Digging Through Ashes, Again by Chris

Today we went back to the house. By we I mean myself, my mom, dad and two good friends. Bill cannot go back in, and rightly so. I however felt like I needed to conquer it, to seek out anything the fire tried to take but missed. I’ve had a running list on my phone for days of the things I wanted to search for, by room.

Things To Pull from the House/Count

Kitchen
Dishes in the fridge?
Christmas Apron
Ceramic Egg Carton
BooBoo Bunny
Gram’s Wooden Spoon
Gram’s Yellow Bowl
Rum from Guatemala

Living Room
Mezuzah
Pig planter

Garage
New Numbers for the house
Shelves?
Check Christmas Boxes
Gardening tools
Glass Globe for air plant
Basket in Freezer
Suitcases

Bedroom
Chris’s Bible
Check linens in linen closet
Sports stuff
Bathroom drawers

I also wanted to take after pictures. If you check my instagram there are loads of images of what my house used to look like, updates from projects we’d completed or just lovely pictures of my family. The artist in me needs to compare these, to see the before and after, not just to see the destruction but more so to remember the life. I can’t tell you how many of these ‘before’ photos have Sam in them. I decided quickly that this needs to be saved for another day, a day where I can be quiet with my house, to mourn and to say goodbye. Today was a day for searching and defeating the fire.

We started in the garage, picking through the rubble and the piles of discarded items. You see, when the restoration people come in to pick through your smoke and water covered things, if it’s not worth salvaging, they just toss it on the floor in pseudo piles. It’s weird to watch this. It’s heartbreaking to see the things you’ve saved for and collected and made a home with pilfered through by strangers and just tossed about as if they didn’t matter. Even today, when I was going through drawers, if I knew the items couldn’t be saved, I still laid them down gently in piles. I couldn’t just…toss them. I felt like they deserved a bit of respect.

For the record, freezers and fridges that have sat for two weeks without any electricity smell a lot when you open them. They are also, weirdly, full of a whole lot of bugs. Even more surprisingly the freezers were still cold. I found the boo boo bunny, freezer baskets, and ceramic egg carton. I was already wearing a respirator for the smell of the fire, which you can still smell down the street with a good breeze. I’m so sorry about that neighbors.

I found many of the items on my list, most surprisingly the vintage kids Christmas apron which belonged to my mother, that I wore as a child, and Issa wore the last two Christmases. It was in the kitchen, hanging under our other aprons, which were all covered in soot, smoke and insulation. The vintage apron was completely clean, as if the other aprons, in the wake of the heat and smoke came to life and wrapped themselves around it to protect it.

The other most surprising find was my grandmother’s wooden spoon. It is worn on the edge, from years of mixing love into baked goods and soups and dinners. I remembered it had fallen behind the toaster oven, I had very little hope of finding it. The wall behind that toaster oven, no longer exists, but I found the spoon, completely intact, covered in black smoke residue, but there.

We’ve lost a lot, but I am amazed at the number of things that have risen from the ashes, bits of hope among destruction. I truly believe God had his hand on certain things, saying “fire, you will not touch this”. We’re talking things that should not still exist, items that were two feet from where the fire started. We’ve cried as we pulled these items from the ashes; Issa’s ink footprints from the hospital, the quilt I made her when I was pregnant, her pooh bear, Blue (the elephant Bill bought for her the day we found out we were having a girl), my grandmother’s mixing bowl, Bill’s grandmother’s cuckoo clock. I truly need to make a full list, because it’s amazing.

When we were done at the house we stopped by ORilley to get mom a new car battery. I went in a little after her, because I’d gone to Starbucks to grab a few drinks. A kind man held the door open for me, and as I looked up I saw the most beautiful black lab mix sitting there by the checkout. I gasped. I looked at mom, she had been crying, “Christina, his name is Sam.”

I looked at his owner, “May I pet him?”

“Of course”, and she hugged me, the long hug, the kind of hug that says I know where you’re at, I understand that pain.

“Are you ok, I didn’t know how you’d feel,” my mom said.

I looked at both my mother and Sam’s owner, “I’ve needed this for days.”

I ran my fingers through his fur, scratched under his chin, chatted with him about how sweet he was. As I pet him, his owner and I began to talk. She lives a few streets over from me and knew about the fire. Then we realized we’d chatted before, at a garage sale we had months back. I liked her a lot then, and even more now. We exchanged numbers, in case I needed some more dog time. In that moment my heart was full and I was glad; hope among ashes.

-Chris

2 thoughts on “Digging Through Ashes, Again by Chris”

  1. That yellow mixing bowl. I remember when you got it during your wedding dinner rehearsal and it made you cry. All those memories tied up in that lemon hued Pyrex dish. That’s what I thought of first when I realized most of your memorabilia would likely be gone in the aftermath. That bowl was what I thought of – encompassing generations of cooking and mixing and baking and kitchen time. Something that is so you because it’s so your family legacy.

    My heart is happy that it made it through the fire.

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