“The Blind Leading the Blind” is the continuing story of the loss of our home in the San Diego Witch Fire 2007. To read the earlier posts in this series, click on the links at the bottom of this post.
Coco has adjusted well. He loves the space provided by the condo and has returned to his normal kitty self: loving, playful and happy. We are beyond relieved and sure we made the right decision.
My sister and her children (my nieces and nephew) arrive from Yuma for the weekend, staying with my parents. She brings me a beautiful, colorful ceramic rooster. In my old house, I had a collection of ceramic roosters. She wants to start me on a new collection.
Also, they want to go to see the old house. This time, we leave Coco behind. My nieces and nephew have strong emotional ties to our house, having spent many long weekends and holidays there over the years. So, we make another trip out to the site and again, the fresh pain of loss washes over us. Will we ever get to a point of numbness or will every visit to our site elicit such strong emotional responses within us?
I’ve been sick, for several weeks, with a cold brought on by the poor air quality and asthma. The first couple of weeks in our rented condo, I concentrate on getting well and every day when I return home from work, collapse on our sofa and do nothing but watch TV. But, I do buy “we’ve moved” cards from a Hallmark store and send out about 40 to family and friends. It seems weird to send out these cards, normally meant to announce a positive change in one’s life. But, I’m not up to writing letters to everyone, so this seems the best thing to do. We also contact all of our vendors and credit card companies announcing the change of address.
And, within the first couple of weeks of living in the condo, we get many surprise gifts sent to us in the mail and delivered in person:
A large box arrives from my childhood friend, Gwen, in Tennessee. I open it up to find another beautiful, handmade quilt and two pillow cases! She made this for me and Charlie after hearing about our loss. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this beautiful, thoughtful gift.
My elderly cousins add to my rooster collection, sending me a green Irish rooster and a large porcelain multi-colored rooster!
Many friends and family send us checks to help offset our costs.
Friends and co-workers call offering furniture, even a TV!
And, my aunt sends us several books and faux-flower bouquets to decorate our new home!
And, Tiffany and her husband send us the most beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers in a darling pitcher!
And, my girlfriend, Mory, drops by with lots of clothes for me from her sister and a gift certificate for Coco from PetSmart!
And, another girlfriend, Donna, drops by my office with the gift of a tea pot, cups and saucers from her and another friend, Bonnie!
We are overwhelmed and amazed at the generosity, thoughtfulness and outpouring of love that surrounds us and greets us daily.
Our new neighbors are wonderful people, inviting us to many meals together and offering to help in any way possible. On the weekends, they take us different places in the downtown area helping to familiarize us to our new neighborhood.
While I now walk to work two blocks away, our company is in the throes of a major move to a new location and once accomplished in mid-January, my new commute will then be three blocks away! I give up my assigned parking space in my company’s building, but the trade-off is that I miss the major gas price increases that plague our nation for many months.
As the world’s economy collapsed and events unfolded on television, our thoughts are focused on how to move forward. With the evolving world drama and uncertainty high, well-meaning family, friends and co-workers’ clients offer their services ranging from demolition to rebuilding. Charlie and I are feeling the pressure of being pulled in different directions by all matter of sources. We obtain bids from three demolition contractors that are referred to us by various friends and co-workers’. After checking references as best we can, we choose one – not the lowest bid, surprisingly. But, sometimes you have to go with your gut and that’s what we did with this demolition contractor. And, we were not disappointed.
With demolition scheduled, Charlie begins a regular pattern of driving the 60-mile round trip from our condo to our property to supervise work performed on our site. And, since I’m back-to-work full time now, he takes pictures of everything happening on our property so that I can see the progress. The county has given all homeowners a deadline to clear the debris and if that deadline passes without completion, the county will take over and charge the homeowner for the job.
And, the holidays were approaching. As the oldest child and daughter in my family, I had taken on the holiday events for our extended family after the “retirement” of my mother from this duty several years ago. Our small condo could not accommodate a family of 20+, nor had a kitchen large enough to cook such a feast. We decide to have Thanksgiving at a local area restaurant and I make reservations for all. We enjoy a nice Thanksgiving Day with family at this restaurant and in spite of everything swirling around us and the world, we are thankful for what we have and what our future holds.
After Thanksgiving, we ask our insurance company about the rebuilding process. They explain to us that they don’t care what we build, who we use, etc. They will issue a check for the “actual cash value” of our destroyed home up front and once we rebuild, we are to submit the contract and invoices from the contractor we hire and they will reimburse us the balance, up to the policy limits. So, it’s up to us on what to do, how to do it, who to hire, etc.
After many conversations between the two of us, Charlie and I make a tough decision: NOT to use any family members, any friends or friends of friends or friends of family or clients of co-workers in our rebuilding process. While I know that feelings were hurt because of this decision, we decided that the rebuilding process would task every inch of our being and having a friend or family member work for us could lead to disagreements, disappointments, unrealized expectations, etc. Plus, if we needed to sue someone for work performed, we did not want that person to be a friend or family member.
Before retiring, Charlie worked in the construction industry for many years. So, he understood what needed to be done to move forward plus he understood the construction process. Between us, we had a skill-set that most fire victims didn’t have: his construction background and my insurance background. Each of us would use our respective skills over-and-over again as we moved forward in the process. Also, our unique skill-set probably saved us hours of time and months of work because we knew what was needed to get things done. He knew what to expect and do on the construction end and I knew what to expect and do on the insurance end.
