Despite having what some may view as a handicap and having lived through years of hardships, an Abbot woman says she would live it all over again — with a few exceptions.
Louise Carter, 99, has found there is practically nothing she can’t do with only one arm, from stocking cases of beer on shelves, shoveling snow, crawling under her mobile home to fix a leak and standing in her well to help a repairman when she was in her 80s, to sewing quilts in her 90s.
“I can do most anything,” Carter, who will become a centenarian on March 22, said during an interview this week.
With her neatly curled gray hair and cheeky smile, Carter has been an inspiration to others.
“She has inspired me 100 percent,” said Janet “Dixie” Lewis of Monson, who provides home care to Carter. “I’ve come in here so down and so depressed and so worried, and Miss Carter would say, ‘Don’t worry, it will get better. Take my advice,’” Lewis said.
But Carter’s inspiration came at a price — and after some long, lean years.
After losing her arm from complications after a fall in a local manufacturing plant in 1948, Carter was kicked to the curb, so to speak, and considered an inconvenience by some. But even in her darkest moments, she never gave up — not when she lost her job; not when every agency and state and local official she contacted de-nied her claim that she was disabled; and not when she was rejected for one job after another because she was missing an arm.
After her two children were grown, she did odd jobs, from cleaning the floors of the Guilford Theater on her knees to mending and sewing clothes to working in her mother’s restaurant. To help her survive, she cashed in the life insurance policies she had taken out earlier on herself and her children while employed at the local mill.
Carter then moved to Abbot, where she opened and operated a small store in the building where her father had lived. It was the only store that sold beer for miles around, so it drew some unsavory characters, she recalled. Carter said she armed herself with two guns, one of which she could shoot, but never had to use.
A small, unheated storeroom in the building that was equipped with a table, a few chairs and a hotplate served as her home for about four years. There was little food for her, but friends and neighbors did what they could to help, providing her with fresh eggs and milk, she recalled.
During those lean years, Carter recalled sending letters to state senators and members of Congress, along with a letter to former Gov. John Reed, asking for help, to no avail. Since Carter wasn’t considered officially disabled, she could get no government help, she said.
When business at her store dwindled, Carter closed it and moved to Bangor, where she hoped to find a job. She recalled going from one business to another only to meet with dead ends, just as she had with the local unemployment office. The only job the latter sent her to was a cleaning position at a local hospital. Carter said she never got the job because the head nurse said she couldn’t bear to see her on her knees washing the cement floor with one hand.
Another agency official, in an attempt to get rid of her, directed her to another Bangor agency. While sitting in the lobby waiting at the latter agency, Carter said, she saw young people and children coming and going, so she asked a receptionist what kind of place it was. She was told it was an adoption agency. Carter said she left there terribly upset and later returned to her Abbot home.
“I got so bitter with those people because I knew there were people that were getting help that were not disabled and could work,” Carter said.
Those lean years continued for Carter, but friends stepped to the plate in her later years, helping her get some government help with home repair. And they have remained by her side as her support team.
“I’ve had a lot of people help me,” she remarked.
Today, Carter is one happy, healthy, contented and sharp woman, who lives with her sleek black cat, Baby, in a warm mobile home with cupboards filled with food.
“I am content now. Why did [all the good things] have to happen when I’m ready to die?” she quipped as she pushed colorful fabric across the plate of her sewing machine with her only hand.
People marvel that she can quilt, but Carter said it’s nothing.
“People think they can’t do it, and I made up my mind that I can do it,” she said.
Losing a limb isn’t easy, but there’s no reason to give up even when life appears its bleakest, Carter said. “It’s made me just want to dig in all the more.”