What choice did I have? “Go ahead,” I said.

“I’ll have some guys clean it up a little,” she told me.

Had I been paying attention, I would have realized that she giving me the first clue to the adventure ahead for the next month.

When I returned to town on Monday, June 30 th, Rose — a little nervously, I thought — showed me the house. The exterior was painted an odd color but it had “good bones structure,” she told me. Rose’s husband had checked it out and pronounced it solid except “for the obvious problems.”

I thought she meant the exterior color — until I stepped inside and my nostrils were dealt a stinging blow. At the sight of the interior before us, my five-year-old burst into tears.

The walls were cracked and dingy, totally speckled with some sort of substance. The floor was filthy and littered. But the smell… whew!

As we opened windows to let in the summer air, Rose hastily assured me that the only things the house needed was a thorough cleaning, fumigation, paint, plaster, a few new windows, a toilet, and other incidentals. And the house was free, thanks to someone who had once been in my situation.

If we worked hard, the house could be ready in a month, she said. Work had already begun. That Saturday, men from our church had shouldered out urine-soaked mattresses, a refrigerator filled with rotting food, and similar furnishings — enough junk to fill a 16-foot trailer.

Had she mentioned that the house was free?

I caught my breath. Well, free was the right price because I had no money. But where would we get the money to fix up the house? Who would help us? All those concerns turned out to be the least of our problems.

Rats, cockroaches, and their remnants were, however, a major problem. I’ll spare you a graphic description, but the house had been so infested that the walls and ceiling were mostly brown whereas they had once been white. “Residue” was everywhere — in cracks, ceiling tracks, light fixtures, in doorknobs, even under the kitchen cupboard hinges necessitating the fine oak cupboards be burned. However, the rats and roaches turned out to be disguised blessings. Because of their presence, the house was given to me.

We rolled up our sleeves and went to work. Day after day, as the calendar ticked forward, a steady stream of miracles occurred. Solicited by Rose or moved by compassion and love for me, people with various skills showed up and went to work at carpentry, plumbing — whatever was needed. Some cleaned. Others took my children and babysat them. Still others packed up the other house in preparation for our move.

A lot of adjustments to our plans had to be made as work progressed. For example, the crew that came in to clean the kitchen ended up demolishing the walls with sledgehammers and hanging drywall instead. The drywall just happened to be left over from someone else’s remodeling job. It was also the right price — free.

A new toilet showed up just when needed. Beautiful baseboards came from an old house about to be demolished. Someone cleaning his garage found a length of plastic pipe, plumbing fittings, and a new countertop — just the day and at the hour when they were needed.

Inspired by the community spirit, people chipped in together, bought and installed new windows. Several brave souls cleaned the dungeon of a basement, scrapping up and hauling out loads of debris.

Two five-gallon buckets of latex paint appeared — along with the church youth group who primed and painted every room in the house. I realized one-year-old Baby Emily had been watching the painters so much that her idea of fun was to play “painting” with a brush and invisible paint.

In many ways, fixing up the house was like a month-long slumber party — with an audience. The neighborhood watched in amazement as day and night we labored together, working into the wee morning hours, talking, laughing, and eating carry-in pizza. Despite a steady diet of pizza, we all gained muscle and lost weight. I dropped 40 lbs. that month! Because of the formerly wretched state of the house, curiosity brought my new neighbors over to see how the house now looked, get acquainted, and sometimes, lend a hand.