Replicate, Replace or Rebuild ?

After the twin towers came down, they didn’t try to replicate what had been before. It wasn’t appropriate, practical, fitting or even possible to put things back exactly as they had been. Yet when one takes out an insurance policy, that is the focus, to replace everything, to put things back precisely without change or loss. Marketing departments sell the idea that you could and should replicate what you had before because it’s comforting to believe it possible.

The idea doesn’t account for recognition that a life is built on a stack of decisions, and that starting anew doesn’t mean ending up in the same place that you were before. That is part of the reason that I chose not to rebuild on the same lot where my home had been. I hate the way people try to take advantage of insurance companies as well the people who have claims. Figuring things out to the letter and needing to rebuild my home, as the adjuster said, exactly “cookie cutter” the same as it was before was not something that seemed like a winning strategy. (Of course, I’m not sure the strategy I picked will turn out to be a winner either.)

Because the damaged brick walls of my house could collapse without warning, it was dangerous to enter the ruins after the fire. I won’t likely ever know if there were more salvageable things than the few we have. I value my life. At the same time, I wasn’t really so sure that everyone else saw things the same way and was never completely sure that other people didn’t go in.

IMAG0044With this in mind, I was in the thrift store nearest my house maybe two months after the fire and I was literally stunned by something I saw there. Before the fire, I had a poster from a castle in Japan. I bought it for the equivalent of three dollars, then hand carried it on both of the planes that brought me home. Uncharacteristically, I spent 100 dollars (even with a half price coupon) putting it in the perfect matte black frame with just the right raised gold design running through the middle. The frame really made it pop, so it was displayed in the family room and I enjoyed it immensely.

There in the thrift store was my poster. I noticed right away that the tone was a little darker and my immediate thought was smoke damage. I grabbed the poster and dropped my jaw. I stared into it and tried to imagine what smoke might have done and whether or not this could actually, in fact, be my poster. I was staring so deeply into the tones of the poster that it took me several seconds, maybe even a full minute, to realize that I could read the poster. The words on the poster were Romanji (English letters to be specific) not Kanji characters. This poster had been from a traveling exhibit that was in The National Gallery of Art in D. C. several years earlier than when mine had been printed and it was in a cheap plastic frame with a plastic protective sheet instead of the glass with sunscreen that was on my own, something else I should have noticed sooner. And this poster had the writing on a separate black space rather than on top of the artwork. There were really a lot of differences I should have seen instantly, but the surprise of seeing such an unexpected and unusual one of the items I had collected over the years had its effect. I shared my experience with a stranger there. I couldn’t tell if she was interested.

After settling down, I needed to decide whether or not to buy it as an addition to the piles of things I’m accumulating for the home I seek. I called Russ and asked him to recall the poster and if he liked it. Did he want to see its equivalent around again. It was $8. He said “Well, we like Japanese things. I’m sure we’re going to have them again. I’d say it’s your call.” It was a nice and generous response, but not effective in moving a decision forward.

I cloistered it in my cart and mulled while continued to shop. I knew that I would want to re-frame this poster because the frame added so much appeal to the other one. Eventually I photographed it and put it back. It would be half price the next day and I’d be driving by. As silly as it sounds to wait for half price when the frame would be so much pricier than its subject, that’s what I decided. It put an element of fate into things. As I was checking out, the lady with whom I had shared my story couldn’t believe I had not decided to buy it and I almost walked back to get it. The next day I forgot to check until late in the day. It was gone and I wasn’t disappointed. I guess it was the right decision.
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Last night I found a beautiful carved wood mask in a thrift store. I thought it was Japanese. It was similar to so many that I had seen while I was in Japan. I had shopped through several tourist spots intending to buy one, but they were fairly expensive and I never settled on the right one. Or, more exactly, once I knew which one was the right one for me, I wasn’t at that temple any more and I wasn’t able to go back. This mask was above the range of what I normally spend for something like it as a thrift store purchase, but it was still significantly less than I would have paid in Japan. It was also much less than I would have paid to frame the poster that I didn’t choose to replace.

I’ve accumulated a few masks since the fire and some of them are impressive. As it turns out my new mask is a Korean Hahoe mask. I hope that my new home has a good place for an eclectic collection of wall masks from places I’ve been and from places I’d like to go. I have a bit of a vision of what it might look like. I think I will like it.

North on 65, Unexpectedly

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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.