Just about all that Martha Wright has left of 55 years of living in the home she and her late husband bought for $7,000 back in 1958 is a tiny box.
The outside of the hexagonal box is a throwback to a long-gone time and has the name etched into the faded maroon leather – Friedman’s Jewelers.
Inside are the wedding band and engagement ring that the late Howard Wright scrimped and saved for and presented to his wife so many years after they were married.
“He didn’t have any money for rings when we got married,” Wright said. “We had all we could do to pay every month for our little house.”
The box was found – just about the only thing that was salvageable – in the family home on Flint Street Extension in Rock Hill, which was destroyed by a March 11 electrical fire.
“I got these rings, but I lost everything else,” Wright said. “All we worked so hard for all those years is gone.”
Wright did not have insurance on her home for a simple reason.
“I couldn’t afford it no more,” she said.
Somehow, for years, Wright has lived on $909 a month in Social Security benefits. It was enough to keep the lights on and to buy food.
So when fire destroyed the house and just about everything in it, Wright and her family of three grown children and a granddaughter had to start over.
After the fire, the American Red Cross helped the family, putting them up at a motel for almost a week and giving them vouchers to buy some clothes and food.
The Salvation Army helped. Andy Wright, one of the sons who worked for years as a maintenance man in a school, was able to find a rental home owned by an acquaintance.
“We had to start somewheres,” he said.
The family moved into a house without a single bed, blanket or chair. They were able to transfer their electricity account from the old house, so at least there are lights at the new place.
“We hit rock bottom,” said Janice Wright, a daughter.
Still, a 79-year-old woman and her family slept the first two nights in her rented house heated only by two tiny space heaters.
“We could use some blankets,” Martha Wright said.
Two of the gift cards given by the Red Cross went for a used recliner for Martha Wright to sink her old bones into, and a used refrigerator. Inside that refrigerator Tuesday were a package of fatback, a container of pimento cheese and water. On a donated table sat a single loaf of bread.
Monday night into Tuesday, the temperature dropped into the 30s.
Except for one tiny dog, all the cats and dogs of the home were taken to the animal shelter.
“It’s hard, but the priority couldn’t be those pets even though we loved them,” said Johnny Wright, another son who is a full-time caregiver for his frail and disabled mother. Martha Wright takes seven medications a day for heart problems and other ailments.
Janice Wright works part-time as a custodian at Catawba Baptist Church, which has provided emergency money, clothing and more for the family. Sunday School classes collected donations, church members rallied and brought items from homes and garages. Household goods were brought to the rental home, including four used beds.
There are five in the house. Two people doubled up in a small bed.
The church immediately responded to needs of the family and will continue to work to make sure the family gets taken care of, said the Rev. Ron Richardson, Catawba Baptist’s pastor and the son of former New York Yankees ballplayer Bobby Richardson.
The concern now is trying to catalog needs with donations, he said, so all the people in the house can be comfortable.
On Tuesday, Richardson and another church member came to the Wright’s rental house to drop off more clothes and to check on the family – and to pray.
“In times of need we must help,” Richardson said. “Our concern is also long-term – the house they were in before was paid off. Now they will have higher monthly bills.”
The fire did more than destroy a house. It took away everything this family had and worked so hard for in a life of work. After 55 years of living in her home, paid for by her husband’s working at a fence company and other jobs until he died eight years ago, Martha Wright didn’t have much.
“But what we had was ours,” she said. “Now, we don’t have a thing. We lost our whole life.”
As Rev. Richardson prayed, Martha Wright took off her glasses and cried.
“The day the house burned was my birthday,” Wright said. “I turned 79 years old the day my house burned up.”
Then Martha Wright closed her 79-year-old eyes and wondered how cold it would get at night without heat.