the fire

Dec 12, 2009

Today is December 12. Sixteen years ago our house caught on fire and we lost everything we owned…well, almost everything…more than a few miracles were worked that day.

We had been married for 8 weeks and lived in a single-wide trailer out in the country. The trailer had no heat because the furnace was broken and our landlord kept promising to fix it, but hadn’t done so yet. As December set in, we were quite cold in our house. There was a wood stove in the front room, but it didn’t seem safe to us because it had two ninety degree bends in the flue. We were at our house for very few hours each day – we were both working long hours and Richard was going to school, so it was really just the place we slept and showered.

Our home was SO cold. We left the milk out one night and it froze. We had to thaw the shampoo every morning by holding it under the warm water of the shower. I remember being soaking wet and running from the bathroom to the bedroom where we had a little space heater and about ten quilts on our bed. We would snuggle all night long to keep each other warm and then the next day we would do it all over again.

Each day the landlord would promise to fix the furnace. Each night, it was still not working and we were still freezing.

Richard had been working as a CNA at a nursing home. He had been scheduled for every Sunday and although health care providers often have to work on the Sabbath, he didn’t feel right about it. The day before he had talked to his employer about it and said he could no longer work on Sundays. He offered to work double shifts on other days or to do extra work, but he could no longer work on Sundays. They threatened him with firing, then when they saw he was not going to bend, they agreed because they didn’t want to lose him.

My routine on Sundays was to attend church services and then go home and curl up under the ten quilts on our bed. I couldn’t really be anywhere else in the house, so I just stayed in bed and read until I fell asleep and then I snoozed the day away. I was working all sorts of different shifts as a supervisor at a group home for developmentally disabled adults and I was always emotionally and physically exhausted by Sunday, so the reading didn’t last long and the sleeping did.

That Sunday I was thrilled that Richard was going to be home with me. We attended church services together and were asked to portray Mary and Joseph in our ward’s portrayal of the Christmas story. We went home after church and found a load of wood had been left by some kind soul. I begged Richard to start a fire in the wood stove so that when we returned home from play practice that night the house would be warm. I remember saying “I am so tired of being cold, just this once, can’t we have a warm house?!” He gave into my pleas and after the fire was started, we left for play practice and dinner with a family in our ward.

Hours later we heard a fire engine tearing through town. I knew, just knew, that it was headed to our house. We ran to our car and drove home and sure enough, our house was on fire. In the dark of the night the orange flames shot heavenwards and noble firefighters fought to quench them. I nearly collapsed in Richard’s arms as I watched all our beloved things burn, explode, and smolder before our eyes. We stood there holding each other, sobbing, and feeling vulnerable, alone, empty, and afraid.

I felt as though I had been violated. Completely opened up and desecrated. The feeling was so strong and I didn’t know what to do with these overwhelming feelings, but I turned to Richard and we held each other and watched the fire long into the wee hours of the morning.

As we went through the remains in the coming days, we found some tender mercies. Our garments were in the washer and had not burned. Richard’s missionary scriptures, journals, and photos were in a back room and were left unscathed. His gun was also untouched. Everything else was destroyed. All our wedding gifts, pictures, quilts made by grandmas, aunts, and friends, all my high school memories, my clothes, my shoe collection, my temple clothing, my scriptures, my books, a turkey in the freezer, everything…gone.

We also realized that had Richard not refused to work on Sundays, I would have been home, sound asleep, when the fire started and probably would have slept right through it. There was no fire alarm and I am a heavy sleeper. I easily could have died and even if I hadn’t, I would have had smoke damage and burns.

We slowly rebuilt our life with a lot of help from family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. I remember my father sending us a JCPenney gift card to go and get some new clothes. Do you have any idea how fast $500 can go when you have to buy every single thing, from underwear and socks to pants, coats, sweaters, shirts, and shoes? We would come home at night and find boxes of stuff that people wanted to share with us. Our family threw us a “fire shower” and friends sent money, quilts, and lots of love.

A humorous story…we received five toasters for our wedding…and we received five toasters after the fire. I guess that is seen as THE essential gift and no one wants you to be without one!

Looking back now, I am amazed at the experience. It was one of many that solidified our relationship as a couple and taught us to depend upon and trust one another. We had an incredibly rough first year, with the funeral of Richard’s favorite uncle and cousin, the fire, four moves, two surgeries, months of physical therapy, an incapacitated me with both arms in slings, an internship, several different jobs, and a struggling wife who had a really hard time trusting men and couldn’t figure out how to relax and just be happy with the gift of her wonderful husband. It is quite comical to think back on it now…so many huge trials all in the course of one year. Just one year…and it changed everything.

I am grateful for the fire…and for that year. We became a couple, instead of he and she. We loved and trusted and cried and raged and prayed and at the end of that year we were stronger, more “in love,” and more able to follow the plan our Father had for our family.

I hope we never have to go through a fire again, but I am grateful for the lessons learned and the love that grew out of ours.

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  1. Anne

    Your post was so hard for me to read.

    I thought you were at a Christmas party and tithing settlement…..

    I so wish you hadn’t had to go through that experience.

    I remember you were so young.

    I remember your phone call, you were screaming and crying and sobbing and I couldn’t help you.

    I’m so sorry.

    • tracy

      Nope, we had a practice for Mary and Joseph and then went to a friend’s house to eat dinner. Yes, it was awful and hard, but it seems like a blessing now. Remember Ledah’s family sending us all their change and how your Relief Society tied us a quilt?

  2. Kari

    I never got a toaster! I had to go buy one after my wedding. I did get six crock pots though. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with them so I returned them ALL. Do you know what I would give to have all those crock pots now?!!!!

    • tracy

      If only we had known each other then! My fire party was late December 1993 at Carol’s, so you were probably just down the street! I could have given you some toasters!

  3. Even though I know this ‘story’ hearing/reading it was sobering. I plan to forward this to Jane.