WEST PARIS — About a mile from Paris Hill, where historic mansions overlook the train of snow-clad peaks spanning the White Mountains and real estate values command some of the best prices in the county, Donald Hodgkin lights up a cigarette in the small prefabricated home he shares with about a dozen people. 

Three-year old Kiera has caught her hair in a remote-control toy and stands hopeful but patient in front of her grandfather. He calls Renee, who leads her blond daughter into the kitchen, where she tenderly delivers the bad news: The hair is wound too tightly around the toy and she has to cut a small piece of her hair away.

Hodgkin chuckles occasionally while discussing the circumstances around which three generations of family have come to occupy the home — along with a tenuous world of eviction notices and half-believed promises. 

Five families were left homeless on Sept. 21 when fire ripped through their two-story farmhouse, a 10-bedroom home on Ellingwood Road, refuge to several generations, including 11 school-age children, an infant, three dogs and a rabbit.

Unable to bear turning away those in need, the Hodgkins allowed others to live with them and the house swelled with occupants over the years. New additions were affixed as families — mostly sons and their children or close friends with families — moved in when their lives took a turn for the worse. 

Just a week before the fire, Hodgkin had taken in a Vermont couple and their baby when they became homeless. The rooms weren’t large, but they afforded some privacy. 

After the fire, most of the family moved into two ramshackle trailers, set up just feet from the remains of the farmhouse.

“It was cramped,” Hodgkin said.

He had hoped to rebuild quickly before winter, his dream resting on the support of donations. Some help came through: A local contractor knocked down the rubble and buried it. Another local business donated a few pallets of lumber. The school donated clothes for the children, and some cash donations were dropped in a new bank account. There were rumors in the community that someone might pour a foundation, or even donate a home. But neither happened.

Unqualified for financing and unable to afford building materials — Donald Hodgkin worked as a contractor before health issues sidelined him, and now he can’t sit still for any length of time without pain spiking through his legs — they settled in the trailers. 

There have been brief breaks from the uncertainty. When a niece vacated a bank-foreclosed home across the street from the trailers, Hodgkin, family friend Melissa Heath and most of the children, who sometimes stay with friends, moved in. 

“It’s fun getting them all ready for school,” Hodgkin said. 

They’ve gotten by on a patchwork of government subsidies and income from sporadic work. For now, it works — but they expect an eviction notice any day. 

“It’s on your mind 24/7,” Hodgkin said. 

The trailers occupied by some of the adults are in bad shape. A blue tarp holds off the elements because the roof leaks. For a few weeks in late November, they went without heat because the boiler stopped working. On the edge of the lot, a donated Porta Potty is periodically picked up by unknown hands and emptied for free. 

The uncertainty comes in layers. The town has passed along a bill for $800 it received from a contractor to come and knock down the farmhouse’s charred walls. 

Town Manager John White said the bill was unexpected, and is reserving action to see whether it will be paid.

Attempts to break the cycle have been short-lived. Hodgkin said some family members lived in an apartment in Norway for about a month, but they have received an eviction notice. One of the children, a student in a local school district, was expelled for petty vandalism.

“I said, ‘You got to think about life,'” Hodgkin said. “He’s just a wild teenager. He’s guaranteed me he’d get a diploma, though.” 

Even the dogs have become more aggressive, growling at visitors. 

Kiera walks over to Hodgkin and he grabs her up into his arms and blows raspberries on her stomach. She giggles, settles onto his lap and begins to scroll through cellphone photos, looking for the rocking horse on springs that was destroyed — like so many other things — in the fire.

“Like I said, it’s day to day,” her grandfather said.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.