In the past week I have witnessed first hand the giving spirit of the people who live around me. Friends, acquaintances and strangers on both sides of the border responded with an outpouring of incredible generosity to a woman and her child after a Crescent City house fire.
It was exactly one week ago today when I received a call that a friend’s house was on fire. I drove there to find the street blocked by flares. I saw fire trucks and long yellow hoses. I found my friend and hugged her as rain fell and her world collapsed on Inyo Street.
We were wet and cold and I was certain she was in shock. I told her over and over how lucky she was because she had been at work and her daughter at school when the fire started. In my mind I compared this event to a recent fire where a mother and her child had not been so fortunate.
When we walked into the house the scene was surreal like the set for a horror film. Everything was a shade of black. The floors crunched beneath our feet. Dishes had exploded and we were walking over them. Mugs left on the microwave looked like charcoal.
The fire had started in the kitchen. Anything plastic — like the knobs on the stove — melted. So did her laptop computer. Photographs evaporated in their frames. The curtains were a dusty gray-brown. A wrought iron crucifix on the wall was covered with ashes.
We wandered through the house assessing the damage. Warmth generated by the fire and a desire to know what survived drew us in. The firefighters put a fan at the front door to blow in fresh air. They warned us that it wasn’t healthy to stay inside for long. I was struck by how genuinely concerned the firefighters were. Later, when my lungs burned in my chest, I wished I had listened to them.
The fire hoses hadn’t been rolled up yet when offers of help came pouring in. A couple of calls and emails mobilized a brigade of angels. From the ashes rose new pots and pans, sets of dishes and glasses, a love seat and coffee table, a TV, a CD/DVD player, checks, gift certificates at a local restaurant and an offer of cash to pay the first two months rent on a new place.
Among the bags dropped off at my office, a teddy bear’s eyes peeked out. Susan, who had never met the victims of the house fire, wanted to make sure the 11-year-old daughter had a soft new friend to comfort her.
For me, the most poignant gesture came from a mother who had suffered the greatest loss just a few months ago. How much easier it would have been for her to wrap herself up in her own grief and look the other way. But instead she sought out another mother and came to the door with chowder and a check and the offer of beds.
On Sunday afternoon, cars and trucks from both Curry and Del Norte counties carried the makings of a home to a new address. Side by side, friends, acquaintances and strangers unloaded furniture, boxes and bags turning loss into tremendous joy. I am humbled by your selflessness. I am grateful to live among you.