The third day of January will be a date I will never forget. In 1980, my third child was born. A great day in my life. In 2012, my dad had his final chemo and radiation treatment for lung cancer. That same day my youngest two children went back to school after Christmas break, and my husband went back to work after a week’s vacation. I went to my appointment to get my heart checked. As I was leaving the Heart Center, my phone was beeping non-stop. I couldn’t answer. Crossing the waiting room, I dialed my voicemail to see why my husband and neighbor were calling me repeatedly. Stepping into the hall of the medical building, my husband’s voice was so urgent as I heard him say, “Brenda. Do not come home till you call me, whatever you do, call me first!” Thinking it was strange, I began to wonder if one of the kids was hurt and on their way to the hospital, or maybe it was my dad. I hit the speed-dial for his cell. He answered and told me the house was gone. The neighbor passed by and saw the smoke coming from the eves. After sliding down the wall and the initial shock wore off, I made it to my car and drove home. On the way I asked God, “Why?”
After I arrived home and saw the remains of what was left of the house, I cried. Then I thanked God because we were all safe. Our youngest daughter’s birthday was just five days away. We had moved her into the master bedroom and converted the garage into the master. We had painted her room and gotten her a new bed. Now it was gone. She was at her grandmother’s when we did it and she had only slept in her new bed two nights. Our new room was completely destroyed. Family heirlooms, childhood memories, photo albums, family videos, all gone. After the fire was out, part of the shell of the house stood and the only rooms that things could be identified in were the girls’ rooms. Though everything was burned or covered with ash, you could see where things were. Neighbors, friends and our grown children all were there. Everyone gathering anything they thought might be salvageable, they carried it to the pole barn. They emptied out the china cabinet to carry it out. It had been in my husband’s family for generations. As they lifted the shelves that had fallen, they found the little cedar box. The shelves smothered the fire out of it, and though it was scarred, the contents were in tact. I held the little white Bible I had been given at the time of my grandmother’s passing close. Nothing else in the house came out completely salvageable.
Our fire started in the attic. We didn’t have smoke detectors in the attic or crawl area. In our new house, we do. If the fire had started in the middle of the night, the neighbor wouldn’t have seen the smoke, even if he did drive down the road. Our smoke detectors didn’t go off until the roof collapsed through the ceiling allowing the smoke to reach the detectors. When the roof came through, it landed on our bed and straight down the center of the house. We probably wouldn’t have gotten out. Not long before the fire, I had decided to put all the photo albums and pictures on my computer onto a flash drive, then I could make a copy for each of my five children. The flash drive was on the computer stand in the living room, next to the old cabinet where I kept most of the 27 family photo albums. If only it had been in the fire safe.
Over the next week I sat in the burned ruins of our master bedroom for hours at a time, with a spoon, digging. Digging to find any little piece of the past. It was a mild January, though still cold, and rain instead of snow for most of the week. I located the head of the girl salt shaker that had been my maternal grandmother’s. The foot of the boy shaker, they had been on a park bench kissing. The piece of the skirt of the porcelain doll my dad gave my mom for their anniversary one year. Grateful that I had given my brother a family quilt that my paternal grandmother made that I had and a handmade bedspread I had given to an aunt that my maternal grandmother had crocheted. At least those were safe. I can never get back all the photographs or things we collected over our lives, or the things we inherited, but they are in our memories.
Before a fire, flood or tornado has a chance to take all your possessions or life, act. Be prepared. Make copies of everything you can and put it on flash drives. Then put those flash drives in a good fire-proof safe along with birth certificates and marriage license, credit card, insurance and credit card information. The things inside the safe were saved. The outside of the safe was damaged, but it did its job. Make sure to install, detectors in your attic and crawl space. Attic fires are one of the most common types, so be prepared. Check your wiring or have an electrician check it for decay. Through this fire I learned I really do believe the things of this earth will pass, but it doesn’t stop you from hurting when you lose them. I found that family, friends, church family, and even strangers reach out and they are appreciated so much. If you know someone who has had a fire, check to see if you have any pictures of their family make them copies. Write them a note of a good memory you have with them, we got a few of these notes and it really did bring joy to a dreary time. We were fortunate, we were in a wonderful hotel located at our small airport for 32 days. Then we were able to move into a one room apartment in our pole barn. Since we had water and electricity in there, we were able to do this. Having cattle made moving somewhere else impossible for us and our insurance company agreed. We are thankful.
Our insurance agent said it is a good thing to take pictures of each room at least once a year and send them to your agency so they have files of what you have too. At the very least, have a list in a safe place. Everyday fire destroys someone’s home somewhere, we never think it will be us. I never thought it would be us either. Take action now.
On a happier note, as we were building our new home, the contractor was pointing out the roof line to me standing in the front yard. My 11-year-old was circling around on her bike. She stopped a few feet from us and was looking down at something. We walked over to see what it was. Buried in the ground was the head of the hammer that belonged to my maternal granddad. I had used that hammer since his death and had searched for it where I knew it should have been. Somehow in the wrecking of the old house, it had found its way off the backhoe and into the yard. Forever mine to keep and remember another piece of the pass. In my new home is the bedspread my aunt returned to me along with the assurance my home is as safe as I can make it. On many of the studs as it was built is scripture from my Lord’s Word I wrote and many of the contractors read. Our new home was built on faith, family and friends, and that is written on our living room wall.