After losing his wife, a veteran finds a way forward and a new home

Wilson grows plants outside his mobile home, which is being torn down to make way for a new one. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

There’s a room in Lawrence Wilson’s trailer home that he doesn’t go into anymore, not after the roof started leaking and sagging and he had to move everything out of it. The home isn’t just falling apart — it’s infested with rats, he says, which run around in the ceiling at night.

Wilson’s not complaining, just explaining why the new home that’s coming his way any day now is all he can think about. “I won’t know know how to act,” he said. “I’m … oooh. I want it.”

Wilson, 85, feels hopeful today, but his whole life nearly capsized at the end of last year when his wife, Emily Wilson, died. Not only did he lose his wife of 42 years, but he nearly became homeless.

Wilson grows quiet and his eyes water as he talks about her. Inside his home about 20 minutes outside downtown Napa, Wilson has framed pictures of Emily, along with her two California driver’s licenses above the black box that holds her cremains. They had their ups and their downs, but losing her was the hardest thing to ever happen to him.

Along with all the grief came the added punch that he might lose his home. Without Emily, his retirement income dropped by about two-thirds. He could barely pay rent.

“I didn’t know what to do, I was dead in the water. It’s been a fight,” he said.

That’s where The Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund stepped in, along with a list of other aid organizations. The fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund.

Wilson’s Veterans Affairs coordinator — he used to serve in the Navy — found the Season of Sharing program to help pay a portion of his rent. After that, thanks to nonprofit Habitat for Humanity, he was able to get a new trailer home.

“He was really, really grateful with Season of Sharing for all the assistance he’s received,” said Alejandra Gloria, a Season of Sharing coordinator.SUBSCRIBER BENEFITDid you know that subscribers get full access to our native app?

Wilson’s lived more than one life. There was his time in the Navy, his time working a fishing boat, his time repairing fishing boats, his time owning a bar (“The Dried Out”) and on and on.

“He’s worked hard,” said Wilson’s friend and neighbor Marty Blocker. “Done everything on his own.”

Now, Wilson is ready to accept help. He doesn’t know much about the new home — only that it’s a couple of feet longer, and a great deal newer.

“He doesn’t know what it is, what color it is, anything,” Blocker said.

“I don’t care,” Wilson said. “Just put it in there. I’ve been working my butt off packing this stuff. Just got the kitchen done.”

The day his new home arrives, he plans to stay with Blocker as the old home gets torn down and the new one pieced together. Blocker says she’s happy to have him. They’ve been friends for years. He used to play golf with her husband. Wilson is the kind of man who would do anything for his neighbors, she said.

“Larry, come help me,” she said, joking. “I need your help.”

Wilson laughed, then remembered something he’d promised to get for Blocker. “You know I hunted for that plug, I can’t find any,” he said. He promised he’d run to the store for one later.

Now is his time to relax some, in his green yard and his new home.

“Here,” he says, “you don’t have the hustle and bustle or all the bull.”

His life is a quiet one. And he likes it that way. His dogs Chico and Tonto — two small Chihuahuas, the first a darker brown than the other — keep him company.

He spends his time growing his plants — his front yard is full of flowers and knickknacks and a big non-fruiting mulberry tree.

“I’m just thankful,” Wilson said. “I can’t say it enough.”

Ryan Kost is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @RyanKost

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