The camera crews from the CBS "Early Show" were gone. So were the scores of volunteers from Habitat for Humanity who built Mary McGhee's house in Lothian last week. All that remained were a happy collection of family and friends who admired the 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling, played with the new big-screen TV and debated where Buster, the pet rabbit, should live.
"It took me 55 years to get it," McGhee said of her house. "But it was worth it."
Until last Friday, McGhee, a domestic worker, had lived for 27 years in a rented house without running water near Lothian, a small town in southern Anne Arundel County where tobacco farms are slowly giving way to subdivisions.
Every few days she filled industrial-size buckets with water and stacked them in the kitchen for bathing and washing dishes.
"I'm tired of it," she said of the old house where she had just spent her last night. "I've been tired of it."
Now McGhee has two bathrooms, four bedrooms, a deck overlooking a forested area and an American flag out front, thanks to the Arundel chapter of Habitat for Humanity. She moved in last Friday night along with her daughter, her granddaughter, a family friend and, of course, Buster.
"I thank the Lord for everything," McGhee said.
She said that it was a friend in the Rapture Church of Lothian who told her three years ago about Habitat's program of building new homes for low-income families. McGhee applied 2 1/2 years ago, hoping to get a home in the Lothian area where she has lived all her life.
Habitat seeks to help people with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 a year, who live in substandard housing, are willing to contribute 500 hours of "sweat equity" to other Habitat efforts and can pay a small mortgage. McGhee, who cleans houses for a living, fit the bill.
She worked on two Habitat houses in Pasadena and waited. The problem was that Habitat couldn't find a rural site.
"She never got discouraged," recalls her daughter Pamela Anderson. "I said, 'Oh, this is never going to happen,' but she said, 'It's coming. Just wait.' "
In the summer, Habitat purchased the lot on Ark Road with funds from the state and federal governments, and it suited McGhee fine. She knew the spot well from her childhood.
"See right through there," she said standing on her new front porch and pointing through the trees. "That was where the Mount Zion United Methodist school was. I went there from first to fourth grade."
Florence Blake, a family friend who used to sleep on the couch of McGhee's old house, now has her own bedroom complete with dresser and nightstand.
"People look at me smiling, and I say you just don't know what I have in my mind," she said bouncing on her new bed.
The foundation was laid in October. Then last Monday at 7 a.m., volunteers began to converge on the site for what is known as a blitz build. Within 58 minutes, there were four walls standing. By 11:30 a.m., the roof was complete. By Wednesday, there was carpet on the floors inside and grass in the front yard.
On Friday, Nov. 12, she received the keys on national television from Bob Vila, the home improvement guru who was covering the blitz build for the "Early Show."
"He kept saying, 'Don't cry, Mary. Don't cry,' " she recalls.
Vila's coverage brought nationwide recognition and support to Arundel Habitat, as the local chapter is commonly known.
"It has taken a while for the people, the businesses and the churches in the area to know who we are. Now they do, and we have some momentum," said Executive Director Linda Gray.
More than 90 firms contributed to the blitz build, including Bausum & Duckett, a local electrical contractor, and Premiere Panels, a home construction firm in Tacoma, Wash.
Habitat Arundel, which has built 36 dwellings for low-income county residents over the past 12 years, plans to build seven to 10 homes in the coming year, according to Gray.
On Dec. 11, Habitat will break ground on Clay Street in Annapolis for two homes.
"This is an area with a very strong sense of community. They've seen their houses physically deteriorate in recent years, and they want to do something about it," Gray said.
Habitat also plans to start building two town houses on Annapolis's Hilltop Lane in February.
One town house will be built exclusively by volunteers from the Naval Academy, according to Gray.
Another will be launched with a Ladies Build, Gray said.
"The women [volunteers] are just dying to say they have built a house, so we're going to have all women on the site," she explained. "We're looking for more skilled women now."
Gray can count on at least one volunteer already.
"I'll be there," McGhee said. "I'm ready to work."