The 1940s-era house with a white front porch now has mildew dotting the cabinets, a funny smell and an empty, abandoned look to it. One small black mitten lies on the living room floor, next to old lamps and a plastic bag full of stuffed animals. Along a wall, the pencil marks where the MacKay boys recorded their heights stop at "March '03."
For almost a year after Hurricane Isabel slammed their Anne Arundel County community, home for Eric MacKay, his wife, Jennifer Dieux, and their three children has been a one-bedroom trailer loaned to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Nearly 700 families in Maryland and Virginia received temporary housing assistance from FEMA after Isabel. And there are plenty of trailers still out there: about 350 in the two states, according to Butch Kinerney, a spokesman for FEMA.
Some homeowners got a nasty surprise when they discovered that their insurance did not include coverage for floods. Some spent months sorting out regulations or trying to hire overbooked contractors. Some waited for grants and low-interest loans.
The MacKays, like others, have been battling insurers, rejecting settlement offers that they say do not come close to covering what builders have told them repairs would cost.
"It feels like we haven't gotten anywhere," Eric MacKay said.
Last Sunday, two of the boys -- 6-year-old Stephen and 11-year-old James -- held their hands behind their backs, waiting for a watermelon-eating contest to begin. When the signal came, they stuck their faces into the slipping, squirting wedges while parents cheered.
The MacKays have always gone to the annual neighborhood picnic, but they were not sure it would happen this year because the community center has yet to be rebuilt. Neighbors wanted the tradition to continue, so families chipped in with ponies and face paint, and people gathered on the banks of the Chesapeake to enjoy bluegrass music and the breeze from the water.
Just in front of the yellow caution tape stretched around the old community center, drawings of the new, elevated design were displayed.
Between bites of sausages and fries, most people talked about rebuilding: who had just torn down their house, who had a foundation in, who had started painting.
Then there are those in the working-class neighborhood, known as Cedarhurst on the Bay, who just keep waiting.
In Cedarhurst on the Bay, where people look out for their neighbors and kids play ball in the grid of narrow streets, most people had no idea the water could rise so high.
"I woke up to one of my neighbors knocking on my door with a canoe paddle," said Scott Mattson, head of the community group.
Jennifer Dieux grew up in Cedarhurst, across the street from the empty house on which she and her husband still pay a mortgage. In nearly 30 years, she never saw a storm like Isabel.
She remembers rushing around in the pitch black before dawn last Sept. 19, trying to save things such as the family computer and her bag of scrapbooking supplies. Water rose to the top of their peeling white picket fence. They did not find Boomer, their big black lab, until the next day; he was cowering on a bed, looking at the water all around him.
The MacKays took their kiddie pool, filled it with clothes, and floated it out to a truck to bring to a laundromat. All their furniture was ruined, Eric MacKay said.
The restaurant down the street, operating on a generator, offered hot showers to all. A neighbor gave them his washer and dryer. People emptied their thawing freezers and had neighborhood cookouts.
They were grateful for the FEMA camper, which gave them a place to stay without having to pull their children -- James, Stephen and Craig, who is 9 -- out of their schools, or live too far from Dieux's job at a Catholic parish office or MacKay's commercial-construction work.
But they never expected to settle in.
The 30-foot camper bulges to 11 feet wide in the middle, the area that is the living room, kitchen, dining room and James's bedroom all in one. Craig and Stephen have narrow bunk beds next to the bathroom. Stephen taped a colored-in picture of a frog on the couple of feet of wall next to his. Each boy has a small box of toys at the end of the bunk.
The family runs out of hot water in five minutes, Dieux said, and the oven is so compact they can only cook "flat food."
Every night, Dieux can tell from her room when Boomer has jumped up onto James's sofa bed: The whole camper shifts.
"It's not good," James said, "because we're all too close together. And because I get tired of my brothers fighting. It's just too small."
On a recent day, the MacKays pulled out paperwork from a huge binder of records. The documents showed that their insurance would give them about $50,000 to fix their house. Estimates from contractors hovered above $150,000, the couple says.
"Essentially, he looks at us and says that price is too high," MacKay said last week after arguing with the insurance adjustor.
"He just walked into my house and said, 'Oh, you don't have a big problem here,' " Dieux said.
Builders have told the couple it would cost so much to repair and elevate the house that it makes more sense to tear it down and rebuild, MacKay said. That way, they could add a second floor, and each boy could have his own room.
Dieux has worked with neighbors upset about the low insurance settlement offers, talking with legislators and activists, working on loan programs.
But they're still in the camper.
"It's just amazing how much it all costs," said Dieux. "We don't have anything in savings. I just went back to work full-time three years ago. It's always been a struggle, but we made do. But this . . ."
With summer ending, shorter days and frozen pipes are ahead; the warm weather had made it easier because the boys could play outside all day. Last year, they strung up Christmas lights around the trailer and won the neighborhood prize for the best-decorated FEMA camper. They are hoping not to be in the contest this year.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.