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'We had nothing.' A Barre couple remakes a life after losing their home in the floods

Two people with their arms around each others' shoulders, standing in front of a two-story house that's leaning due to damage from a landslide
Peter Hirschfeld
/
Vermont Public
Doug and Rhoda Mason, seen here outside their Barre City house after it was destroyed in a landslide in July 2023, are still searching for a permanent place to call home.

The 65-unit apartment complex in Williston where Doug and Rhoda Mason have lived since September is only about 40 miles away from their old home in Barre City. But their small, two-bedroom unit feels a world away from the life they knew up until last July.

“This is where we live,” Doug Mason said recently. “But this is not home.”

Last July, Vermont Public visited with the Masons shortly after a landslide destroyed their house, which was situated on a quiet side street in the hills above Barre’s downtown.

“The house just imploded on top of us — knocked me right off the couch and twirled me around. And I really felt to myself, ‘I think this is where we’re going to die,’” Rhoda Mason said last year.

The Masons, who are both in their 70s, survived, but their home was a total loss. And after months of couch surfing with family, they finally found the apartment they live in now.

The couple used to live among single-family homes with green lawns and familiar faces. Now they’re neighbors with big box stores like T.J. Maxx and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Rhoda Mason said it’s not just the physical environment in Barre that she misses.

“It’s community. Things that we had done, people that we knew, that we used to see every once in awhile or every day,” she said. “Places we would go.”

An elderly white couple sit, with soft smiles, in two black chairs inside a sparse apartment.
Peter Hirschfeld
/
Vermont Public
Rhoda and Doug Mason sit in the living room of their apartment in Williston.

The Masons are grateful for what they have in Williston. They feel safe. And Rhoda Mason said the fire detection system is top notch.

“I learned quickly that I can’t overcook my bacon,” she said.

Their living situation, however, isn’t exactly stable. Dwindling proceeds from a GoFundMe campaign are the only thing that’s allowed them to afford this apartment since they moved here last fall. And while they’re optimistic their old house will qualify for a buyout from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they have no idea when the money will come through.

“I learned I had to accept a lot from people, because we had nothing.”
Rhoda Mason

“We filled out all the paperwork, and they told us, ‘It could be two weeks, it could be two years,’” Doug Mason said. “Hopefully it’s not longer than two weeks or even two months. Two years, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

They’re taking the uncertainty in stride.

“We’ve gone through so much, and the only way we’ve been able to go through it is just make every day work for us,” Rhoda Mason said. “And if something happens, we’ll go on from there.”

Rhoda Mason said she’s learned things over the past year that are helping them navigate this unexpected chapter in their lives.

“I learned I had to accept a lot from people, because we had nothing,” she said. “When we walked into this apartment there was nothing here. And we accepted things from people when they said, ‘Do you need this? Do you need that?’ And I also learned I could say no and they wouldn’t get offended.”

"There’s nothing else we can do but go on from here."
Rhoda Mason

Their old house, and most of its contents, now reside in a landfill in Coventry.

“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of something that we lost,” Rhoda Mason said.

The loss of their physical possessions has heightened their appreciation for less tangible assets.

 A brown house stands surrounded by green trees. The side of the house is splitting apart.
Lia Chien
/
Vermont Public
Doug and Rhoda Mason's home after it was destroyed in the landslide on July 11, 2023.

“I learned that we probably did pretty good with our kids,” Rhoda Mason said.

Their five children housed and cared for them until they found this temporary residence in Williston. And Rhoda Mason said they’ve been at their side ever since.

“And they kept telling us, ‘You’ve done for us, so we’re just doing what you showed us to do.’ And I never realized we were doing all that good,” she said. “But I sure know it now.”

After 44 years of marriage, the Masons have also learned something about their bond with each other.

“I don’t think I could deal with being in this apartment by myself without him,” Rhoda Mason said. “He’s been always my best friend, and I really don’t think I could live here by myself.”

Doug and Rhoda Mason hope their path eventually leads them back to Barre, or somewhere close at least. They hope it leads to a home of their own again, and to financial stability.

Wherever that path heads, though, they say they’ll walk it together.

“If this doesn’t work out here and we can’t afford it, whatever happens next, we’ll handle it, just by our philosophy that we have to go on from here,” Rhoda Mason said. “There’s nothing else we can do but go on from here.”

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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