We had been planning to move out of the rental for months before the fire, but when it happened, it both sped us up and slowed us down.
I had returned late the night before from a trip to Washington, D.C. My father had given me the gift of being able to greet the Run for the Fallen group as they finished their last lap and entered the gates of Arlington National Cemetery.
It was a momentous and sacred occasion, for which I will always be grateful to have been a part of. Even after completing their 4,000-mile journey, each of the group remembered me and still claimed that San Juan County had given them their best welcome.
Still, there is opposition in all things. I should have known that after having been so richly blessed the next thing on my agenda would be a trial of equal proportions.
I had an early morning class to teach and left the house shortly after 7 a.m. that Tuesday. By 7:40, most of the rest of the family had also departed, leaving not only the two oldest girls asleep in their bedrooms, but a hot burner on the stove, under a pan of grease.
When the fire alarm went off, Jenny opened her door to a wall of black smoke. She found her way to her sister’s room and discovered her still sleeping. She woke her, and then as her older sister desperately dialed her father’s cell phone number, Jenny went in search of the new kittens and their mama.
I’ll never forget how I felt when I heard the story of Jenny bumping into walls and counters as she felt her way out of the house and then returned for the fifth kitten she could not initially find.
As she did this, her sister was trying to extinguish the flames, which by this time were licking at the kitchen ceiling. The rental was a doublewide trailer. Why the fire did not move beyond the cabinets more quickly than it did is simply unexplainable.
Two things still stand out in my mind: that my daughters didn’t know any better than to do what they did; and that they lived to know better if something like this should ever happen to them again.
My husband came and gave me the news at work. He had already met with the fire marshal and the manager of the rental; taken pictures and called the insurance company. He made it sound as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Still on a high from my trip, I accepted the news nonchalantly. Then I went home.
The fire itself had not done damage beyond ruining the stove, the range hood, the adjoining cabinets and countertop, and melting the ceiling light fixture. The accompanying ashes and soot was another story.
The ventilation system had been on and it had done a remarkable job of distributing ashes and soot throughout the house. Ashes can be vacuumed up. Soot cannot. Neither can it be wiped off. When you touch soot, it metamorphoses into something reminiscent of a political smear campaign: no one comes away looking clean.
I have two favorite quotes that fit times like this. One is from Dory, the sweet little special needs fish in Finding Nemo. Her simple advice is, “Keep on swimming, keep on swimming.”
The other quote is from a much more dignified person, Sir Winston Churchill. He said, “When you are going through Hell – keep going.”
I would repeat both of these thoughts in my mind over the ensuing weeks, as next came the move.