I’ve been absent from blog space for a while, but as many of you may know, my house was destroyed by fire on December 23. My mother actually passed away on that same day. So Mrs. Lincoln…other than that, how’d you like the play?
I was 400 miles away with my mom at the time of the fire, but imagine being at her bedside and getting a call at 3:00 am telling me that my house was ablaze and my wife and son were not accounted for. I’ll certainly never forget it. Fortunately about 10 minutes later as I was frantically gathering my stuff to leave, I got another call saying that Ellen & Sam were OK and at a neighbor’s house. That was probably the longest 10 minutes of my life.
I didn’t want to leave my mom, but she had slipped into a coma earlier that day and passed away peacefully about 6 hours after I left. I had been with her constantly for five days prior to this, but now I needed to attend to my family. She would have been the first to tell me to get the hell out of there! Mom was never one to mince words.
We have great next door neighbors, and that’s where I found El & Sam when I finally got back to Evansville. Our two daughters were scheduled to be home the next day, Christmas Eve, and I wasn’t sure where to tell them to come. Fortunately, another one of our neighbors spend their winters in Florida, so they just gave us their house to use until we found a place.
Christmas certainly was different, but not really bad. You can get to a point where you are largely just going thru the motions when it comes to holiday family gatherings. This brought our focus back to what it means to be a family and in a somewhat twisted way, this was one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had.
In early Feb they demolished what was left of our house. As you can tell from the picture, it was pretty much a total loss. I was out there with the demo crew anyway to try to recover anything I could. They were great to work with and let me direct their efforts. I was there for four days; much of it on my knees, sometimes in rain, digging thru the rubble with my hands while the bucket of a massive excavator hovered over my head. I have never worked so hard in my entire life, and I’m a hard workin’ man.
I knew exactly where everything in that house was, and I knew that there were three areas where there might be family photos. To my amazement, each of those areas yielded some valuable family history; some in pretty good shape, some not so much. Regardless tho, I found things that I thought had been lost forever.
The family albums were in one area and because they were so densely packed, they weren’t completely consumed. Probably 30% of the photos can be recovered. In an area of the basement, I found the plastic storage bin that contained the vast majority of the negatives of all the pictures we had ever taken back in the film camera days. Everything had melted around this bin so as to preserve it. These were probably 80% intact!
The most unbelievable thing tho was that because of the way the house had collapsed, El’s antique desk had fallen thru the floor into the basement and then was buried in a mountain of rubble.
Once I got down to it, I found that although the desk itself was destroyed, its contents were almost completely untouched. That desk contained our wedding albums; all perfect. It also contained each of the kid’s baby books that chronicled their first five years. There was a bag of framed pictures which turned out to be all the pictures we had given to my mom & dad over the years and that had subsequently returned to us when they had either passed away or downsized. All of these were unharmed too.
There were three 5×7 frames that held each of the kid’s 8th grade school picture, but when I removed them from the frames, I found they also contained every previous year’s picture too, all the way back to Kindergarten. There was my hand-colorized 8×10 one-year-old photo from 1954 as well as my 8×10 high school senior class picture. El’s photo album from her youth up thru about ’78 was there as well as all of our diplomas. There was even an old album of mine with pictures from the 60’s and 70’s. Pretty much everything El & I had from our early years, we still have. Unbelievable!
Virtually everything else in the house was incinerated, but these pictures were all I cared about anyway. I have a long road ahead of me to clean and restore the damaged ones, but that’s time I’m more than willing to put in. Plus, I now know how I’ll be spending my retirement (assuming I ever have one). I never really wanted to take up golf anyway.
I went out and purchased a negative scanner and have done a little preliminary experimentation. I have been amazed with the results! This is a pic scanned from one of the negatives from when the kids were little.
For perspective, Little Sammy is now 21 and 6’2”.
The fire was unfortunate, but everybody’s OK and that’s all that really matters. And the recovery of so many family photos is nothing short of a miracle! We’ve launched into building a new house, and in many ways we’re stronger than ever. I certainly have learned a lot thru the process and if I were to give any advice, it would be to make sure you have adequate coverage in your home owner’s insurance! The emotional component of this is tough enough. The last thing you want to have to deal with on top of that is financial ruin. This can happen to anyone. Trust me. I know.