"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Friday, March 25, 2011

Out of the Fire

"Life is not measured by the number 
of breaths we take, but by the moments 
that take our breath away."


Ordinary spring break day.  Sleep in, eggs for breakfast, kids left in pj's as I made a quick church related visit for primary, return to kids still in pj's, dishes on the counter, a deadline approaching to meet up with friends at a local museum, quick post as kids scramble to get ready, fast chore requirements (not nearly enough to right a house) lunch thrown together, out the door battle ... dishes still stacked on the counter.  Some spring break days are like that.

Leaving the museum in the afternoon, the fire station next door flew open and all firetrucks pealed out.  We waited then followed at a distance.  My son pointed out smoke on the horizon. "Must be some house fire." we remarked.  Police and fire traffic thickened nearing our neck of the woods and my knuckles whitened on the steering wheel as I tried to focus on driving while watching the red orange glow in the direction of our home.

I grabbed the cell phone and found numerous messages from neighbors and friends, namely a frantic husband texting "Forest fire, Get the kids out".  I called.  He had rushed home from work when he couldn't find us and was loading files and other needs.  The fire was growing and the winds kept changing but evacuation hadn't reached us yet and there was still time.

"Should we pray?" asked the kids.  "Yes pray." I said as police waved us through when I pointed indicating the direction of our home.

Minute to minute updates played from our computer stream as I walked around the house with what felt like changed visual sensory perception.  Room by room, everything was expendable.  What goes in a pinch? What sum up a life?


Easy.  A box of pictures before digital camera.  Home videos captured but seldom watched.    Framed cross stitches sewn in a great grandmother's hand.  A handful of homemade mother's day cards.  A baptismal dress from 1981 and another, more recent, worn by three little girls.  Locks from first haircuts.  Newborn hospital bracelets and ultrasounds.  Letters from a mother to a homesick college freshman daughter.  Journals upon journals.  A father and son's scouting accomplishments.  A few pressed flowers from a wedding bouquet...

And we waited with baited breath.  Land line clear for a reverse 911 telling us to evacuate.  Cell phone going, accounting for other church members in the area.  Making lists of neighbors out of town for spring break, whose livestock would need help in the event.

Kids were sent out into the eerie orange sun glow and campfire smell to load poultry in cages and place in the garage should we need to leave in a pinch.  I looked around my kitchen and paused to load the morning's pile of abandoned dishes, eclectic mixture of thoughts running through my head.

You really can't take it with you.  Any of it.  In my husband's manlike disconnected expression over memories I was cataloging to save, he stopped me with assurances that every memory was safely tucked inside each of us.  He was right.  It really is.

My mother's wisdom was sage.  You should always wear clean undies in the instance today might involve in unexpected hospital visit.  Likewise ... do the dishes.  No one wants to envision returning to a charbroiled house where fire forensics note the dishes weren't done.

Be prepared.  Of children sent to rooms to grab what they considered irreplaceable, my oldest daughter came down from her room with only her scriptures, journal and young women's personal progress.  She later remarked that she felt guilty that her tithing from some previous babysitting was stuck in the cover of the journal unpaid.  She'd not make the mistake of a time lapse again, she said, and she really made me think.

The wind changed blowing the fire back on itself making containment more possible.  Unexpected snow flurries fell to finish off a day that had otherwise been clear.  The wet air aided the water from helicopter drops.  We heard 30% contained ..... 50% contained .... and finally released chickens and closed our eyes with shoes by the door at 70% contained.  Kissing children goodnight, I heard "We prayed for this, Mom."

Today, I think I'll put the memories in the corner of my closet, closer by should I ever need to grab and go.  Today, I think I'll dejunk a little more of what is unimportant.  Today, I think I'll be grateful for firefighters in three counties.  And today, I think I'll put a camping chair in the yard and enjoy more driveway chalk drawings.  Because today is measured by memories not the out of breath-ness of living.


  1. Janine and Kayla -- thanks for the inquiries and concern! We came out unscathed but the adrenaline boost kept me up all night. Just watching for flair-ups today but all seems well. Thanks so much for asking!

  2. Glad to know....I was thinking and praying for you too! My friend is a hot shot with the fire department in Denver and wrote about it on facebook....we are really dry this year....I'm sure this is only the beginning of the fires this year! We're praying for rain!

  3. SCARY, SCARY, SCARY!! I'm so glad everything turned out alright! You've got me thinking about what I would do in the same situation. I have memorabilia scattered throughout the house. Maybe it's time to get it all organized in one place. Celia is ADORABLE!

  4. I have that quote over my stove, though I will confess I'm glad not to have needed to use it in this kind of situation!

    I've wondered before what I would grab in a similar situation. But I think your husband is wise in this instance--no THING is irreplaceable...

    Glad you're all ok!

  5. that is so scary. It really makes you think about what's important though. I'm sitting here going through my mind thinking about what I would grab first. Eeks. So glad all is well.

  6. I am so glad you guys are okay. We had a similar scare when we evacuated for Hurricane Ike. It's amazing to see what you really don't need to hang on to...what's safely tucked in your heart.

  7. Geez Marlowe. What a day! Glad everyone and everything is okay. It truly would be devastating to lose albums, journals, etc.

  8. Thanks for all of the well wishes! I guess it is best to keep important things in one quick grab place with a list on top of anything else to grab in a pinch. Even if that means a giraffe backpack too ...

  9. Okay, first of all - Praise the Lord that you are okay! Yikes. I have imagined this scenario a few times, but I am sure it is nothing like actually going through your rooms - deciding what to take! I am in the middle of a 40 bags/40 days declutter for lent project, and this just solidifies that importance of simplifying....for my everyday sanity....and in case of emergency!!!

  10. Oh you poor thing, Marlowe! I am so happy to hear that they were able to contain the fire. I bet it was quite an emotional time! (for all of you!) I am thinking of you! hugs, cathy