McALLEN — Maria Resio can barely describe what it feels like to have a door.
“I don’t have to crawl through the window anymore,” she said.
Before last week, Maria and her children spent six months scrambling through a window to get in and out of their house, ever since summer rains sank it so deeply into the ground that the door could not be opened.
But the window is the least of their problems.
The thin wooden slats that make up the house’s walls are cracked and peeling, causing long holes to open to the outside. The ceiling of the living room has started to crumble and fall due to the wind coming through the walls, which aggravates Maria’s allergies.
Several rooms are unlivable due to damage from water and mold, so the family knocked the walls out and uses the space for storage. All five family members sleep in a single room.
“I’m just afraid it could come down on us,” she said of the house.
Social Security checks the family receives have been the single mother’s sole source of income since her husband left her for another woman in 2005. It was six months later, when Maria’s mother died, that she and her sisters inherited the plot in North McAllen with the crumbling house.
The kitchen floods when it rains, which has caused the floor to completely collapse on one half of the room, making it treacherous to try to make it to the sink.
“I have fallen five times in my kitchen,” Maria said. “It just got worse and worse and worse.”
But the boys — Pedro, 15, Andy, 13, Angel, 11, and David, 10 — insist it just takes skill to learn how to make it to the kitchen sink without injury. They race around the space happily, playing with their pets and kicking a soccer ball outside.
All four boys are in special education classes for learning disabilities. They struggle with basic skills, such as reading, and attention disorders.
“He thinks more like first grade,” Maria said of 13-year-old Andy. “But they’re all very street smart.”
Maria sells Avon products to try to make money and volunteers frequently at the boys’ schools, where her dedication inspired counselors to nominate her for the 12 Days of Christmas program.
‘THE SCARIEST ONE’
The Resios shivered in 40-degree weather last week, as they got ready to settle in for the night.
The house has no insulation and the family has only an old propane heater, which Maria tries to use as little as possible because she worries that it’s not safe.
She has tacked up strips of plastic to the ceiling, which she said helps a bit. When it gets cold, she staples blankets to the walls to block the wind and hold in heat. Sometimes they go walk around Walmart to get warm.
In the summer, the problem is reversed, with no way to cool down or keep out bugs. But to Maria, the freezing nights are worse.
“That’s the scariest one,” she said.
The adopted cats have been a blessing because they eat the rats that infested the house, along with fleas, when the family moved in. They also keep down critters that come in through the walls, but not entirely.
Pedro loves watching the cats hunt roaches in the living room. Last year, Maria’s sister had to go to the emergency room after a huge beetle got stuck in her ear while she was visiting.
The family also has four dogs and fish. Feeding the dogs is expensive, Maria said, but worth it because they help her feel safe.
‘WE’RE THE RESIO’
Last Christmas, Maria cut essentials and saved all year to buy her boys a single present — the X-Box she knew they so badly wanted. She didn’t know if she should have done it, but she needed to see them happy on the holiday.
“It was kind of hard, but then I started crying when I saw their faces,” she said.
But this year she doesn’t know what she will do for them. Money is tighter than ever. She had to pay $300 to fix her truck and $400 for the new door. Andy needs $150 contact lenses, but those will have to wait until next month.
Her ex-husband was finally forced to start paying some child support, which she used to buy the boys Nike shoes — expensive, but she’s hoping they will last a little longer than usual, saying their shoes always have holes.
The boys almost never see their father. Maria won’t allow them to go with him ever since he burned Pedro badly on the leg with a cigar as punishment for crossing onto a neighbor’s property.
The family has gotten some help from their church, including assistance to buy a water heater. They converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2004, after several women from the church kept coming by their home to lend assistance.
“It touched my heart,” Maria said. “Whenever I had a problem they were there knocking on the door trying to help us.”
Maria said the situation is difficult, but the love and fun of her kids makes it all better.
“I wanted boys,” she said. “We’re the Resio, the Fast Five.”
Elizabeth Findell covers Pharr, San Juan, Alamo, the Mid-Valley and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4428.
Follow Elizabeth Findell on Twitter: @efindell
HOW TO HELP
The United Way is accepting donations — including, but not limited to, clothing, food, furniture, toys and money — for the families of this series. To donate, call (956) 279-9050, (956) 279-9051 or (956) 279-9052 or mail donations to P.O. Box 187, McAllen, TX, 78505. The United Way of South Texas is located at 1200 E. Hackberry, Suite F in McAllen. You can also make an online donation on the United Way of South Texas website atwww.unitedwayofsotx.org. The Monitor is not accepting donations.
Maria Enedelia Resio
Mom; female; 38 years old; shoes: 8; shirt:26/28; pant: 28
Son; male, 15 years old; shoes: 11; shirt: XL; pant: 36x29
Son; male; 13 years old; shoes: 9.5; shirt: L; pant: 18 youth
Son; male; 11 years old; shoes: 8; shirt: 14/16 youth; pant: 14 youth
Son; male; 10 years old; shoes: 5.5; shirt: 10/12 youth; pant: 12 youth