‘Independent old lady’ shaken, but not broken, by Napa quake

Betty Grant has lived a life of adventure, from spending time with Elvis Presley — he called her “Bet” — to working as a professional dancer. At 79, she was proud to be living on her own in Napa, volunteering at the local hospital, and bringing dance and movement classes to seniors.
“I’ve never been married, never been told what to do,” she said proudly. “I’m an independent old lady.”

Her independence was shaken by the magnitude 6.0 quake that hit south Napa in early August, damaging homes and shops and dislodging Grant from the mobile home where she’d lived for 18 years. She was forced to flee her home in the middle of the night, grabbing only her dog, Penny.

“A friend I used to work with in Napa said I could stay with her for two weeks,” Grant said. “Then another girlfriend who was going on a cruise offered her house for 11 days. I’ve moved three times.”

She never expected to be couch surfing in her so-called golden years. Her monthly retirement income is $1,400, and she has only a few thousand dollars in savings.

Thankfully, with help from family, friends and strangers, she moved into a month-to-month one-bedroom apartment. With everything in storage, her patio furniture is her indoor furniture. The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing fund paid Grant’s rent for November and early December, and her nephew bought a replacement mobile home for her. She plans to move back to the same lot in the same mobile home park soon.

Grant said that her old mobile home was one of nine red-tagged as unlivable. An additional six mobile home units burned the night of the quake, she said. Many of Grant’s former neighbors remain dislodged.

“My nephews went in with hard hats and moved all of my things into storage,” Grant said from her apartment in Napa. “To this day, I don’t have my things. It’s horrible when a senior doesn’t have her things. I don’t even have my dance shoes that I use for my classes.”

She now sees a psychologist once a week to deal with persistent anxiety born the night of the earthquake.

“I was in bed when I felt the first movement,” she said. “I got up, went down the hall — it was pitch dark — and I was rocked side to side against the walls. All I could think of was to get Penny, who was on the couch, and get out. The doors were stuck, so I went out the window, crawling through holding Penny.” Her entire home had been moved nearly 3 feet off its foundation.

“This has really set me back a lot,” Grant said. “My temper is up and patience is down. I’m getting better, and I’m being told in therapy that these flashbacks will go away.”

In mid-November, Grant received a check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will help with her move back in to the Napa Valley Mobile Home Park. Once there, she plans to return to volunteering at Queen’s Valley Hospital. She looks forward to putting on her dancing shoes again.

“I have an hour activity with seniors where I play music — Elvis, of course — and get them to move,” she said. “I also do crafts and make dolls and quilted purses that I bring to shows to sell. I’ve always worked, and still want to work.”

She has other plans as well. “I’ve been helped by so many,” she said. “I want to help other people. There are people I know who aren’t getting help. I have a car, and I can drive. I am getting through this.”

The experience is another life lesson.

“It teaches how life as you know it is short and you should love every day and thank God for every day,” Grant said. “Life is so precious. When you get older, you look back at what you could’ve done. We are dealing with a fast world out there. What if there was no tomorrow? Slow down and help each other.”

 

Julian Guthrie is a Bay Area writer. You can read the story on SFGate.com.