Around 2AM Eastern Time on the 29th of September Russ, my significant sweetie, started trying to call me. He was at home and I was in south Alabama to help my Mom recoup after a minor surgery. I thought I had set my phone to charge at my laptop, but had turned the laptop off, so it didn’t charge. Mom came running in to tell me Russ called on her landline. I started connecting through the wall charger behind the headboard and was leaning in to it awkwardly to get my head next to the phone. Mom thought I was going to try to use the land line and was yelling at me to come into the next room and call him back. If it hadn’t clearly been an emergency, I’m sure we’d have been laughing at ourselves. Russ and I eventually talked and he told me that the house was burning. When we hung up, what I thought was “I guess I should wait to hear more.” What I did was to start packing. I packed badly. I took Mom at her word when she said she’d be fine and I left, thinking I’d be right back.
I got home not long after daybreak. The fire department was changing shifts. The fire marshal spoke to me before he left. He told me that the floors and rafters were gone, the shell of the roof was sitting on bowed bricks and the three stories of bricks had no support. The bricks were at risk of falling without warning. The Salvation Army gave me some heavily perfumed soap and told me to call my insurance company. After a little while, I noticed that the fire crew had saved the flags from the basement and stuck one in the ground at the end of my drive. I had bought the flags from the September 11 Field of Flags at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and they were among very few things that were saved from inside the house.
How did the fire happen? We don’t know. The bricks were bowing slightly more every day. An investigation wasn’t safe. No one wants to loose everything and the human response for people is to find out how such a terrible thing could befall someone and to avoid it. Some people eventually admitted going in and probably even more actually did. I am going to be content with gratitude that no one was hurt for their curiosity, or what ever other motive they may have had.
One of our neighbors said “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I can’t imagine what it would be like. I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me!” He was being a little bit playful, but also a little bit honest. And, frankly his sense of humor was a relief. While dealing with the loss, knowing what to say to people who feel so very badly for you is also difficult. It had been a week or more and the opportunity to laugh had been our first.
I lost my home and everything in it. My daughter lost the apartment’s worth of stuff she brought when she moved back home. My sweetie, Russ, lost the bigger apartment’s worth of stuff that he moved in with and everything he bought afterward. My son lost the things he left behind after his last tour at Mom’s boarding house. Russ and I both lost the stock, tools and supplies for our vintage and hand crafted Etsy.com store, Six Degrees, and we had stocked up preparing for a good holiday season. We lost tools hobbies and mementos that we had collected and inherited over decades from generations of talented hands. They carried it away in 14 large roll off and dump truck loads.
We were told it was probably something electrical in the drop ceiling in the basement, allowing the smoke to accumulate in the empty space while the fire grew stronger and that delayed the life saving shriek from the smoke alarm that sent Russ into the front yard barefoot at 2AM. I will never again take the value of a smoke detector for granted because ours saved Russ’ life and I’m feeling pretty good about having pushed my mother to replace hers this past summer.
It is a big lump to swallow. I’ve dragged my grandmothers’ stuff and their grandmothers’ stuff from California to Connecticut and back south again, never trusting it to the movers, but packing and carrying it myself, because I really can do that without breakage.
I had a personal sewing machine and a serger for my own use as well as 14 other sewing machines for teaching sewing and to give to people whom they might empower. I know that seems excessive, but this is what I would do if I got the chance. I had amazing sewing embellishments, English smocking and French handsewing supplies and other textiles gathered over a lifetime and thousands of yards of goods gathered from all over the world.
Textile arts was just one of many pursuits and “had” is the word I keep forgetting. My “I have.” Followed by Russ’ “No, you don’t” has become a bit of a joke, and I’m told by people who have been through this that it will happen ten or more years down the road.
Looking back, regrets and loss are not, however, what this blog is about.
This blog is now about picking up the pieces and using this opportunity to try an experiment. The look and posts will gradually change to reflect our new focus.