My Central Illinois friends will surely still remember the horrendous storms and tornado warnings last Tuesday evening. Just after 11 pm, Clint's parents phoned: their home had been hit by lighting, and the attic had caught fire. They had no electricity, no telephones, and their cell phones would NOT connect to 9-1-1!
We barrelled out of the house, dialing 9-1-1 ourselves, and managing to get through. It was still pouring when we pulled up to find the lights of 4 firetrucks reflecting off of a neighborhood filled with smoke. Mom and Dad W. and Edie-the-Beagle were out of harm's way. I joined them in a backyard gazebo while Clint and his son Craig, a volunteer firefighter, joined the rest of the crew to get control of the flames leaping out of the top of the house.
We sat shivering in the rain for 4 hours before we were given the all-clear to come back into the half of the house that was unaffected by the fire. The other half, however...
It's very odd to watch a house burn, and to have a certain sense of calmness, thinking "This is ok. All that matters is that everyone is ok. Everyone got out of the house." It is what we repeated to one another over and over, throughout the night.
It is a week later, and though everyone is still thankful, it is also extremely unsettling. In a week's time, there have been meetings with Insurance adjusters—did you know you have to deal with two? One for material possessions, and another assessing structural damage. And Contractors—half of the house has to be rebuilt from floor to roof. Cleaners—every item in the house will be removed, restored, cleaned, and returned. Storage Facilities—the stuff has to go somewhere while the contractors work. Temporary housing! Electricians! Utilities! Inventorying! Packing! Calgonnnnnnnnnnn!
You know, this was not my home, my belongings. I've boxed up a few things, and moved a few pieces of furniture, but I have not had to make one phone call or show up for one meeting...and yet even I feel dazed.
I am in state of Sympathy Stupor.
And I'm also in a state of heightened awareness.
Lightning. A ball of fire went straight through the roof, through the ceiling and into the den where Mama W. was sitting in her recliner. I'd always rather enjoyed a good electrical storm, before last Tuesday.
Fire. Having been exposed to approximately ZERO housefires in my life, I was naively entertaining the notion that someone would grab a fire extinguisher when we arrived, and put the pesky thing out. I thought it might be, oh, the size of a basketball or something. Clint, however, was breaking the sound barrier while we drove across town, cursing, "I hate attic fires."
Firefighters. Sounds silly, doesn't it, after being in a relationship with one for a year? But while we scurried further away, Clint and Craig just moved right into that burning building, and removed all of the photos, needlepoints, quilts, afghans, and every other little thing that makes a house a home. It's called "Salvage and Overhaul," and is an important part of a firefighter's training, I learned later.
I got a firsthand glimpse at what Clint does for a living, and what Craig volunteers to do, until he someday steps into his father's shoes. Seriously, under what other circumstances would that ever have happened? It's not like Clint's going to call me and say "hey, baby, I'm heading out to a fire, c'mon out and watch us in action." Nope. I know he's worked a fire when he kisses me good morning after a 24-hour shift, and his moustache smells like smoke.
Home Insurance. Good Godalmighty, make sure you keep your home insurance paid up! All of the damage, repairs, and lost items have been covered by home insurance, thank God!
I am, after witnessing the fire and the aftermath, utterly moved. I think of Clint's parents, and imagine what they felt, watching their son and grandson march in and save the house. And how terribly proud they must be of granddaughter Jennifer and her fiance Bill, driving from St. Louis the very next day, to dig in, cleaning and boxing and trying to restore order, as best it can be restored.
And, after a week of chaos, we return to the word Thankful.
While we continue to do what we can to help the folks settle down and hope that the next 2-3 months of repairs go as smoothly as the first week of restoration procedures, direct your prayers, good vibes, well-wishes and shouts-out to Mom and Pop W. They're hanging in there more graciously than I can imagine I ever would.