BRISTOL -- Thank goodness for fast-food restaurants.
Desiree Gonyon's part-time job at a sandwich shop has kept her, husband, Terry, and their children fed, clothed and sheltered.
"If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have this place," Terry Gonyon said, seated in the living room of the trailer that's been home since the family lost their seven-bedroom house to foreclosure. "She's doing it all on her own."
Life after foreclosure is possible. The Elkhart Truth, wanting to know how those on the front lines of the down economy are managing, followed the Gonyons last March when they lost their Elkhart home and recently revisited them. But it's no picnic.
The blended family -- the elder Gonyon's have nine kids between them, some from each of their previous marriages -- relies on food stamps to help where Desiree's paycheck leaves off. The rented Bristol trailer has only three bedrooms, eliminating almost any semblance of privacy. The absence of work for Terry, an independent construction worker and handyman, means the family has had to scale back, sticking close to home more often than not.
"It's extremely tight," Desiree said.
Having never gone through such an extreme economic dip, Terry, 39, doesn't know what to expect. With just three days of work under his belt over the past few months, though, he's not very optimistic.
"From what I see, things really aren't turning around all that much," he said.
So nearly four months after losing their home, the family income having plummeted as would-be clients with their own economic issues stopped seeking Terry's services, family members do what they can. They cut corners, continually bump elbows because of limited space and cross their fingers for an economic recovery.
'LIKE A TRAIN'
The number in the household at any given time ranges from six to 12, depending on whether the Gonyons are taking care of their kids from their earlier marriages or if their former spouses are. Aside from Terry and Desiree and the nine kids, Desiree's mother also calls the Bristol trailer home.
Any way you cut it, though, the trailer is low on space.
On this day, 2-year-old Haylee is running around in a training diaper. Six-year-old Kyle, whose mohawk is growing out, and 7-year-old Tylar sit on a couch in the living room, which doubles as their bedroom at night. The 50-inch television is on, the volume turned down, and beside it sits a pile of stuffed toys, many of them red Elmo dolls, Haylee's favorite. Two kids, Zachary and Aedily, are asleep in the master bedroom, though they'll soon wake up and wander in.
"We've actually fought a lot more since we've been here," said Desiree, citing the jangled nerves brought on by the tight quarters.
"You're walking over one another," added Terry.
For instance, at the old place, a two-story, rambling brick structure built in 1860, everyone had their own space. The kids had their own rooms and a play area in the basement.
Indeed, when Desiree would get home from work at the old place, she'd usually be able to find a quiet corner to decompress for a few minutes before jumping into the fray of family life. Not so anymore.
"You walk in the door, you get bombarded by kids," she said. "'Can I have something to drink?' 'I want this, I want that.'"
There are no more games of hide and seek, either, Kyle adds, because there's no longer any place to hide.
Authorities from Indiana's Department of Child Services caught wind of the situation, apparently concerned that one of the kids was using a large, walk-in closet as a bedroom, and an agency rep paid a visit. "She's all wanting to know why we're living the way we are," remembered Terry. "I just got kind of mad."
However, the social worker seemed satisfied that conditions at the home were adequate. And Desiree, who loves having a big family despite it all, maintains that you simply adjust to the ruckus.
"Kind of like a train. After it's been around a while, you just kind of zone it out," she said.
IT'LL GET BETTER OR IT WON'T
Food doesn't seem to be a problem, though the family sometimes has to scrounge near the end of the month.
Mobility, though, is another matter. To save on gasoline costs, they end up staying home much of the time and plan their shopping to minimize the number of necessary car trips.
"Basically a lot of freedom, privacy," said Terry, citing the biggest losses since moving from the house. "We just can't come and go like we used to. We pretty much stay in the (trailer) park here."
Likewise, any long-term planning is out of the question. They aren't able to save any money, say, for a new house, at least not now.
Whatever the case, Terry doesn't get worked up about it. What will be will be.
"There's nothing really to get overly depressed about," he said. "It's either going to work itself out or get worse."