Pop. Pop-Pop. Pop.
I was awakened by a noise I’d never heard before. Although at shortly after 3 am, I was unaware of how it really sounded.
I quickly sat straight up (or as quickly and as straight up as a five-months-pregnant woman can do).
The unfamiliar sounds were coming from outside. Or down the hallway. I couldn’t quite tell.
Someone is stealing our stuff, I thought.
“Larry, did you hear that?” I asked, nudging him in the side.
Not saying a word, he got up out of bed and walked into the hallway as I peeked out the window.
Fire. Fire. F-I-R-E!
He started shouting it as I saw it. Red and orange flames shooting high up into the air above the garage.
In early July of 1998, we were staying at my in-laws’ house up in the foothills of Tujunga, CA. In less than two weeks, our plans were to move to Missouri to be closer to my family. Pregnant with our firstborn, I wanted to be closer to my mom.
So we had moved out of our apartment, packed up the belongings we planned to take with us into Larry’s Toyota pickup truck and put the rest into storage.
We had only been staying there a few days when the 3:30 am wake-up call occurred.
And I thought it was someone outside stealing our stuff from Larry’s truck.
I like to think I remain pretty calm in the event of an emergency or under trying times (re: the stabbing in Springfield, the gun in my apartment hallway and my recent experience with a man lying in the middle of the street in Maryville… which is a story for another day).
But on this occasion, well, I was five months pregnant. And pregnancy hormones being what they are, I guess you could say I was a little less than calm.
Actually, when I saw the fire, I coolly grabbed my shoes and ran out the back door of the house along with Larry, his niece (who was also staying there) and his mother. My father-in-law grabbed a garden hose and was trying to do his best to combat the flames.
So I was doing okay, standing there in the backyard, listening to the sirens that seemed like a million miles away, winding their way up and down and around all those foothills, trying to reach the fire.
And then Larry ran back inside the house.
And so I freaked. And I screamed, calling out to him.
Not the horror-movie, high-pitched scream that my 12-year-old son has a knack for… but I did scream.
Now I’m usually not a screamer, although I can scream with the best of them — at a football or a basketball game (just ask my brother who had the pleasure of sitting next to me when we saw Jimmer and BYU play up in Omaha last year). That screaming is called spirit.
This scream, however, was different. It was fear. Fear for my unborn child and fear for that child’s father.
What seemed like hours later, and after the firemen had arrived on scene, I learned Larry had run inside to get keys to the cars parked in front of the house. He was trying to move them so the fire trucks could get closer to the house in the crowded cul-de-sac where they live.
But he wasn’t able to save his truck. It was a total loss. And several things we had packed inside for the move to Missouri were also lost.
The fire destroyed a lot of his parents’ things. But thankfully, no one got hurt. And in the end, most of what was lost was replaceable.
Fire changes people. It did for me, at least.
It puts things in perspective — People are important. Things are less so.
Although there always seems to be those few precious things that can’t be replaced, like pictures, which help us keep old memories alive.
I walked out of the Nodaway News Leader office just as the morning light showed the harsh reality of the downtown fire earlier this month.
I’d already been out to take pictures when it was still dark, so I was heading out to take a few more when I saw a weary Dave Weigel walking toward me. He’s been a friend of my mom’s for years and my heart sunk as I saw him coming toward me.
His business had been completely destroyed.
And typical Dave, he seemed almost upbeat about forging ahead. That is, except for when he mentioned that one drawer he wished he could get his hands on. Among other things, it included a picture of his father.
But after he took a moment, he continued on his way, smile included.
I have such great respect for those who can suffer through a tragedy, pick themselves up, and move forward with an even greater determination to do good in this world.
That life-altering fire 13 years ago reinforced two distinct principles (which I was reminded of after the fire on Third and Main) — one practical and one a bit more transcendent and thus a bit harder to achieve, at least for me:
1. Be prepared. Have a plan. I remember as a little girl my parents’ having a fire escape plan which we practiced regularly.
I know that helped me stay relatively calm, that is, at least until Larry went back inside the house. Also, install smoke detectors. Those tiny little machines can save lives. And change the batteries in them every six months.
2. Simplify. And by that I guess I mean refocus on what is really important in life.
All that stuff lost in the fire is not stuff I can take with me when I die. What I can take with me is knowledge and experiences with family and good friends. Treasure those things.
While contemplating these ideas again, I was reminded of transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, who wrote “Walden; or Life in the Woods.”
Thoreau spent two years on the banks of Walden Pond where he constructed a cabin, planted a garden to sustain himself and spent his days studying and writing, with no thought of time or worldly possessions.
He said, “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify.”
Surely simplifying means different things to different people. For me, it’s a good purge of belongings I don’t really need every six months or so. Spending quality time with the people who mean the most. And trying to not be distracted by things that really don’t matter.
L. Tom Perry, in “Let Him Do It with Simplicity,” said, “(Thoreau) considered the time he had spent (at Walden Pond) a proper amount of time to accomplish his purpose—to experience the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle.”
I love that.
Experience the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle.
It took a fire for me to realize that.