A new home for the new year
by The Press and Standard | January 11, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: January 9, 2019 at 10:27 am
Willa Mae Holmes was all smiles Sunday as she welcomed friends to her new home.
Her little Durham Street house culminated over a year of searching in a story of friendship and love.
Holmes, 79, came to Walterboro to stay with her son during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The next day, she got a call that nearly stopped her heart. “At 3:30 that Monday, the deputy called me and said, ‘Are you Willa Mae Holmes? We’re down here trying to (put) out your trailer. Your trailer’s on fire.’”
She ran in the house, grabbed her jacket and headed for her Jacksonboro home. “When I left I said, ‘Lord, please don’t let me get sick when I see,’” she said. She didn’t, but the mobile home wasn’t salvageable. The flames and smoke from an electrical fire had destroyed her former home.
So she moved back in with her son Kirrie.
But her circle of friends weren’t about to let Willa Mae be homeless. Maryann and Carlton Burtt, for whom Holmes has worked for since 1991, began searching for a new house. Her former employers, the late Cam and Wyndall Henderson, always insisted she have insurance on her home, which provided funds to look for a new house.
“Mr. Henderson always said you pay your insurance, Willa Mae. And every three months, he’d take out money for my social security. He was sure everything would be going right. Just before he died, he told his daughter, ‘Jess, what about Willa Mae?’ And Jess said, ‘Daddy, I’ll always take care of Willa Mae.’ On his sick bed, he was concerned about me. He was more like a father,” she said. (Holmes raised the Hendersons’ three children — Jess, Leigh and Cam — and then took care of both the adults when they were sick. She also took care of Maryann Burtt’s elderly mother, then stayed on to help the Burtts.)
The search for a new home kept them busy until this fall. After a number of possibilities fell through, they finally discovered the little house on Durham Street, sitting empty, waiting to be demolished. And then the fun began.
Turns out, all the tiny house needed was cleaning up, new porches, a fresh coat of paint and new carpets. Friends helped with the mountains of paperwork to finalize the sale, then Willa Mae and Jess Henderson Charters set to work.
Jess organized getting all the work done, with help from husband Andrew. That completed, she and Willa Mae started to decorate. “She was a little angel. She was a little daughter for me. I take care of her, now she take care of me. Jess and I went around and looked at things. And a lot of people just donated things they think I’d need and I’d just go and pick it out. Mr. Steadman had us up in his attic picking out things,” Willa Mae said. (Her son, Kirrie, has worked for Bud and Nan Steadman of Walterboro for many years.)
On Sunday afternoon, Bud looked at his wife Nan and said, “Do you recognize that table? And those chairs?” pointing at an antique dining room table in Holmes’ house. The set was the first table the Steadmans used when they got married.
Meanwhile, Jess was pointing out items she and Willa Mae found in various locations: a gleaming black gas stove, a white refrigerator, new couches, a set of shelves.
“Willa Mae has a huge circle of people who love her so much and appreciate so much what she’s done for them. It’s amazing,” said Maryann Burtt. “A whole group of people have tried over the last few weeks to get the house repaired, either by sweat labor or getting contractors to do it, contributing furnishings and so forth.” The best part of the story for her, Burtt said, is that the home “is a prime example of a small house that with work and love and care has been brought back to be a place to live,” especially important in the historic Lemacks Street neighborhood she has worked to save for a number of years.
All of the friends gathered Sunday to admire the new house and Willa Mae’s joy in having a place of her own. “I’ve been without a home for a year and three months. I love my children, but I’d really rather have a place of my own. I can do as I want to in my place. It’s not a big house. It’s kinda small. But I love it.”