Dorothy Grewe looks back on 2005 as a year of life-altering changes, and in the telling of her story, she finds herself wondering how she got through it.
"In one year, I lost my husband, sold our house, moved back to [Baltimore], bought a house and watched it burn," she said calmly as she poured a glass of ice tea.
A little over two years ago, Grewe lived with her husband on a 9-acre farm on Brooms Island in Calvert County. After his death, she found that the property needed more upkeep and attention than she was able to provide.
"I knew I had to be wise with my money," she said. "I moved in with my daughter for awhile."
In July 2005, she found a house that "called out" to her in the Morrell Park section of Southwest Baltimore. Built in 1920, the large two-story Colonial was separated into a duplex in 1936. Grewe purchased the larger half for $83,000.
"After I bought it, I sat down and cried," she remembered. "I said to myself, 'What did I do?' "
The house, she acknowledged, was in terrible shape. Shutters were hanging off their hinges, slate shingles were falling off the roof and her sloped front yard was a mass of mud.
"But it was someone's dream in 1920, and I knew I could put the 'authentic' back into it," Grewe continued, adding that the work would "keep my mind off things."
Her first major monetary output was the new slate roof -- a $15,000 investment.
While the roof was being repaired, it caught fire.
To this day, Dorothy Grewe is not exactly sure how it happened, but she remembers watching the attic and second floor burn and witnessing, to her horror, the extensive water damage to the first floor. The adjoining duplex also suffered roofing damage.
She is grateful that the roofing company was well insured, enabling contractors to rehabilitate every room, save for her undamaged rear kitchen.
"I could have taken the [roofing] company," she said about the fire damage, "but all I wanted was my life back."
She had that opportunity when the head contractor for the company hired by the insurance agents for the roofing company told her she should participate in the rehabilitation of the home.
Her touches are in small places, such as the shape of archways -- angled instead of rounded.
Grewe's living and dining rooms are furnished with comfortable and homey maple pieces from her Calvert County home. A wall shelf, fashioned from a wooden ironing board found in the attic, holds knickknacks.
She also spent $20,000 on a new first-floor bathroom. The master bedroom is on the first level; two second-floor bedrooms are undergoing renovation.
She is most at home in her kitchen. It has oak veneer cabinets, subway wall tiles and a maple table covered with a gingham cloth. Here she stockpiles freshly picked cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes from her garden.
The backyard garden and pool were labors of love. But, she recalls with a laugh, "When I bought the house, the [brush] was so high in the backyard, I didn't even notice the pool."
Today, her fenced backyard -- almost three-quarters of an acre -- contains not only her 25-foot-by-15-foot garden, but also the revitalized pool, now surrounded by a wooden deck.
She and her fiance relax by the pool before gardening or engaging in their favorite hobby -- crabbing in the Patapsco River.
She is proud of her house, with its new vinyl siding, black shutters and lush lawn rolling down to street level. She tells of the neighbors who pass by, complimenting her on the wonders she has done with the house.
"This house has built my endurance because people said I couldn't do anything with it," said the 54-year-old. "But all it needed was me."
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