To call Jacki Walton's 2011 a tough year would be an understatement.
Since January, she's lost her husband to a heart attack, had breast cancer and cataract surgeries and saw a fire destroy almost everything in her house at the end of August.
You might think that such a year would break someone’s spirit. But Jacki Walton keeps pushing on.
"I don’t want to sit around and dwell on it and feel sorry for myself," she said. "What are you going to do? It is what it is."
The house fire was on Aug. 30, the day before Walton's birthday. She was at her daughter's house celebrating when her niece got a call about the fire. When she rushed back, she saw fire trucks stretching across the block. The fire got so hot that bullets from her husband’s ammunition stash in the house started firing.
She said that the fire was most likely caused by a surge after the power was turned back on (it was off due to Hurricane Irene). Her husband's death in January was also during a time of severe weather, following a snowstorm. Many people would want to take time off, but Walton went back to work as a 911 dispatcher within days each time.
Part of that was because of the unique weather. "They seemed to be happening when everyone else seemed to be having a major crisis too," she said. "That’s when we work."
Her biggest concern with the fire was that everyone in her family was safe. (She lives in the house with her son, his wife and two grandchildren.) Fortunately, everyone was, and a neighbor was able to get their dog out of the house. "That's what I was glad about," she said. "The house can burn down again. I don't care."
The Waltons are staying across the street for now with Kathy and Billy Reardon at 66 Hyacinth Road. The Reardons and the Waltons have a special bond. It was Billy who administered CPR on Jacki’s husband before he passed away, and it was Kathy who ran into the burning Walton house.
“Mr. Reardon came over when you got hurt, and my dad was the one that fixed everything,” said Heather Thomas, Walton’s daughter. “It’s always the Waltons and the Reardons. We’re always connected.”
The Waltons were thankful for the support they got from the community. “I had a lady call me at work who wants to donate bedroom sets and furniture,” said Walton. “The whole block gave us $1,000. It’s overwhelming.”
“People laugh at us,” said Thomas. “They say ‘Why wouldn’t we [help]? You’ve done so much for other people.’”
Walton expects the rebuilding process to take about a year. She’s been in good health and expects to be once the cataract surgery is finished. “Nothing terminal,” she said. “Nothing we can’t fix.”
In the meantime, Walton plans to continue working, which helps keep her going. What helps most of all is her family. “They’re wonderful,” she said. “They’re beautiful.”
For information on a fundraiser planned to benefit Jacki Walton, go here.