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.
September 13, 2011