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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2006
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Pam Kritner, left, with her mother, Merle Kritner, at their three-room Falkville home. Electric space heaters provide the only heat in the house, the roof leaks and the septic tank is backing up in the yard. Both Kritners have health problems. Merle's include chronic pulmonary disease.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Pam Kritner, left, with her mother, Merle Kritner, at their three-room Falkville home. Electric space heaters provide the only heat in the house, the roof leaks and the septic tank is backing up in the yard. Both Kritners have health problems. Merle's include chronic pulmonary disease.

A winter of discontent
Falkville mother, daughter seek help to keep warm, dry

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

FALKVILLE — For many, the approaching winter means Thanksgiving turkey and family get-togethers — the joyous holiday season of good tidings, gift-swapping and Christian charity.

For 72-year-old Merle Kritner of 2426 W. Lacon Road, winter also means misery.

On oxygen because of chronic pulmonary disease and depending on a dozen medications — she also has high blood pressure and high cholesterol — she huddles with her daughter, Pam, 45, in a drafty three-room house with two electric heaters.

Pam has troubles, too.

She is on medication for schizoaffective disorder, a condition somewhere between major depression and schizophrenia.

"I've been doing OK," she said, "after the doctors found the right combination of medicines."

In the one bedroom they share, rainwater seeping through the roof has buckled the ceiling and wall paneling.

And there are problems outside, too, where Jack, a mixed-breed dog that came and stayed, roams. Visitors walk into an unappealing sight as they reach the front door: raw sewage settling in the yard.

"The sewer overflows, more so during heavy rains," Pam said. "It needs flushing out, but we can't afford to fix that, either."

With tears in her eyes, Merle, a proud woman who battled double pneumonia a year ago, seemed embarrassed to ask for assistance.

"I worked hard. I paid my taxes. I worked hard all my life," she said.

On her last job, she was a housekeeper at Decatur General Hospital for about four years, until 1996 when she slipped and fell on a wet floor someone else was mopping. The fall injured her back.

She has had three back surgeries and can barely walk.

Merle has known even deeper pain. She and her husband, Artis, raised six children, three boys and three girls. Her husband died Aug. 2, 1998, of a heart attack. Their son, Wayne, 48, who had lost a leg when he received a severe electric shock on the job, died of liver cancer the following Aug. 5. Their son, Gregg, 52, died Oct. 16, 2005, after a series of strokes.

Gregg and another son, Stephen, 41, built Merle's small yellow house in 1992 on property that her mother gave her. But Stephen, who also injured his back and doesn't work, lives in Somerville with another sister, Kathy Heiber, 51. The other sister, Cindy Rondeau, 48, lives in Washington state.

Merle receives a monthly check from Social Security of $399. Workman's compensation pays her $544 per month.

"I am on Medicare, and I have BlueCross insurance," she said, "but they don't pay for all the medicine."

Merle said she hopes someone will help them with their roof and assist them in securing better heating.

She would like gas heating, but passes it off as wishful thinking.

"It's so high," she said, "and I realize that beggars can't be choosers."

She and Pam recently spent a few days in Somerville "because we were so cold here. But I had to come back to check on things. I want to stay in my own house if possible."

Pam said she and her mother remain thankful "for what family we have. I love my mama and cherish her. I take care of her and cook and clean. I already have a turkey that I will cook here for the two of us."

And Jack, who chases away coyotes coming down off Burney Mountain, sometimes after they have sneaked underneath the house, will get his favorite fare of biscuits and gravy.

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