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She had one family in her past, one nearby

LARGO — Carole Jean Richards moved into Sun Village, a quiet little retirement trailer park here off busy Seminole Boulevard, seven years ago.

Her trailer had no air conditioning, so she sat outside under the shade of the carport, reading Stephen King and working her crossword puzzles. She didn't have any pets herself, but she kept dog biscuits nearby for the neighbors' puppies.

At first, the neighbors would wave, and Ms. Richards would wave back and smile. Waves turned to handshakes and handshakes to warm conversations. That's how it goes at Sun Village.

Her new friends deduced that she had retired from Shoe Carnival and moved here from Missouri with a friend who had since moved back up north. They deduced that she had done a great bit of traveling with a truck-driving ex-husband. If they mentioned a city, she had most likely been there.

One thing she would not talk about was her family.

"She was a private person," said Dottie Nolan, in Lot 18, who sometimes ran errands for Ms. Richards, bringing her sugar or salt or dinner rolls.

"Fact is, she does have a family," said Bob Gwyn, 63, who slept in her living room for a month while he repaired his trailer. "I got the impression there were at least a few kids."

"I could never get her to discuss them," said Dan Somers, 71, who lives nearby and used to bring Ms. Richards chili or spaghetti or steak in the evenings. "We could talk about politics, world affairs. But she would never open up about why she didn't want anything to do with her sons, or vice versa."

Somers fetched Ms. Richards' mail for her for a few years. He never saw a holiday card or a letter from her family.

Ms. Richards' new friends were certainly curious, but they didn't pry. People move to Florida for a slew of reasons, and they figured hers were none of their business.

She was sweet and generous and almost completely immobile, so she depended on Meals On Wheels for food and on a weekly nurse visit for health care. For other needs, her new friends were there, but she never complained or meant to put them out.

Gwyn found out she didn't have hot water in her trailer. He asked how long it had been since she had taken a warm shower. Three years, she said. So he fixed her fuse box.

Somers heard she didn't have any reception on her television, so they rigged up an antenna and got her a converter box. She liked to watch NASCAR, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader and The Jerry Springer Show.

She lived off $761 a month in Social Security, but she repaid her friends with little gifts. She bought Nolan's husband a set of slipper socks. She bought Somers a cheesecake for his birthday.

When she was evicted from her trailer, Gwyn gave her his and moved into a double-wide. Her new place had air conditioning, so she spent less time outside. Still, her neighbors dropped by to visit.

Recently, they noticed her health was getting worse. Poor circulation. Arthritis. She was in pain. They thought she'd be better off in a nursing home, but none of them felt it was their business to tell her what to do. Those are issues for a family.

On Monday night, Somers brought over some clam chowder. Ms. Richards seemed okay. On Tuesday, Meals On Wheels showed up, but she didn't answer the door. Someone called 911.

Her obituary ran Thursday. It was two sentences long and contained two errors: her middle initial and the date of her death.

RICHARDS, Carole T.

72, of Largo died Dec. 9 at residence. There are no known survivors.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is trying to locate any relatives. If her remains are not claimed after three months, in accordance with county procedure, a boat will take those remains 3 miles offshore and deposit them into the Gulf of Mexico without ceremony.

A few days ago, Gwyn told the neighbors they could take what they wanted from the meager items Ms. Richards had left behind. A few people took dolphin figurines. Somers took a needle-point decoration.

In a short hutch in the trailer, Gwyn discovered something odd. Photo albums. Six of them.

There were photos of scenery from her travels. Some of unidentified children. And there were a few of her, but someone had torn out the other person, extending the mystery of the lady who had left one family and found another.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

She had one family in her past, one nearby 12/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 10:51pm]

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