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The Day Our House Burned Down: Jan. 9, 1988

Posted Jan 07 2010 9:00pm

Today’s post has nothing to do with body image, weight, fitness, or anything … I am just feeling nostalgic and wanted to put my family’s fire story into words. I don’t have a photo on hand to share from that day, and I didn’t want to use anyone else’s random photos … but sometimes a post doesn’t need it to resonate. I hope this is one of those.

Female intuition is a very powerful thing, and not something I take lightly.

A Saturday morning 22 years ago, while preparing to head out for the day on a family outing, I innocently asked my dad, “Daddy, what would happen if our house caught fire at night?”

He seemed a little surprised by my question (as it was completely out of the blue), but told me what we’d do — find each other, get out safely, and go to our neighbors’ house to call for help.

As planned, we ran some errands, and pretty much forgot about our conversation. But when we came home later that day … our lives were changed in an instant … and that “what if” conversation we had that morning haunts me to this day.

My dad opened the front door and (I’ll never forget this) screamed the one word that will forever echo in my mind: “FIRE”!

Smoke started coming out the front door. My mom, brother, sister and I were still at the top of the driveway getting our stuff from the car, and he yelled at us to run to the neighbors’ house to dial 9-1-1.

We were just 8, 6, and 4 at the time, so the shock of those words was enormous. We ran across the street to the comfort of our wonderful neighbors who called 9-1-1.

The rest is a giant blur of memories, memories so vivid that sometimes they feel like they just happened yesterday.

I remember my eyes welling with heavy, uncontrollable tears … staring from our neighbors’ window as fire trucks pulled into the cul-de-sac and hearing the screech of the sirens … watching the men with huge hoses entering the house …

Realizing everything as we knew it was but a distant memory.

I remember hours later, after assessing all the damage, my parents coming into our neighbors’ house, the stench of smoke making us gag … my mom’s long blush-colored coat stained with gray ash … thick soot etched deep into their faces … their blue eyes shining with tears …

A lifetime of memories built in their first home, gone, just like that.

And I remember the overwhelming sadness of being just 8 years old and realizing your brand-new bedroom furniture, all your toys — including your new Hanukkah toys — were gone.

January 9, 1988, we lost nearly everything we owned, including our sense of security. With the exception of some salvageable photo albums (that still have that tangy house-fire odor today; I can “smell” it now, 22 yrs and 1,000 miles away), a couple home movies, and the blue stuffed octopus my dad gave me the day I was born that he was able to rescue … it was all gone: furniture, toys, clothes, books, electronics … you name it, all that “stuff” — it was gone.

But even through the shock of our tragedy and our great loss, I also remember the utter relief that we weren’t home when it happened; that no one was hurt; that we were all together.

Perhaps that was the biggest blessing of all: we were together and safe. Temporarily “homeless,” but safe, and **together**.

I’m sharing this story now, on the cusp of our “fire anniversary” to remind all of us that what we think is so important — those possessions and gadgets and things we treasure — are really worth nothing when it comes down to it.

What matters is the loving family and friends you surround yourself with; the support you give one another in good times and in bad. And that’s a treasure to savor and hold tightly to.

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