THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
RUTH OUIMETTE

Home again at last, but a lot has changed

Email|Print| Text size + By Kay Lazar
Globe Staff / November 18, 2007

DANVERS - Every inside wall has been replaced. So, too, have all of the windows. Each room has light switches now, quite a change from the pull cords that used to hang from ceiling lights in the century-old house. And there are more electrical outlets than Ruth "Babe" Ouimette, 89, knows what to do with.

So much appears new and pristine. Yet every now and then, Ouimette will fish around in a jacket pocket as she unpacks and will come across a shard of glass - a silent testament to the far-reaching effects of last November's chemical plant explosion in her Danvers neighborhood.

Structural engineers said her house on Riverside Street was probably spared from destruction because it was fortified by the combination of aluminum siding over stucco. Still, it was so heavily damaged that Ouimette, who lived in the home since she was 4, was forced to move for 10 months to an apartment in a Danvers complex for seniors while repairs were completed.

"It pretty much looks the same," she said, "but the ceilings are fancier." Ouimette was able to move back in late September, but still has piles of boxes to unpack.

Some neighbors have rebuilt and moved back, but it's not the same. The house across the street remains boarded up, with a "1-800-BoardUp" sign on one of the plywood-covered windows. One house beside her own also awaits rebuilding. As for the other, demolition crews arrived a few weeks ago and tore down what remained. It's not clear when, or if, that family will rebuild.

Ouimette, who once worked as a Danvers taxi driver and says she has traveled to every state in the nation - twice to Alaska and Hawaii - had longed to move back to her neighborhood in the months after the Thanksgiving-eve blast. Now that she's back, she's not so sure.

"It's lonesome," she said.

Not that she's alone. Her 11-year-old Maine coon cat, Pepper, who was lost for more than a week after the explosion, is thrilled to be home. He couldn't play outside when they moved to the housing complex for seniors.

"He's back to his normal, fresh self," Ouimette said.

Nieces and nephews also seem to be constantly visiting and calling. And there are a lot of them: 19 nephews and nieces, 37 great-nephews and great-nieces, and 45 great-great-nephews and great-great-nieces.

Between activities at the Senior Center and her many crafts - her three-tiered wood-carving tool box is always handy - Ouimette rarely sits still. There are boxes to unpack, a holiday craft show to coordinate, and some repairs to her home that must be completed. A niece who handled the mammoth repair project said insurance covered everything.

"I have enough," Ouimette said, "to have my landscaping done in the spring."

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com.

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