Because it was all supposed to be pretty smooth. My sister Bonnie had been dropped off at her daughter’s place, Suzy and I had exchanged gifts (she got me a treadmill and a recumbent bike, so hopefully there will be less of me to love in 2010), and Suzy was off to get a pedicure Friday morning while I was chilling in the recliner watching Netflix with a cat in my lap.
Then, as so often happens, the phone rang and it went all pear-shaped.
My sister’s ringtone is Dierks Bentley’ cover of the Bob Dylan tune “Senor,” so when she called I answered with lyrics – “Where we headed? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?” When she answered, I knew it was bad. Her voice was shaking, and she said, “it is Armageddon. Tommy’s house is on fire.”
My brother’s house went from a home to a pile of rubble in the time it took for him to go finish his Christmas shopping. We believe the problem started in the wiring, but no one is really sure. What we are sure of is that on Christmas Eve everything he and his wife owned, including their two incredibly loving Jack Russel Terriers, went up in smoke.
So I packed two suitcases, one full of clothes that are two small for me so that Tom would have something to wear, and another full of my clothes and toiletries in case I needed to stay down there for the weekend. I got in touch with Suzy, and we decided that she would follow me later, and I hit the road.
I grew up a volunteer firefighter, and the smell of a house fire is something you never forget. It’s a mix of wood, plastic and dreams, all mixed in with cold air and tears. I was only seven when my older brother Bob’s house burned 30 years ago, so I don’t remember much about that time, but this was fresh. I spent a ton of time in that house as a kid, playing Nintendo with my nephew or even a little babysitting for Tom’s kids. So it was a devastating loss for the whole family, especially given the crappy timing.
The rest of the day was a lesson in small-town caring. The community came out in droves before the coals were even cold, bringing food, clothing and money to my parents’ house. The love and compassion shown by that community of working-class people blew me away and brought tears to my eyes and those of my entire family.
Tom and his wife Sherry are now settled into my parents’ guest room for the time being while they fight over insurance and work hard to rebuild their lives. There are things lost that are irreplaceable like Sherry’s parents’ wedding bands and all her photos of her deceased mother, their poor dogs, and all of their keepsakes and memories. Clothes have pretty much been replaced with everything that has come in, but the sheer volume of stuff that it’s going to take to get their place rebuilt and refurnished is astounding. Even with insurance, it won’t cover everything. It might cover the note on the house, and maybe some of the contents, but it’s doubtful that they can get everything rebuilt and refurnished with what insurance will pay out.
That’s why I’m writing this. Time and again, my community of invisible internet friends has chipped in to help someone in need, and this time it’s my family. I’m putting a paypal button here on the page so that people can donate to help out. This goes to my account for now, but I will be setting up a special account for them as soon as I get all the details like internet access for Sherry set up, since my parents don’t have internet and her computer is now a pile of melted plastic. So if Santa left a little something in your stocking this year, please chip in and help out my brother, who got left a lump of coal where his home used to be.