Roan Mountain family facing blue Christmas

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   'Twas almost the night before Christmas, and all through the house, there was no electric power, very little food, and three children too young to understand why.
   Mona Buchanan, 25, and Donald Baker, 38, are just one couple in Carter County who have fallen on rough times. Baker, who has had liver disease since he was 8 years old, has lived far longer than doctors ever thought he would, thanks to medication. Buchanan, who has cancer, recently was released from Woodridge Hospital in Johnson City after receiving treatment for manic depression. She worked part-time as a cook until last week, when she was terminated from her job while on medical leave.
   Buchanan said her family has lived at 232 Bear Branch Road, Roan Mountain, for nearly two years and always has been able to keep up with expenses. Now, they've fallen behind.
   "I had a car wreck back in November which made me miss on my rent that month. And then in December I was put in a mental hospital, which left me unable to pay my bills," she said. "I just got off of welfare the last couple of months and had been doing everything on my own. Then it turned into this."
   Buchanan said her landlord wrote out a statement Dec. 4 that the family could have until Dec. 31 to get caught up or face eviction.
   "But she had the power shut off on Dec. 13 or 14 of this month and didn't give me time to pay up none of my bills. I called her and asked her, 'Why did you have our power turned off?'
   "She said, 'Because you can use the woodstove down there to heat with.' "
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson "got us a load of wood brought up yesterday (Friday) so we could have heat. My kids are starting to all get sick," Buchanan said.
   "We were $600 behind in rent. The power was in her name and then I got behind on the electric bill, but the Salvation Army and ARM (Assistance Resource Ministry) were going to pay my electric bill for me so that I'd have lights. They told me to go ahead and pay $40 on it, if I could come up with that much, in order to keep my lights turned on and they would pay it the 19th of this month," Buchanan said.
   But before the agencies had a chance to help, the landlord had the power company pull the meter.
   "I just don't get it, because she's a good Christian and goes to church all the time," Buchanan said. "That she'd do this to these kids is what hurts. It's not me and Don -- it's my kids. They don't deserve a Christmas like this."
   Dakota Buchanan, age 10 (size 14, hefty); Abigail, age 3-1/2 (size 5-6 toddler); and Christopher Baker, age 2-1/2 (size 3-4 toddler), were looking forward to Christmas. The family had put up a tree, Buchanan said, "And then the kids wanted Christmas lights on it."
   She eventually discarded the tree, however, "because I couldn't deal with them saying, 'Mamma, go buy some lights and that will fix it.'
   "It just ruined their Christmas."
   Buchanan's mother promised to bring the children a small battery-operated tree, she said, so they wouldn't be too disappointed.
   Since electricity to the two-bedroom house was turned off, the family has been using a cooler to store perishable food.
   "We keep milk and pop and sandwich stuff in there. We can't keep much at a time." With the drop in temperatures, the food "wouldn't hurt this morning outside," she said.
   "All of my food ruined in the refrigerator to feed the young'uns. I don't even have water to give them a bath. I have to run here and there to get a bath took. We have a springhouse which is hooked to a pump and now we don't have water.
   "We've got four or five gallon buckets and Dakota and Don have been carrying water to flush the commode, for me to do dishes, and wash the young'uns off a little bit," she said.
   Buchanan is understandably distraught. "I'm trying to deal with all this stuff and then everybody just turned around and hurt me right at Christmastime which left me unable to do any Christmas for the kids," she said.
   Buchanan has had one surgery for "cancer in the female parts, hoping that would take care of it." She recently underwent more tests, "but it's still malignant," she said.
   When her doctor at Woodridge released her to go back to work at Roan Highlands Nursing Home, she received "the runaround," she said. "I have medical leave papers, which it was fine for me to be on medical leave, but I just got released and I was wanting to go back to work so I could maybe have some money for Christmas."
   She called the nursing home Monday and her boss wouldn't tell her whether she had a job or not. "She just wanted me to come in and talk to her."
   Buchanan took a sheriff's department deputy with her "because my sister-in-law done told me I had been fired while I was in Woodridge."
   She worked full-time on weekends, she said, pulling a 12-hour shift on Saturdays and Sundays and five hours on Fridays and Mondays.
   She told her boss, " 'I just want to know whether I'm going to go to work or not,' and she told me I was fired -- on the spot."
   The family can be reached at 772-4066.