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Son's destination: bad news

He hated to leave such a greeting on his Key West answering machine, but Gary Gethen had little choice. His parents, both in their mid 70s, were vacationing in Nova Scotia without the conveniences of modern communication.

"If this is Mom and Dad, call me as soon as possible," the recording said. "I'm headed up to Brooksville."

Beverly Gethen, a meticulous housekeeper, rang her son's cell phone Monday night. Gary's news for her wasn't good: Hurricane Jeanne had peeled off the aluminum roof of the couple's winter home, exposing much of the interior to a day's worth of hard rain.

It was one of only two mobile homes that Hernando County inspectors found to have lost roofs. Both are in the Brookridge community off State Road 50.

Gary Gethen, 51, is relieved that his parents aren't around to see the ruins. Water soaked their new sea foam carpet. Pieces of aluminum, plastic foam and insulation litter the screened-in porch, which still has its curtains but no ceiling. The roof did a back flip from its perch and landed in a twist of metal that kisses the grass below.

The waterlogged ceiling over the dining room and living room are buckled but haven't collapsed _ yet. The particle board under the carpet disintegrated, so Gethen steps gingerly to find the sturdy spots as he walks through the once cozy home.

He arrived here early Tuesday after making the anxious trek north from his home in Key West the previous night with Bill Hazelton, his life partner.

Hazelton, 55, managed to find a room on Travelocity at the Comfort Inn in Weeki Wachee.

They came prepared with an industrial vacuum, a generator and a yellow legal pad for scribbling notes. The neighbors on Electra Avenue had told them the roof was gone, but the couple didn't know how much damage they would find inside.

"We decided we had to get up here to see how bad things were," Hazelton said. "Is it bad? Yes. Is it as bad as it could have been? No."

Gary's parents, Beverly and Bruce, bought the home two years ago with inheritance money from a grandmother who lived into her 90s. They spend summers in Ontario but planned to move to the retirement community full time once caring for two homes became too much.

Their gardener son decided it would be too much for them to see the dishevelment Jeanne wrought: their damp reference books, the water-stained childhood pictures of Gary and his younger sister, and Beverly's slender pumps filled with water in the bedroom closet.

So he and Hazelton worked fastidiously Tuesday to find movers and cleaners to tackle the mess. They combed through the wrinkled pages of a telephone directory, looking for the names of contractors recommended by neighbors, who had already piled much of the roof debris in a bulging stack alongside the home before Gethen even arrived.

They met with a mover to get an estimate for carting off the salvageable possessions, things such as Beverly's organ and the framed picture of Bruce landing an airplane. They called storage companies to find an open space. They found a guy who could haul away the scraps that once formed the mobile home's roof.

They took three rolls of pictures to capture the damage for the insurance claim and wondered whether the home would be declared a total loss.

"Today is just getting things started," Gethen said, trying to keep his emotions in check. "One day at a time, one step at a time."

He and Hazelton plan on sticking around until Saturday to get things in order. The Gethens aren't due back until next week at the earliest, and Gary Gethen wants the house emptied by then.

The saturated carpets will provide a painful enough reminder of the storm, Gethen figures. Careful not to add to the injury, the dutiful son lays an old towel at the edge of the carpeted dining room floor to keep from tracking dirt across its surface.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or

Gary Gethen holds water-soaked reference books in the sunroom of his parent's damaged Brookridge home Tuesday. "Where do you even begin?" he said. Gethen's parents, Bruce and Beverly Gethen, spend their winters in this mobile home, which they have spent the past two years remodeling. The rest of the year they spend in Ontario, Canada. Gethen and his partner came up to survey damage and start cleaning up.