Linda works two jobs and raised two kids, Rusty and Leah with her husband Bob who worked at the lumber mill in Bonner for 23 years. they met 18 years ago. Rusty just finished basic training at Camp Pendleton and will leave for Afghanistan in two weeks. Leah is in her first year of college at the university of Montana. Bob is in retraining to get his CDL and start a new career as an over the road truck driver. The house is a simple bungalow with a well worn and lived in look. the backyard has three trees that Bob bought as seedlings at Caras Nursery fifteen years ago and planted himself. One pear, a chinese plum, and a mcintosh apple tree. all three trees provide lots of shade in the summer and the lawn was well cared for. the fruit just lies on the ground now since the bank took it over a month ago and the lawn is a bit overgrown but it still looks nice. yellow jackets swarm the rotted fruit and fly drunkedly about as we walk through in the warm sun of a perfect late september afternoon.
Linda’s hummingbird feeder is empty but the late afternoon sun shines through it and it casts a rosy hue upon the front porch steps as we enter the home. In the empty living room, a worn wood floor with a fresh coat of urethane greets us. it shows the marks of a growing family living two decades of their lives. their old dog Barney died last year and small nail scratches still show where he scratched near the door to be let out. A very old but still serviceable wood stove rests in the corner to the left of the big picture window in front. a brick hearth built by Bob looks inviting for cold snowy wet boots on wintry days.
the kitchen has older appliances – all white. Sears Kenmore stove and fridge. both still work well. small shapes of brand new appearing paint are visible in the finish of the fridge where magnets bearing cartoons, children’s art and work schedules have been removed. An older washer and dryer still serviceable in the mudroom-laundry in the back near the bathroom complete with small shower and a clawfoot tub, an old eljer toilet which appears to work and a salmon pink hand wash sink with a beveled mirror above it also bearing the ghosts of old photos and small pieces of scotch tape where something once hung on the wall.
upstairs three bedrooms are simply arrayed around a small staircase leading to a hall and a brand new bathroom complete with jacuzzi and new ceramic tile. the master bath also is very well remodeled and features two sinks and a steam shower. Bob and Linda always wanted to remodel and when home prices escalated in the late nineties they took out a home equity loan with the bank at a great locked in interest rate of 7.5 percent. their payments on the house after the remodel went up to 885.76 but with 15 years to pay it looked very doable.
Bob’s take home pay from the mill was 1187.00 every two weeks and Linda’s part-time job as lunch room aide at the local grade school combined with her part-time evening shift at a local supermarket brought in an additional 504.00 every two weeks. one of Bob’s checks paid the mortgage and vehicle payments while the other check paid the utilities, insurance and groceries. even raising two kids, Linda and Bob were able to add to their savings account every month 50 to 100 dollars. the house originally purchased for 88,500.00 in 1993 was appraised by the bank at over 174,000.00 when they approved the second home improvement loan in 2003 for 32,700.00. The added bathroom upstairs and the enlarged garage with heated work room for Linda’s pottery really gave them extra space to enjoy their hobbies and to make room for growing teenagers. the second mortgage increased the house payment to 1109.00 per month but Bob’s truck was paid off and one of his bi monthly checks easily covered it. plus, Linda was promoted in 2003 to head checker at the supermarket which raised her take home pay to over 700 every two weeks. things looked rosy for a few years until temporary layoffs began to occur out at the mill when the canadian wood imports began to hurt business. In 2005, Bob lost six months of paychecks from two layoffs and had to take out another home equity loan to make the original mortgage payments. this second mortgage had a balloon payment due in 2007 of 15,000 which they failed to pay and when the default notices began to show up, they went to their original bank to roll the entire mortgage into one. their original mortgage lender denied them so they looked online and found a national mortgage company that advertised up to 125% financing of any home.
the loan with adjustable rates was approved initially for 7% and the payments of 1345.00 were still affordable with Bob’s checks at the mill but the value of the mortgage with additional fees had now ballooned to a payoff amount of 152,800.00 and in december of 2007 they received a notice in the mail which increased the interest from 7% to 11.89%. this increased the mortgage payment including property taxes to over 1800.00 per month. now Linda and Bob began to realize that they might be in trouble but they were still quite young and willing to work hard to get out. they scrimped on extras and never went out to eat. the kids got part-time jobs to pay for their own cars and clothes. they managed to make all their loan payments right up until Bob was permanently laid off in May 2008. he received a paltry 7 weeks of severence pay and that is when the sad realization began to sink in that their once rock solid dream of home ownership was beginning to slip out from under them. like worker ants who stumble upon the edge of an antlion’s funnel shaped pit, they began falling and with each struggling step they slipped further toward the jaws of death.
Linda and Bob received the warnings about foreclosure after missing 4 months of mortgage payments. they never hired a lawyer to fight it. they did briefly list the house for sale but by then home values had fallen and not being near the university there was little market for their home in a shrinking pool of qualified home buyers. when the eviction notice came from a sheriff’s deputy in august they were ready. they simply moved everything in one weekend into a two bedroom apartment they could afford.
Linda feels slightly bitter about the last mortgage lender but neither of them blames anyone except themselves for the loss of their home. they made decisions to borrow money and they accept the consequences. Both are 44 years old and they look forward to starting over. When Bob gets on his feet with trucking, Linda hopes to get her CDL also and become another of the growing ranks of husband/wife team drivers. they look forward to seeing america and their kids are both doing well. they would not call themselves heroes but their stoic resignation is bravely and quietly demonstrated every day accross america- 3.3 million foreclosures in US currently; 2898 in Montana; 210 in Missoula and like Bob and Linda not one of those americans losing their homes has George Bush petitioning congress to bail them out.