“I felt very small, very belittled and very helpless,” said Whitehouse, 53, who was born with several missing fingers, as well as vision and hearing problems. She is also on a fixed income.
She struggled to keep her half-acre yard tidy, and that day she actually managed to rake and fill three bags of leaves on her own.
“I almost felt like going out and emptying my bags, but I didn’t want to get on their level,” said Whitehouse, who lives in and has owned her home for 17 years.
Instead, after reading the note on November 28, Whitehouse took to a Facebook group called Billerica Residents and spoke out, including a photo of the note as well:
“I have debated whether or not I should post this. This is not the first such letter I have received in years and it won’t be the last.
“Thank you to the resident of Billerica, most likely a neighbor, who felt called to leave me such an addressed envelope and note. I am disabled and on a fixed income. I physically can’t do all the gardening work and I can’t afford to hire anyone. I will not apologize. I deserve to live here as much as the next person. You make it so that I don’t even want to try to take care of the garden anymore. Merry Christmas.”
The neighbors reacted immediately.
“Whoever wrote you this note is a little coward,” one woman commented on the Facebook post.
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“Many people can’t get to their sheets for dozens of reasons, none of which is, ‘I hate my neighbors and want them to suffer,'” another neighbor wrote..
Cheryl Wesinger, who lives down the same street as Whitehouse in the Pinehurst neighborhood, saw Whitehouse’s post and went the next day with a rake and lawnmower.
“I didn’t even tell him; I just went over there and started raking,” said Wesinger, 61.
Whitehouse spotted her neighbor in her yard and was surprised.
“How long have you been here?” Wesinger remembers Whitehouse asking him. Wesinger replied, “For a while, but don’t worry.”
“She obviously needed help,” Wesinger said, explaining that she was upset that someone had left Whitehouse such a note.
Wesinger filled about 10 bags with leaves and she intended to return for the next few days to do more yard work, but a family member fell ill, derailing her plans.
Wesinger reached out to Mary Leach, who runs another Facebook group called Beautify Billerica. Leach spread the word about Whitehouse’s fate, and over the weekend a dozen people – men, women and children – came to her house to clean up with rakes, leaf blowers and bags.
They filled 79 bags with leaves that had fallen from Whitehouse trees – about eight of them, both oaks and maples. Neighbors have also trimmed Whitehouse’s hedges.
“The neighbors got involved. I was convinced someone was going to do it,” Wesinger said. “It was so nice to have people reach out and offer to help.”
Whitehouse said she was so touched by what her neighbors did for her.
“The response has been phenomenal,” Whitehouse said. “I can’t be more grateful.”
“It was breathtaking,” she added. “It was impressive.”
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Whitehouse said an anonymous person had left mean notes in recent years for several people whose homes and yards did not meet that person’s standards. Whitehouse herself received another in 2015 with a similar shameful message.
Leach, who also lives on the same street, said she was furious when she read the note at Whitehouse.
“First my heart sank, and second my blood started boiling,” Leach said. “It upset me and made me angry because that’s really not who Billerica is. It doesn’t really represent who the people of our town are really like.
“I felt like people really knew [Whitehouse]they wouldn’t leave a note like that,” Leach said.
The Beautify Billerica group, which has over 800 members, hosts a regular “Power Hour” clean-up event – usually picking up litter in a public place. The project at Whitehouse on Sunday lasted about two hours.
Both Leach and Whitehouse said humiliating a neighbor whose property needs maintenance is never acceptable.
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“Whoever left this note may have forgotten their compassion for a while,” Leach said. “It was just sad. I also felt sad for the person who left the note.
Then she gave this person advice: “Think about what you can do to help.