Worton -- During the four months Charles Dixon waited to hear if his mortgage loan would be approved, he refused to let himself believe that after 75 years he might finally own a little home of his own.
"I thought about it every day, but I don't put my heart on anything until I find out for sure," the former sharecropper said.
Mr. Dixon wouldn't even tell his two daughters about the $70,000 government-subsidized loan he had applied for through the Farmers Home Administration. He was afraid they would talk him out of pursuing it.
But in April, the loan was approved. Three months later, on July 8, he received the keys to a pretty little, yellow-sided, two-bedroom rancher with burgundy shutters. It took Mr. Dixon three days to move a long lifetime of belongings, but he spent that very first night in his first home.
His purchase of the 864-square-foot house on a half-acre in Worton, a small community in Kent County on the Eastern Shore, probably makes Mr. Dixon the oldest Maryland recipient of this rural housing program.
"If he isn't the oldest, he's close to it," said Allen Griener, district manager of Farmers Home Administration in Kent County.
"It's the first thing I've ever had in my life," Mr. Dixon said. "When you can walk around and say, 'This is mine,' it makes a difference. It makes you feel good."
Within three days after Mr. Dixon moved in, his grandson was over to spend the night, armed with his favorite toy, a Nintendo set, and a bicycle to explore the community. Never before had nTC Mr. Dixon been able to share with his 9-year-old grandson a house with a solid roof on a quiet road. In fact, the poor condition of his rented house is what finally prodded him to apply for an FmHA loan last December.
He had considered applying for an apartment in a senior housing project, but he preferred living in the country, with a little yard around him. He knew that the FmHA offered a loan program for new homebuyers, so he went to Whitely & Assoc. in Chestertown.
"Since I'm as old as I am, I don't think they'll take me," Mr. Dixon said on his first visit, realty agent Beverly Moore recalls.
Ms. Moore assured him that age didn't matter when applying for an FmHA loan, which is available to anyone in a rural area who does not currently own a home and who meets the program's income levels.
Mr. Dixon receives approximately $800 a month from his Social Security check and a State Highway Administration pension. This qualified him for the FmHA's most comprehensive plan, in which the entire cost of the house, including closing costs, is financed at a 1 percent interest rate, about 8 percent below the current market.
The homebuyer pays 20 percent of his income toward the mortgage and FmHA subsidizes the rest. The program recaptures its subsidies when the house is sold.
Because FmHA can only make new loans when old loans are repaid or when more money is allocated to the program, Mr. Dixon had to wait four months before money became available for his loan and it was approved. As recently as last year, FmHA loan recipients have had to wait as long as a year to be funded, Ms. Moore said.
She occasionally called and assured him the loan would go through, but Mr. Dixon had an alternative plan, just in case. "If this didn't work out, I was going to put in for one of these old people's homes," he said.
Mr. Dixon was familiar with FmHA financing, partly because he almost bought a farm with an FmHA loan 38 years ago.
For 40 years, Mr. Dixon was a sharecrop farmer -- he worked other people's land, living in tenant houses and splitting the costs and profits of the farming business with the landowner.
"I always wanted to own my own home," he recalled, so in 1953 he applied for financing through FmHA to buy a 150-acre farm in Kent county for $27,000. It was approved, but Mr. Dixon worried that "on a farm, you have good and bad times and I was afraid I wouldn't make it." So he turned down the loan and continued sharecropping.
Over his farming career, Mr. Dixon and his family lived in several different old, drafty farmhouses, usually in need of repair. At one point, he was farm manager for a racehorse farm in Cecil County, which provided him with a tenant house on the property.
When he left that job to join the State Highway Administration as a mechanic, he rented a house.
"I thought about it [buying a home] a lot of times, but my wife was sick," he explained.
His wife, Helen, died last year after suffering years with a debilitating heart condition. They had medical insurance, but not all costs were covered, and her illness drained their savings. It also left Mr. Dixon concerned about whether he would be able to meet monthly mortgage payments.
So, when Mr. Dixon learned in April that the loan had been approved, "Nobody was happier than I was," he said.
He spent the next three months grappling with important decisions, like choosing a site for a new home, a house plan and colors for the siding and the interior walls. He also had to buy carpeting and decide on a kitchen layout.
Choosing the site was the easiest part. Ms. Moore suggested that he look over Knight's Landing, a new subdivision on the outskirts of Worton, and he liked its location in the country.
He didn't look any further.
"It seemed like everything just worked," Mr. Dixon said. "I guess the good Lord must be working for me."