the divorce settled, and the lawyers paid off, I wanted a place to call my own, and this large, manufactured home fit my reduced budget.
My older sister worried about the stigma: “You’re going to raise your daughters in a trailer park?” At the time, I believed this semi-home-ownership to be a step up from apartment living. We live at the top of the park, on the perimeter road, so I only have neighbors on two sides. The backyard of my little lot nestles against the rocky hillside that extends to a larger wild area populated by pepper trees, native shrubs and grasses, and is home to skunks, possums, rodents, and more. Over the years we’ve been here, I’ve added a small flock of chickens. An enterprising coyote occasionally busts through the fences I’ve built to reinforce his wildlife diet.
On my west side are a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses who are wonderful neighbors: no loud parties, no drunken brawls, no late-night noise, and the cops have never been called. To the east is a sickly, older, widowed woman who lives alone with her surgeries and digestive problems to keep her company. She wears hearing aids and sometimes plays hymns loud enough for the squirrels to notice. Fortunately, I enjoy the music.
When we moved here, we met Faith, who has lived across the road in an old single-wide since the park opened in 1960. From my nomadic point of view, Faith had been there my entire lifetime, while my address list was longer than my credit history. Faith was 86 when we moved here.
We met outside and took an instant liking to each other. She always had a ready smile, and it became our custom to greet each other with a warm hug. She had been widowed from her third husband more than a decade by then. She never bore any children of her own but has a stepdaughter who lives in the backcountry.
During one of our first encounters, Faith proudly showed me the tattoo she had recently acquired. Pulling aside the neckline of her shirt, a small palm oasis was depicted on her chest. She relayed the story of how her nieces from Iowa had come to town and declared that they were all going to get tattooed. I thought of my 20-something niece who is covered with tats, and my brain suddenly realized the flaw in my thinking. “Wait a minute, how old are your nieces?” “65 and 68.” I could just picture the scene: three white-haired old ladies strolling into the tattoo parlor and choosing their artwork.
I love Faith. At 86, she was lively and busy. She played bingo, she went bowling, and she had a small social circle of former coworkers and neighbors with whom she met for meals out on a regular basis. Her memory is much sharper than mine; she remembers my friends’ names and situations even if she’s only met them once.
About two years ago, she started having symptoms of kidney cancer. I’ll spare the gory details, but it took Kaiser months to identify the symptoms as serious enough to warrant further investigation. Now Kaiser, in its wisdom, has sentenced Faith to less than a year to live.
Woven into her recent medical history is the story of Harold. He was a member of her social circle, a recent widower who lived alone in a large home in Lemon Grove. A former engineer, he was meticulous in his mannerisms and lifestyle. They began seeing each other and soon enough became intimate. By this time Faith was 91 or so, and Harold was in his early eighties, so we called Faith the neighborhood cougar, much to her delight.
After a whirlwind courtship, during which time Faith was rarely seen here in the park, she decided to move in with Harold. After all, he had a large empty home with a big bed, and Faith only had a twin bed in her mobile home. Over the course of a few weeks, with her stepdaughter’s help, she emptied out her trailer and took up residence with “The Man Who Stole Faith from Us,” as we came to call him.
Many of her possessions and some of her furniture have been assimilated in to my home, so I see Faith everywhere. As a bullfight aficionado, she instilled a love for the sport in my 12-year-old daughter; now there are toreador posters and other memorabilia around the house. Faith sold her home to a single young man, another Jehovah’s Witness, and at times I can see through his window that he is entertaining a gathering of young men, all staring intently at a widescreen. That seems to be as wild as it gets.
I visited Faith and learned that she fell and bruised her tailbone. She was unhappy living at Harold’s. Here in the park, Faith used to sit on her front porch and chat with the people who walked by. A great many residents here walk their dogs, and this perimeter road is also used by fitness-minded inhabitants. Faith knew everyone’s name — even the kids on skateboards and the little ones from the child factory at the end of our road.
But Harold lived at the end of a cul-de-sac; he didn’t even have a front porch. It was lonely there, and Harold was set in his ways. He didn’t cook meals at home and had a schedule of restaurants where he took advantage of senior specials. He was a tightwad, and even though he was sleeping with Faith, he was demanding that she pay rent. Which she was happy to do, but he also asked for half the price of the food, which she disagreed with. She reasoned that since he ate more than she did, why not each pay for their own?
When she couldn’t go out because of her injured tailbone, Harold would go to the casino without her and remain there for 12 hours at a stretch, leaving Faith home alone in a house with no food. One day I was out front, and I saw Faith driving past. I hollered out, and she came in for a visit. She was crying. I hugged her and gave her some tea and learned the story that Harold was mistreating her verbally and neglecting her, all the while becoming more demanding in bed.
She had just come from a doctor’s appointment. Harold had failed to accompany her. The doctor advised her to move out and gave her a list of resources for the elderly. I invited her to remain in my home as long as she wished. After a few days, her stepdaughter came and they moved Faith out of Harold’s. They said he asked why she wanted to leave.
Faith spent some months at her stepdaughter’s, but her health has deteriorated to where she requires more care. She found a lovely assisted-living home near Sycuan. I visit with her weekly. I am honored to be her friend. I asked her if I could write her obituary, and she obliged with a brief biography. To the question, “What advice do you have for younger people?” she responded, “Save your money, and never give up your house for a man.”