LEWISTON — Dorothy Bannister knew she was getting a new mobile home to replace the nearly 60-year-old, cramped, dilapidated trailer she had been struggling to live in.
But the 89-year-old wasn't expecting cushy new furniture, too. And shiny new appliances. And cupboards stocked with sage-green dinnerware and drinking glasses to match.
So when Bannister walked into her new home Wednesday morning, it took her a moment.
"Hmm," she said, glancing around the living room at the overstuffed recliner and flat-screen TV, and the friends and friends-of-friends gathered there for the surprise. She broke into a smile.
"Welcome home!" several people shouted.
Bannister's smile got wider and she walked farther into the living room, letting the front door close behind her. "Thank you," she said, and pulled Clayton Roy, the man who spearheaded the project, into a hug.
Bannister first moved to Grove Street 50 years ago with her husband. They were both from Lewiston and wanted to stay in the area. A 6- by 30-foot travel trailer with 6-foot ceilings fit their needs at the time.
"My husband fell in love with it, so we bought it," she said.
Bannister stayed in the home after her husband died 17 years ago. But the trailer her husband had fallen in love with was rapidly falling apart. She tried replacing it at one point, but she said some of the neighbors put up a fuss — they didn't want a trailer there at all — and the city told her zoning rules wouldn't allow her to put in a replacement. So she lived with it.
"There was always something wrong with it," she said. "But when you have to get along with things, you do."
The trailer's ceiling leaked and the floorboards were rotting. Animals and snow came in through a gaping hole in the corner.
A pair of Bannister's friends grew concerned about her situation and asked their son-in-law — Clayton Roy — if he would help patch the hole. He agreed. Then he took a look at the place.
A patch, he realized, wasn't going to fix Bannister's problems.
"People need help, I help them," Roy said.
With assistance from City Councilor Ron Jean and Mark McComas, then-acting director of community development for the city, Roy found the state's Mobile Home Replacement Program. Under the program, Bannister could get a new mobile home.
But once she did, she'd have to fill her new home with her old stuff. And that bothered Roy.
"She had this old TV. It was probably made in the 1960s and (the picture) was green. I said, 'I'm going to get you a new TV.' That's how it started," he said.
Soon Roy, manager of Marden's in Lewiston, had even more help. This time from his employees.
"He's got a very big heart," said Ann Alexander, Roy's assistant manager. "As soon as the employees heard about this, we wanted to chime in. A lot of them have been down and out themselves, so they wanted to help."
About a month ago, Bannister moved in with a niece and her old trailer was demolished. Country Lane Homes moved a new 14- by 47-foot mobile home onto the same spot and Roy and his helpers began decorating and filling the place with donated items.
A new recliner and couch for the living room.
A new kitchen table and appliances.
New bedding, lamps, artwork and knickknacks.
By Wednesday, everything — down to the rosemary-mint liquid soap beside the kitchen sink — was in place. Roy, his employees, Jean and others, waited inside for Bannister.
She arrived shortly after 9 a.m. Within minutes she was touring her new home, marveling at the simple amenities she'd lived so long without.
"My goodness," she said, turning on one of the two lamps in her bedroom. "Lights all over place."
Bannister's new home has 8-foot ceilings, an open-concept kitchen and two bedrooms with two closets each. It also has a small back porch decorated with potted plants that volunteers moved from her old home.
And in the living room, a small, flat-screen TV to replace the 1960s set she had been using.
"Guess what? It's not green when you look at it," Roy said, turning the TV to a vivid morning show. "It's color."
"I guess it is!" Bannister said.
All of Bannister's old furniture is in storage if she wants it. But by mid-morning Wednesday, she wasn't thinking about the past. She was thinking about the future.
"Now there won't be any problems for a long time," she said with a smile.
And Bannister was thinking about the volunteers and donors who made it all possible.
"I'd bless them from the bottom of my heart," she said.