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The ultimate gift: Jackson church builds new house for 93-year-old woman

fr margiebradleyMargie Bradley has called a ramshackle shack in the hills of Cullowhee “home” for almost 60 years. The ceilings sag, the floor is made of plywood and the wind enters through the numerous cracks scattered about the windows and walls.

She has no running faucets or modern plumbing. A hole in her yard covered by a piece of sheet metal serves as her septic system and when Bradley gets thirsty, the 93-year-old woman takes her wheelbarrow and a collection of rinsed out milk-jugs and wanders to a nearby spring for drinking water.

“It runs a little mud right when you use it,” Bradley said in reference to the spring draining from a field where she takes her water.

But it’s not just water she hauls on her own. Bradley can cut her own firewood, drive a car and fends for herself living alone with her cat in the woods.

She was doing just that when staff from the United Methodist Church in Cullowhee, making a delivery of charitable firewood, stumbled across her property two years ago.

It was an exceptionally cold year and Bradley was using electric blankets, piles of quilts and lots of firewood to stay warm in her cold house.

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“That’s how we found this lady,” said the church’s pastor David Reeves. “She was struggling to stay warm that winter.”

Over time, Reeves and Bradley formed a relationship. He and churchgoers helped her repair her house, do simple chores and keep stocked up on firewood for the cold temperatures. But, as Bradley became older and the house fell further into disrepair, Reeves heard her mention an alternative that seemed shocking and sad to him.

“She talked about selling her house and moving someplace until she dies,” Reeves said.

Bradley will be 94 years old in January, or as she puts it: “I was born in 1919” — not something many people can say. But despite her age, Reeves saw a very independent and capable woman. Except, the small monthly income she collects each month wouldn’t come close cover the costs of paying for a new dwelling.

So church members took it upon themselves to give Bradley a new home. They raised more than $40,000 to build a small, cottage-style house, a new well and an adequate septic system on her property next to her current home.

The house will also be outfitted with a washer, drier, furnace and stove. But the old-fashioned Bradley didn’t want every modern appliance.

“She didn’t even want a microwave,” Reeves said.

The plan was to have the new structure ready for Christmas, and Bradley’s birthday right after the New Year, but inclement weather and a timeline dependant on donations, volunteers and government permits delayed the move-in date.

Last week, weather was the obstacle and workers were waiting for a clear day to lay the cement foundation while deluges of rain and dustings of snow brought the project to a stand still.

“They got a little more done on it the other morning,” Bradley remarked optimistically about the progress.

After the foundation is laid, much of the house is already assembled and can be quickly erected. Reeves is optimistic the house will be completed soon after the holidays. Yet, living in the same house for decades, Bradley doesn’t seem to understand, or believe, she may actually be getting a new one.

In the 1950s, Bradley and her first husband moved from Cashiers to Cullowhee and built a house on their new land. They had to sell their horse to buy the property for a couple hundred dollars.

“Back then money didn’t grow on trees,” Bradley explained.

Shortly after moving in to the new house, Bradley’s husband crashed his truck while working in Cherokee and died. Yet, two husbands, five children and about 60 years later, Bradley still lives in that house.

Although surrounded by family she chooses to live independently. And Reeves hopes she gets that opportunity for the remainder of her days.

“She’s southern Appalachian and she’s hard as kerosene,” said Reeves.

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