Although we had these skills, we would be confronted over-and-over again with endless decisions and endless paperwork. All of our waking hours were spent on working on our claim. Charlie would work all day with contractors and when I returned home from work, I would work all night on paperwork. Our weekends were consumed with making decisions and choosing products. And, many, many times, we felt we were the blind leading the blind.
Not knowing how long this condo would be our home, how long it would take to build a new home or how long it would take to settle our insurance claim, we decide to “feather our nest” further by purchasing our own furniture. I had a great need to create a home for us that was uniquely “us” even if it wasn’t our old home. So, in early December, we venture to a local chain furniture store to buy a condo-full of furniture. I was determined to shop in only one store. Since I had already spent days in multiple stores buying necessities, I didn’t want to be traipsing from one furniture store to another. Plus, I knew I would be doing this (traipsing) to furnish our new home, once it was built. And, this particular furniture store advertised an attractive benefit: they would deliver the next day and in some instances, same day delivery was available! Imagine having a 2-bedroom place furnished in brand-new furniture the next day! Instant gratification at its finest!
So, with condo measurements in hand, Charlie and I arrive at this store and are greeted by a salesman. I explain that I’m there to purchase a whole houseful of furniture. I think I shocked him because at this local furniture store chain, most people come in with the idea of purchasing one or two items, not an entire household!
Previously, a friend whose parents lost their home in the 2003 Cedar fire suggested to me that stores will give discounts to fire victims who have FEMA numbers. I ask this salesman and he leaves to go check with his superiors. Apparently, we are the first to ask this question. Charlie and I start looking around and the salesman returns with a positive answer: this store will give us a 10% discount with copies of the FEMA paperwork. Fortuitously, I brought this paperwork with us.
While in the store, our homeowner’s insurance carrier calls us. It’s our claims adjustor’s boss and she’s calling to (1) tell us they are releasing the check for the “actual cash value” of our home that day and mailing it to us and (2) she needs to confirm that we ARE rebuilding our home. She explains that she needs a letter from us in writing, stating that we intend to rebuild in order to keep our claim file open. So, I promise her that I will draft the letter that weekend and mail it right away.
At that point in our lives, we didn’t know how long we would be living in the rented condo. So, with that in mind, I wanted our furniture choices to matter; matter to us. It took me several hours, with the salesman glued to me side and Charlie concurring with my choices, but we got it done. The salesman escorted us to the service counter to finish the paperwork and pay the bill. Our bill is over $10,000 and this store is only capable of creating paperwork and accepting payment via check up to $5,000! A new wrinkle develops in completing this transaction. Ultimately, the store decides that they can break the transactions up into two and that we can write two checks. Their system takes the checks through an electronic funds transfer process and they receive payment immediately, which is a relief, because they will not schedule delivery until the checks clear the bank. After about 5 hours in this store, we are “good to go” and even though it was a long day and a long process, I’m relieved I won’t be going to other stores to shop for furniture.
The very next day, we receive the check from our insurance company via overnight mail. Now we have a new dilemma – which banks to trust with this considerable lump sum. All around us rumors are swirling regarding the stability of the economy and the banking industry. Our bank, a regional bank on the West Coast, is one of the ones in the rumor mill and several banks have already gone under and are in the process of transferring to the RTC for control. In the end, we decide to open three separate accounts in three separate banks with a national presence. If those banks go under, at least our funds will be covered by FDIC insurance. We elect not to deposit the check in our current bank. But, we have to deposit this check into a bank, so we choose one, set up the account, wait for the check to clear and then set up two other accounts and transfer money. So, we spend the next several weekends visiting the three chosen banks to set-up our various accounts. During this time, our stomachs are in our throats and we are on pins-and-needles not knowing whether we will lose any portion of our initial deposit, should that first chosen bank go under. Fortunately, it doesn’t and none of the three banks chosen go under. We had an angel sitting on our shoulder when making this decision and we chose the right banks.
Clockwise from top left: (1) Coco resting in our condo on his super soft, squish-factor worthy pillow from Costco. (2) Coco chowing down on favorite kitty grass in our rented downtown condo. Our neighbor, Jon, bought this for him and he was in kitty heaven (p.s., if you’ve forgotten or don’t know, Coco is a boy!). (3) Coco, “getting his groove back” in our rented condo. He’s playing with his favorite toy – Midnight Crazies. (4) Coco hiding among Charlie’s new clothes in a closet in our rented downtown condo. (5) More playtime for Coco and his favorite pillow. (6) More playtime for Coco – stalking a Midnight Crazy ball in our rented condo.
Top photo: the beautiful quilt and pillowcases from my childhood girlfriend in Tennessee, Gwen. Bottom left photo: The green rooster from my elderly cousins on display in our condo. Bottom right photo: The rooster from my sister, Dawn.
A large trash dumpster is delivered to our property. There would be nine more delivered and removed before demolition is done.
Top photo: the “Tim Burton Skeleton Trees” that still, to this day, run behind our property. The land that adjoins ours is owned by the City of San Diego. With the extent of the devastation, the City cannot afford to clear all the devastated property. Throughout our county, scars such as these remain, with new growth all around them.
Bottom left photo: a giant pile of mulch created by the demolition crew. These are the remains of our trees that were destroyed by the fire. Behind the piles of mulch are “City” owned trees that line the dry river bottom.
Bottom right photo: a wonderful surprise – Belladonna bulbs pop out of the ground! These were in my old front yard.
Our cleared land. It took about a week for the demolition company to finish the job.
The series continues tomorrow with Chapter 12 – “Apple Pie Order.”
Until Next Time,
(other posts in the 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