It’s Just Stuff

Posted February 9, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen
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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 tornadoes and lightening to our campsite at Chassahowitzka River campground in Homosassa.

Our Chassahowitzka River Campsite
Our Chassahowitzka River Campsite

Five days after the fire, we arrived … our Living In Beauty home-base reduced to ashes.

It's Just Stuff
Our home-base: nine weeks ago. So close to the house it would have caught fire itself.

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.

21 thoughts on “It’s Just Stuff

    1. Thank you so much Bill. It was a loss, but we’re all moving on … probably eating too much comfort food though 😉 We look forward to a meeting-up with you. We’re planning out our schedule for the next year – but as we’ve all discovered this year Living in Beauty is also about changing plans as necessary.

      Hopefully we’ll be in St. Andrews in a couple of weeks … but, we never know!


    1. Thank you, Sabra. We are trying to pull Dad away for a Florida vacation in a week or so. We feel he deserves a SPRING BREAK!


  1. Your dad wiil rise out of the ashes like a Phoenix and rebuild his life anew and form new memories as his life goes on.
    Your dad will be in my thoughts, I have
    new found gratitude today.

  2. Jim, Carmen, and Allen, Hang in there, my friends, this is a temporary setback…..I like to call experiences like this as “character building experiences”…..y’all will come out of this even stronger than before…..once again, if Jacquie and I can help, just tell us when you need us..we love y’all
    Larry and Jacque

    1. It’s been character building, alright – and tedious. Dad’s fire-proof safe was NOT fire-proof so all of his documents are being researched, replaced and scanned and stored in the cloud.

      We are going digging again today – the clean-up crew should arrive soon, so it will be our last opportunity to scavenge before it call gets turned under the Mississippi mud.

      You two are wonderful and we’d love to spend time with you, but not here. Let’s save it for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.



  3. Aw, I’m sorry Carmen. It’s just stuff, but houses can have a personality and sometimes you have to mourn. Love you.

    1. Yes, Morgan. Fortunately, we photographed the house well over those 40 years … but can’t find too many photos of the living room furnished to the hilt in top-notch mid-century Italian. I will miss that stuff … Oh well. Moving forward.

      So good to hear from you!



  4. Yes, a meet up is still something I’m hoping for. Our travel plans are still in the works, but I’m hoping to get to New Orleans this spring. We’ve never been there. Care to show us around?

  5. May your Dad weather his loss by counting his blessings. To lose everything but your life and loved ones can be devastating. Ten years ago my brother lost his home and all his belongings. With the support of family and friends, he and his family persevered. I wish your Dad hope in the face disaster.

  6. I love. LOVE..LLOOOOVVVVEEE….YOU. And yours. All of em. SO very sorry for the loss borne. But love your spirit of Victory over anguish. STILL…leave room to hurt. It deserves a space. You are all wonderful. So glad no lives lost. God is Blessing and Keeping you. You have already mounted up with Eagles wings…ISA 40.31…and it is a beautiful sight watching you FLY!

  7. I got the blog post but didn’t have time to respond yet..

    Omgsh… I’m so sorry about the fire!!!! I’m glad no one was injured.

    You’re in my thoughts!

  8. Very sorry to hear about the loss of your dad’s house.

    The devastation looks terrible .. but as you say, your dad may be looking forward to version 2.00

    We are going to use our best china today. something we got when we were married — but have never touched.

    Thanks for the reminder.


  9. Jim, Carmen and your Dad, Allen,
    Sorry I have only met Allen through your reminiscence: bedrock foundation for his family, even now adventuresome enough to go road tripping with his kids.

    Your depiction and description of the fire and events which followed captured my afternoon.

    Thank you for sharing this significant experience. Truly a character building event for all of you shown by your reactions and resolve to carry on.

  10. Have been praying for your dad since I heard about the fire. Great learning lessons for sure. And puts everything back in prospective. I have very friendly relatives in Quitman, Ms (not far from Meridian as you probably know). if you are down that way I would be glad to hook ya’all up! The very, very friendly!

  11. Thanks for the update. Sorry to hear about the fire and loss, but glad to hear your perspective on it. Stuff is stuff, and we can’t take it with us when we go anyway. That’s something a “pack rat” like I need to be reminded of often. God bless your travels!

  12. I am a fellow Airstreamer, stumbled on your blog today. In March of this year we too suffered a catastrophic house fire, we lost everything but the clothes we were wearing and “Belle” our 1966 Airstream. How true is it the words your Dad said to use the good china everyday. All we kept thinking when the dumpsters were loaded with debris was why did we have so much junk. 8 Months later we are still rebuilding but the goal is to live lighter with less “stuff”. Thanks for the post

    1. We are sorry to hear about your loss in March. Having been there a few days after the fire, we realize how devastating it is to see everything you owned gone. If there is a silver-lining, it would be what you said, “to live lighter with less stuff.” Not sure if you read our blog post on how we got rid of 98% of everything we owned, but it is called “The Clearing”

  13. I’m so happy your dad is ok and that you were able to find a few memories in the burn pile. Thank you for sharing your story! I need to read more of your posts because I feel there is a lot I can learn from you!! ❤️

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