The Flames of Experience


Most of my readers probably know that our home was destroyed by fire  a week ago.   I know now I really am a writer since I began composing blog posts in my head within a few hours of hearing this unbelievable, sickening, life-changing news.
We were not home, which was a blessing.  John’s 93-year-old grandmother had died the week prior, and John and I and our little kids were in Baltimore.  We had just returned to our hotel after the receiving of friends (they call this the “viewing” in Baltimore) and still had the funeral to get through the following morning.  Our oldest son had begged to be allowed to stay alone at the house but thank God we held firm and he and his brother were safe at my sister’s house.
The call came from the mother of Jake’s best friend.  I don’t think I said one word to her.  I looked down and I could see my hand shaking.  I grabbed John and pulled him into the bathroom to tell him what she had said.  Moments later our landlady called and confirmed the terrible news.  She was crying but from joy, because we left two cars at home and at that point many people thought we were inside, with flames shooting 15 feet above the roof.
Over 500 miles away from this unbelievable tragedy, with our devastated little kids worried about their cats and their favorite toys, we still had a funeral and surrounding events to get through before we could make the trip back to Knoxville.  It was Thursday before we even visited the scene of the devastation.  I got sicker and sicker as we approached the house.    There really are no words to describe what this is like, even though I have to try.  Looking at a corpse comes closest.  The house is dead.  The destruction is nearly complete.  I did not know what to expect but I had visions of this or that thing surviving.  It is true that several basement rooms suffered only water and smoke damage, but water and smoke do a lot of damage.  From inside the upstairs I have saved a badly singed wedding portrait of my parents, a fork from the set we received when we were married, and one laminated clipping from my trip to the National Spelling Bee.  John found (after hours of digging with a shovel in what was once our bedroom) several rings from the jewelry box that sat on his bureau.   I also have some soot-covered books from the basement that I’ve put into storage, my tendency being to want to hold onto anything that survived, although eventually they may have to be dumped.  I just don’t know.
And that’s it.  Our kids fared somewhat better–not much.  Gone, all gone–my wedding dress, thousands of treasured books, baby clothes dating from my own babyhood, all the afghans crocheted by my grandmother, the pastel portrait of my great-grandmother, my mother’s original watercolor painting, the flag that decorated John’s father’s coffin, his grandfather’s huge art deco cabinet radio . . . Well, I could go on.  The list of things that rises to my mind is different each time.  Your list would be different if this happened to you, but you understand what it would be like.
A week ago, if even one of those treasures had been destroyed–or even others less precious–I would have felt devastated by the loss.  The enormity of this tragedy–and I am using that word correctly–is such that I cannot even process it.  I’ve hardly shed a tear–whether because I am still in shock or because I am being held up by the prayers of so many, for which I am very grateful.
There is much more to say, but for now I will let the images do the talking.

66 thoughts on “The Flames of Experience

    1. It’s awful, isn’t it? We won’t be physically rebuilding the house–it’s sad, but no one will. It was a rental, and the ownders were biding time until the economy improved so that they could sell the five acres it sits on. Metaphorically, however, there is plenty to do. 🙂

  1. Helga

    Leslie,
    I am so sad that this happened to your family. I am just happy you all are safe. I know that the loss is devastating, never the less. I am not sure how I would deal with this, but I always try to find the positive that might arise of a bad situation or experience. Wishing you strength to go on and find another suitable home for you and your loved ones.

    1. Helga, It is true that there have been MANY positives, especially the generous outpouring from our community that makes us feel very loved. Someday I will probably look back and find all kinds of good arising from this. I am just not there yet. I am sure I will feel much better when we stop living like nomads! I so appreciate your kind words and good wishes.

  2. Kristi Birchfield

    Leslie,
    There are no words. For those of us who are your friends, we are so thankful that you all are physically safe, the family intact. But for all that you lost, I know they were more than just *things*; they were representations of loved ones, cherished moments and memories. I wish a hug or a donation of time or money could replace them all.
    I really hope you will be blessed with a permanent home again soon and you all can start moving forward again. God Bless You, Sweet Leslie!

  3. Amy Trocchi (Betsy's friend)

    Leslie, I am so, so sorry. I am almost OCD about family memorabilia, and, while I always search for the positive, I’m not sure I could in this situation. I saw your post that a lot of the geneology was online, so that is good. Hopefully people can email you back photos you have emailed or shared with them online, and you can begin to rebuild. This may be too late to tell you, but be very careful about looking carefully through the “rubble”. My grandmother’s home burned, and my father was given a box of “trash”. Turns out my grandmother’s original wedding rings were in it. They looked nothing like they should (obviously) and were almost unrecognizable, but he found a woman in Colorado who restored the rings to their original beauty, and they are obviously one of my very most treasured belongings now. I will be praying for you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Amy. John already did comb through the bedroom to find some rings. There are two left he wants to find but we may not have the strength to endure another day over there. No doubt there are some things we might find in the rubble. I have struggled with whether burned remnants of things are better than nothing at all. I don’t think there is a right answer but I am leaning toward letting all of it go.

