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It was Sunday morning, January 22, 2017… and the call could have been much worse.
“Hey, Sugar” my dad said, a little too cheerful and some weakness in his voice set me on alert.
“Hi Dad. What’s going on?”
“Well, now, I’m ok, but the house burned down. It’s gone. It’s all gone.”
Then, my voice got trembly and scared, “What…!” Dad was with my brother, Chris – calling from his truck. It was about 8:30 AM Mississippi time. Exhausted, they watched the fire-fighters pack up and pull out. “It burned down this morning … all gone …”
“What happened, Dad?”
It was storming when he came home. The power was out – the usual during sizable storms. Dad fell asleep in bed waiting for the power to resume. About 3:30 AM, he woke to strange sounds in the basement, slipped into his jeans – which still held his wallet, keys and iPhone – stepped out into the hallway and saw thick black smoke spilling out of the basement door. He walked another twenty-five feet or so, grabbed a coat from the rack and walked out the front door for the last time.
Dad called 911 immediately, and then my brother, Chris, who lives nearby. Dad commenced to moving the vehicles away from the house. Just as Dad called, Chris got the fire alert and suited up. In less than five minutes – the Conahatta Volunteer Fire Department (where my dad is a founding member, and my brother serves as a volunteer), arrived in front of the Greenfield and the Decatur Volunteer Fire Departments. It was a three-alarmer.
Throughout the morning, the teams used over 20,000 gallons of water, but the blaze continued. The water soaked the yard around the house and the tanker trucks sank in the mud. Explosions erupted. Trucks had to be towed out to get them away from the intense heat. Finally, Dad told them to just pull everything back and let it burn before someone got hurt …
“You’re alive and safe and that’s all that matters, Dad. Try to get some rest.”
The house smoldered for days. The same storm system that started Dad’s house fire turned toward southeast Florida, bringing tornados and lightening to our campsite at Chassahowitzka River Campgound in Homosassa.
Five days after the fire, we arrived … our Living In Beauty home-base reduced to ashes.
Inspired by our story, The Clearing – where we explain our process to unburden ourselves of items and properties which hindered or complicated our dream of full-time Airstreaming – our friend, Tim West began his own soulful adventure of intentional divestment and often shares his discoveries on his Facebook page. Tim, a brilliant actor, poet and playwright, explores mundane relics of his past life like a priest (or pirate) holding them up to the light to examine their worthiness. On January 27th at 1:17 AM he wrote:
“Yesterday, I tackled six banker boxes, keepsakes boxed up when I cleared Ma’s apartment after her death in 2014: Kumeyaay handicrafts I’d gotten her as gifts; her collection of elegant volumes of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay; most touchingly, things of mine she’d kept for years… I found space for them. They say the key to divestment is to realize you must surrender the old to make way for the new things in your life. Sometimes the new things are old.”
Yes, sometimes the new things are old … On the drive to Mississippi, Jim kept thinking about his father’s watches, silver dollars his mother gave him, a few vintage magic tricks, and some large family portraits … all stored away in Dad’s basement …
The moment we arrived – January 27th – Jim grabbed a pair of gloves and walked directly into the ruins like a man who was late for an appointment. He found a spot that looked safe enough, dropped to his knees – and there before him, lying atop the rubble were his Dad’s Navy dog tags and pocket watch … Yeah, it’s just stuff, but …
That first day of plundering the ruins for non-combustible memories – Mama’s copper cookware, silver service, Dad’s class ring … I asked Dad what wisdom has come to him from this disaster. He didn’t even have to ponder. “Use the good china, everyday.”
‘Loss’ is being asked to divest before we’re ready.
‘Salvage’ is being given things we thought we’d lost, or came close to loosing.
‘Redemption’ is when you give up something of value and something better follows.
– Tim West
How quickly the focus changes from what you’ve lost to what you have!
But I’m worried about Dad. He’s losing sleep. Oh, he’s past regret over what he lost in the house fire, but now he’s staying up all night designing his new house. Even redemption comes with a price.
This man still loves to build things.