CLEARWATER — Beverly Labbe was wilting in the record June heat, not the same bubbly woman who usually keeps pace with a 9-year-old boy.
"You okay?" asked Missy Peterson, whose two kids Labbe babysits. "I don't have any air conditioning," Labbe, 64, responded in her curt Maine accent.
It was more than 90 degrees in her home. She had fans, but all they did was push around the hot, soupy air. She would put on a fresh shirt only to sweat through it within minutes.
Labbe and her daughter, Amy-Jo, 35, had lived without air conditioning for a year and weren't getting it any time soon. They couldn't afford it.
The air conditioning unit was broken and a small animal, probably a squirrel or a rat, chewed up the duct work above her garage.
"It was worthless," she said. "So we shut it off, grit our teeth and suffered."
• • •
Beverly Labbe volunteers at her church's thrift store, teaches Sunday school and used to work in the church nursery.
Even on these muggy June mornings, she shows up at Church of the Isles in Indian Rocks every week. She tells children in her Sunday school classes that God is love.
"The children pick up on that," said the Rev. James Rapp. "Children have good intuition — they can tell when someone is being genuine."
Labbe raised two kids by herself, mostly while enduring years of painful visits to the hospital for a burn to her right foot that required skin grafts. The wound never healed and the visits really never stopped.
In 1981, Labbe lost part of that leg to a staph infection. She has since undergone back surgery, shoulder surgery, hand surgery and knee replacements. At one point in her life she had four operations in 44 days.
"I think I've had a surgery for every year of my life," she said.
She has good days and bad. But the heat becomes a real struggle. "You can't breathe when it's that hot," she said.
• • •
The e-mail arrived on a sticky Thursday morning.
Missy Peterson had sent out dozens of e-mails seeking help. Most went unanswered.
This one was surprising — not only for its return but for what it said. "Yes, I will help."
It was from the owners of local heating and air-conditioning business.
"Please call my office or my cell."
Later that day, Labbe heard a knock at her front door.
• • •
Dave Valerio says he can tell when a person genuinely needs help. He could see it that day in Labbe's face, hear it in her voice. He could also feel it.
"It was real hot," he said.
Labbe opened the front door. The two introduced themselves and Labbe led him around back to get a look at the air conditioner.
A broken capacitor. He quickly switched it out.
Within a few days, he replaced the duct work.
The whole job: $2,000. Labbe's cost: nothing.
Now it's comfortable in Labbe's home. But she's not getting greedy. She keeps the thermostat to 80.