Bob Cherico, 91, remembers the exact time the tree came through the roof. It was 6 p.m. on Oct. 29th, in the minutes Hurricane Sandy's winds kicked up and wreaked havoc on Greenwich.
"I was sitting in my easy chair and Alice had said she might go upstairs to bed early," said Bob. "I was ready to convince her to sleep in the downstairs spare room where Mimi stays a few nights a week."
Alice Cherico, 89, and Mimi Kane, 85, worked as secretaries in the Town of Greenwich legal department for years, staying close even after Mimi moved to Redding a few years ago. Mimi still works on Fridays at Town Hall and stays at the Chericos when she's in town.
The family has called 35 Edgewood Ave. home since 1966 and all three of the Cherico children attended Hamilton Avenue School, Western Middle and finally Greenwich High School. Bob is a World War II veteran who served in the Air Force, and later worked, in turn, at local Buick, Plymouth and Chrysler car dealerships.
Anchored by Oaks
Situated on a hilltop, the Cherico house was anchored by three massive oaks. One fell a few years ago and damaged the corner of the kitchen. The second, which received an award from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy for its 16-foot circumference, stands beside what was once the blacksmith shop of the house's original owner. The third oak, possibly 200 years old, fell on the Chericos' home in the Chickahominy section of town during Hurricane Sandy.
On Oct. 29th, the tree didn't snap, but rather, fell hard, punching through the roof and attic with its enormous weight. Slicing through wallpaper, plaster-over-lathe walls and fir floorboards, the tree entered the second floor bedroom and crushed Alice's cherished four-poster bed.
"The sound was horrible," said Bob who gets emotional when he thinks about how he might have lost his wife of more than 60 years. "At first it was like a loud knocking, all the branches hitting the roof. Then a huge thump overhead," he said, pointing up as if to the upstairs bedroom from his spot in his easy chair.
The Chericos called their son Robert in Wilton and left a message. When Robert tried to return the call, he couldn't get an answer. So he called the Greenwich Police. The police went to the Chericos' during the worst part of the hurricane and got them out. At some point the town department was notified and the inspector deemed the home uninhabitable. The utility company to cut power to the house.
Home Uninhabitable; Housing Odyssey Begins
Forced to leave their home without their cat Princess, 14, who went missing, Bob and Alice joined Robert's family in Wilton. But, since there was no heat or electricity, a grandson drove up from Maryland and took the couple back with him for a few days.
The couple's first big break came when Red Cross found and paid for a room at The Nathaniel Witherell, the town-owned nursing home where they stayed for 2-1/2 weeks. Still, the room was temporary and the search for accommodation continued.
As his parents were shuffled about, Robert pressed on with the insurance claim, dealing with an independent adjustor, independent insurance intermediary Brown and Brown in White Plains, and Tower and Tower insurance company in New York.
Frustrated at the lack of response a month after the storm, Robert said, "You see the commercials on TV. The insurance guy writes out a check on the spot of the disaster," he said. "For weeks I can't even get a phonecall returned."
After hiring a crane to pull the tree off the house and submitting dozens of photos and receipts for travel, clothing, furnishings for the unit at the Mews, including bed, bedding, chairs and a sofa, Robert said the agent admitted to having none of his documentation, and even asked Robert for the adjustor's contact information.
Finally, on Dec. 1, the same day the Chericos told their story to Greenwich Patch, a check from the insurance company arrived. "It will start to cover our past out of pocket spending. We will need significantly more to cover loss of property, temporary housing and all future work."
There is more good news. "We did find Princess," said Robert's wife, Cindy. "She had been hiding and was afraid to come out. But she got hungry," she added with a smile.
Grateful to their family, and to Mimi, who has slept a few nights on the Chericos' pullout sofa at the Mews and providing moral support, Bob added that efforts of the Red Cross made a big difference.
Until their situation is resolved with their insurance companies, the couple, unsure what their future will hold, consider themselves fortunate.
"Imagine the seniors who don't have family," said Alice. "They fall through the cracks. We're actually very lucky."