  4. Gerry and Carol O'Farrell

    Leslie,
    We just returned to Knoxville this evening, and we heard about your loss almost immediately. Words cannot take away the pain of your loss, but nonetheless we want you to know that we feel so badly for you and John and all your children. What a tragedy! I am sure tomorrow we will learn more about what has happened and how we can be of support and or assistance to you. God bless you and strengthen all of you as you endure this trial. Gerry and Carol O’Farrell

  5. Pingback: And Justice for All « Life in Every Limb

  6. Leslie, I found your blog through Mary Lauren (My 3 little birds). I’m so sorry for your family’s terrible loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you all! Forced perspective is a terrible burden to bear, so don’t feel that you have to bear it alone. Hugs!

  7. Pingback: We were in Alabama over the weekend . . . « Life in Every Limb

  8. Pingback: Fireproof « Life in Every Limb

  9. Pingback: Best Laid Plans « Life in Every Limb

  10. Pingback: New and New to Me « Life in Every Limb

  11. Pingback: Cat People « Life in Every Limb

  12. Pingback: Bye Bye Britannica « Life in Every Limb

  13. Pingback: Red Red Red « Life in Every Limb

  14. Pingback: Things I Never Thought I’d Cry About: Losing a Dentist « Life in Every Limb

  15. Pingback: Easter Blessings « Life in Every Limb

  16. Pingback: A Breath of Smoke and Ashes « Life in Every Limb

  17. Pingback: Hey It’s Good to Be Back Home Again . . . « Life in Every Limb

  18. Pingback: Standing outside the Fire « Life in Every Limb

  19. Pingback: Praying with Facebook « Life in Every Limb

  20. Pingback: Sweet Home Alabama « Life in Every Limb

  21. Pingback: Give Thanks in All Circumstances « Life in Every Limb

  22. Pingback: Fire or Ice? « Life in Every Limb

  23. Pingback: The Best Laid Plans . . . « Life in Every Limb

  24. Pingback: A Literary Survey | Life in Every Limb

  25. Pingback: About Those Crocs . . . | Life in Every Limb

  26. Pingback: Answer Me This Again! | Life in Every Limb

  27. Pingback: Answer Me This #6 | Life in Every Limb

  28. Pingback: Five Favorites #2 | Life in Every Limb

  29. Pingback: Answer Me This #11 | Life in Every Limb

  30. Pingback: Answer Me This #13 | Life in Every Limb

  31. Pingback: Taking up My Pen Again . . . | Life in Every Limb

  32. Pingback: The Year in Review: Your Favorites, My Favorites | Life in Every Limb

  33. Pingback: Giving Thanks in All Circumstances | Life in Every Limb

  34. Pingback: Tragedy and Traditions | Life in Every Limb

  35. Pingback: What Labor Day Means to Me | Life in Every Limb

  36. Pingback: What’s a Catholic Voter to Do Part Three | Life in Every Limb

  37. Pingback: We Didn’t Start the Fire . . . | Life in Every Limb

  38. Pingback: Making Believe | Life in Every Limb

  39. Pingback: Those Conversations You Don’t Want to Have with Your Kids | Life in Every Limb

  40. Pingback: Gatlinburg Is in Business | Life in Every Limb

  41. Pingback: How I Learned a New Way to Pray | Life in Every Limb

  42. Pingback: Ascent into Hell | Life in Every Limb

  43. Pingback: Trusting in God; Giving up Control – Everyday Ediths

  44. Pingback: Mary, My Mother: Quotations and Images | Life in Every Limb

  45. Pingback: Good-bye, Grandma | Life in Every Limb

  46. Pingback: Communities | Life in Every Limb

  47. Pingback: Very Good People | Life in Every Limb

  48. Pingback: Too Much Stuff: An All-American Problem | Life in Every Limb

  49. Pingback: Countdown to Christmas | Life in Every Limb

  50. Pingback: Shopping at Catholic Door: A Review | Life in Every Limb

  51. Pingback: Waiting for Christmas: Advent Traditions My Family Loves | Life in Every Limb

  52. Pingback: Counting Blessings: On Giving Thanks in Difficult Circumstances – Everyday Ediths

  53. Pingback: Hopes and Dreams for 2018 | Life in Every Limb

  54. Pingback: Not of This World: Finding Peace through Minimalism | Life in Every Limb

  55. Pingback: Catholic Minimalism Challenge: Week One | Life in Every Limb

  56. Pingback: My Lenten Walk in Pictures and Quotations | Life in Every Limb

  57. Pingback: A Plethora of Peacocks: Lessons from Drama and Real Life | Life in Every Limb

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *