“Much of Muchness” is part of the continuing series about the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read earlier posts in this series, click on the links at the end of this post.
The holidays over, we settle into our new house. And, I mean NEW. Everything is new. With the exception of the few pieces saved by firefighters and some of our artwork, everything is new! Charlie and I feel like we are living a surreal existence as guests at a luxury hotel. I imagine that what we felt was much like what the winners of “Extreme Home Makeover” feel. Overwhelmed with gratitude. Overwhelmed by the beauty of a brand new place full of brand new furniture. Overwhelmed by the good fortune we’ve had in spite of a bad situation.
We were torn between grief for our old house and old belongings and loving all of this new stuff. I can tell you from my own personal experience, it’s a weird feeling. Because, even though we lost our home in a terrible fire during a terrible firestorm, even though we were adequately insured for the rebuilding, we somehow felt that we were not deserving. Do you think you can understand that mix of feelings? Undeserving of this gorgeous new place because we lost our old home in a fire? I don’t know how to explain it other than that. It would take us about 6 months of adjusting to our new home before we considered this new house our home and not a luxury hotel suite.
I will share with all of you a secret – I no longer like to shop! All of this purchasing cured me of any shopping disease I may have had (and I think I had a clutter disease before)! Add to this all the sorting, packing and moving I have done in the last two years for my elderly aunt and my parents and I’m completely cured! I rarely go to Costco anymore – Tiffany does that for me when she shops for her family! In fact, she goes to other stores for me, if she is going too. I haven’t been to the mall in months!
A few weeks after their visit, I get a beautiful Shutterfly book from my sister-in-law, Missy, in New York. I’m so excited about having this unexpected gift and a treasured keepsake of our special time together. However, in that collection of pictures, there’s a picture of our nephew on a 10’ ladder putting ornaments on our tree. And, he’s leaning precariously into the tree to reach it! Imagine my horror as I realize the jeopardy I placed these beautiful children in while decorating this tree, all because I had to have a 12’ tree! I told Charlie right then and there that we were getting rid of the tree as soon as we took it down and getting a normal 7½ foot tree to replace it!
We are now alone in our house; me, Charlie and Coco. And, we look at this 12’ tree and realize that I have to take it down (Charlie can’t climb a ladder!). We start at the bottom of the tree and Charlie helps with all of those ornaments. Once done with the bottom, I climb the 10’ ladder and stretch to reach all the ornaments left on the top part of the tree. And, I mean stretch! I could barely reach some of them and I had to stand on the top ladder rung to do so! A frightening experience!
After that’s all done, I attempt to lift the top of the tree off of the center section (it’s a three-section tree). It won’t even budge! I’m not strong enough to lift it, plus I’m balancing precariously on that 10’ ladder. So, I get down and give up.
We live with that undecorated tree in the middle of our great room for a couple of weeks, contemplating who we can sucker into coming to help us! Not my brother – he lives 3,000 miles away! Not my nephews! One lives 3,000 miles away and the other lives 200 miles away! So, it sits (or stands!).
We are still receiving furniture deliveries of furniture ordered during my wild shopping sprees to furnish our new home. One of them happens to be a sectional sofa. The delivery day arrives and the truck arrives including two delivery guys. They come into the house to see where they are going to put the sofa and notice the 12′ tree still standing (it’s late January by this time). They also notice that it’s undecorated. They also notice that Charlie is handicapped and I’m a short, overweight, middle-aged woman of no apparent strength. Here’s the conversation:
“Ma’am, would you like us to take down your tree?” one asks.
“Would you? OMG, that would be so absolutely wonderful!”
“Where would you like us to put it?”
“I’ll show you. There’s a box for it in the garage.”
Not only did they take down the tree, they disassembled it and put it in the box. A wonderful, generous gesture by two strong, capable men.
Throughout January, rain continues to fall off-and-on. Now settled into our new home, I decide to tackle unpacking stuff in our storage containers. One container was hit by the fire and though metal, the intense heat destroyed its contents (seasonal decorations for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, birthdays, etc.) by either melting the plastic tubs inside or tremendous smoke damage from the melting plastic and the wildfire’s smoke. We hired a restoration service to remove and dispose of the contents.
A picture of the storage container damaged by the fire. This was taken the night we were first allowed back on our property and this picture is dark because the sun had set and night was falling.
An inside view of the storage container and damaged contents – the intense heat of the fire melted plastic storage containers, destroying the contents and creating a toxic odor from the melted plastic and smoke.
The hired crew removing the contents of the storage unit to a truck.
Another picture of melted plastic storage tubs – these orange ones housed Halloween decorations.
However, the second storage container was not damaged by the fire. It had smoke damage, but the contents were in-tact. It housed books and furniture from my parents downsize and move from their large home into a much small condo two years prior, plus linens, dishes, glassware, suitcases, other collectibles, etc. So, with time on my hands, I decided to start unloading those items and bring them into the new house. If they could be washed, they could be salvaged.
Imagine my surprise when I opened this container and found mold growing everywhere! The fire had somehow damaged the structural integrity of this metal container and the recent rains did the rest. I am heartbroken because my plan was to incorporate these items into our new home. I close up the container and lock it and head into the house to give Charlie the bad news.
I tell other family members about this new development and my nephew, Kyle, offers to come for a long weekend and help me deal with the situation. We rent a large trash container and have it delivered to our property. Kyle arrives Valentine’s weekend (leaving a girlfriend behind and getting into all kinds of grief with her) and we work all weekend to dispose of unsalvageable items, bringing the salvageable ones into the house, cleaning them and putting them in place in their new home. I could not have tackled this huge task without him!
Above: the large rented trash dumpster and the stash of unsalvageable stuff that Kyle and I dumped. If it was plastic, it had to be dumped because the putrid smell of smoke and mold would not come clean. If it was wood, ditto. If they were books, ditto. If they were stuffed animals, ditto. About the only items that could be salvaged were either ceramic and/or porcelain or linens that could be washed. Many items made of fabric, such as suitcases, still had to be dumped because we could not remove the smell and mold.
Kyle’s work weekend with me is the final “random act of kindness” we receive as relates to the “Any Way the Wind Blows” series…a story of catastrophic disaster but full of the magic of human kindness, love, compassion, generosity, and hope.
But, the story doesn’t end there! While the above sentence is probably a good way to end this story, there is one more small detail I want to share (okay, maybe it’s really a BIG detail).
We’d been living in our house for about 8 months when a lightbulb went off in my head. It was early August 2009, so the beginning of fire season and I’m sure winds were gusting through our valley, making me nervous. One of the “building ordinance” requirements for a new house in our area is that it must be fully sprinklered. So, a sprinkler system was installed during the building process.
This “lightbulb” day, it occurred to me ask my husband how the sprinklers are activated. He explained to me that they kick-in during an actual fire. So, I asked him what powered them. He explained water is pressurized through our well forcing them to pop out of our ceiling. So, I asked what powered the well. He said electricity. So, I said “if we have a power outage AND a fire, the sprinklers wouldn’t work?” And, he said “yes.”
So, I became fixated on getting a backup generator for our house, making sure our house has power – ALL.THE.TIME. Several calls later, my husband found an electric company that provides generators and had them give us an estimate. I thought maybe $5,000? Was I ever wrong! $29,000 later, we have a “state-of-the-art” generator system and when the massive power outage happened in September 2011, we didn’t even realize it for a couple of hours! We knew our generator had kicked-on, but until we saw the news reports, we were unaware of the extent of this outage! Needless-to-say, relatives arrived enmasse’ to stay with us during the outage because we were fully operational with air-conditioning, lights, working appliances, etc.
Well, I understand that $29,000 is still a hefty amount to pay for the convenience of having our home fully operational during the September 2011 power outage. And, we would have been just fine and adapted to the situation, as did everyone else. So, why did we install this expensive system and what does it give me?
The series continues tomorrow with Chapter 16 – “The Backup Plan.”
Until Next Time,
(other post in the fire series)
Prologue – Any Way the Wind Blows
Chapter One – The Valley That Time Forgot
Chapter Two – Eye of the Storm
Chapter Three – In the Blink of an Eye
Chapter Three.One – Too Far From Home (Tiffany’s story)
Chapter Four – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Chapter Five – In a Blue Funk
Chapter Six – Back to Square One
Chapter Seven – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Chapter Eight – Not Me, Why Me, Who Me, It’s Me
Chapter Nine – The Whole Kit and Caboodle
Chapter Ten – Feathering the Nest
Chapter Eleven – The Blind Leading the Blind
Chapter Twelve – Apple Pie Order
Chapter Thirteen – All Hands on Deck
Chapter Fourteen – In the Lap of Luxury