Memories Do Not Burn

On Friday I ran out of shorts and it was going to be a hot day. I eyed my closet and although I’m not a dress girl, I thought it would amuse my daughter to wear one. I put on the dress and a magical thing happens when I dress up, I start to feel a little better, a little more positive.

I needed that, the positive feeling. The end of June had been a whirlwind of stressful events. It kicked off with my son having a Cyclic Vomiting Episode (he takes a preventative, but sometimes we have one break through). Then one of my fathers-in-law ended up in the hospital (in ICU) for longer than expected (two weeks) after a surgery. We forced invited my mother-in-law to stay with us, so she could be closer.

And of course the time period was not lacking for writing related disappointments; the highlight of which was an anthology I’d been invited into rejecting my story. It’s not a common practice to have this happen. Stories that editors ask a writer to write are generally used, if they’re not acceptable quality editors usually work with the writer or give them one last chance to get it right. I’d never respond to a rejection, but in this case I had to know. Being dyslexic I work really hard to make my stories engaging and free of errors. I don’t want my handicap to show or a story to be accepted because it was “as good as someone with a writing disability could manage” but because it was the best story period. The editor assured me it was not my story; in fact, it was among their favorites. It turned out three pro writers turned in stories too long. My story happened to be the right length to keep them on budget. I’m actually thankful for his honesty. He could have easily told me it was not what they were looking for, that it wasn’t hitting the theme, or was low quality—but he told me the truth. I’m grateful that he did. I’m just annoyed that I turned down other work to do this project, because it fit my skill set the best. Such is the life of writing as an award-winning writer who doesn’t have an established name. Yet.

So although I’m not a dress girl, I put on the dress, I wore the cloche 1920s style hat, and when my mother-in-law called and wanted to go out to lunch as a thank you for offering a place to stay, I felt as if my luck could be turning. All because of the dress.

My mother-in-law was snapping pictures faster than the paparazzi to commemorate the occasion of me in a dress.

My mother-in-law was snapping pictures faster than the paparazzi to commemorate the occasion of me in a dress.

It was just a few hours later as I sat writing that my best friend, Meghan, called me. I went out to the back porch and an uncharactistically light breeze was blowing, the sun was shining, casting a yellow glow off the tree leaves and grass. It was a perfect, beautiful day, the kind that leads to open doors ripe with possibility. And I listened carefully as my friend explained to me that she has breast cancer.

I nodded in all the right places and of course the enemy cancer is slated for doom. I imagined the cancer cells squealing like pigs as the chemo treatments took effect. And, like the warrior princess we are, we hope to bathe in the blood of this cancer enemy. I just was hoping she was calling me to tell me she’d sold a story since she writes now, too.

I promised to call our other friends; she was done talking about it for the day. I made a note to call and check-up on her parents and make sure they were doing okay. I know how hard it can be to so far away and try to quell the overwhelming feeling to not hop on the plane just to hug her.

I called my parents and although they were camping and out of cell range I left a message. Our parents are friends and see each other often (her dad works with my mom) so I wanted them to know.

The next morning my dad called to reassure me it would all be fine. My dad had cancer earlier this year, so hearing his reassurance helped. He was on his way to work, but would go back to camp in a few hours. A few hours later my sister called. I answered with a hesitant voice, because I assumed that the Siskiyou County Grape-Vine was at work.

It went like this:

“…Hey.” I added a fake smile, too.

“Tina?”

“Yep. How’s camp?” I asked because we still had to get out pleasantries, right?

“Tina.” She stopped, paused for a minute. This was not about Meghan. “Have you heard from mom or dad?”

“I talked to dad this morning. He was on his way to work….”

Sensing I was not up to speed, she cut me off. “The house burned down. Mom and dad’s house burned to the ground. I can’t get a hold of our brothers to tell them.”

She assured me that everyone was okay, and that our mom was on her way to the house to check out the damage. Apparently it was still burning, but had already been declared a ‘total loss.’

I left messages for my brothers trying to get a hold of them before they checked Facebook (Already people were posting about it, which goes to show how close our community back home is). I talked to my mom who was in good spirits about the whole thing.

“What can ya do? It is what it is.”

“I needed to downsize anyway.”

“It’s just stuff.”

“My first thought was of Rexida.”

Rexida. A nightmarish fabric doll with a plastic head, an anatomically correct plastic butt,  one lazy eye, and receding hair suspiciously the same color as mine. I carried her everywhere as a toddler. That horrible doll that my siblings and cousins tormented me with. Finally gone. We shared a therapeutic laugh over poor Rexida’s fiery demise.

My parent's house.

My parent’s house.

Then I texted my friends, which consisted mostly of rampant cursing. Meghan called me within two seconds of hitting send.

I gave the initial explanation: My dad had decided to go back to the house to check on it, and when he turned down the driveway it was already engulfed in flames. They don’t know what caused it yet, most likely a freak accident with wiring, or any spark of any kind since it’s so hot and dry there.

And then we burst out laughing.

I mean, what are the chances of all this bad news happening at once? We declared that good Karma had to start flowing soon, just to balance it all out. Neither of us are the types to sit around and wait for bad news, or even wallow in it, so we decided that focusing on the good things that were happening right now—even though the bad seemed to be eclipsing it—was the only way to proceed forward. So we’re doing 100 Days of Good Karma—where for the next hundred days we’re focusing on the sliver lining in each day.

#100DaysOfGoodKarma

If anyone would like to join for all or part of it, you’re welcome to participate.

Last night I went to bed with a new purpose to keep positive. But sometime in the night I started thinking of all the things that were gone. It started out as small things like my mom’s record collection from the 60s and 70s—there were a few Beatles albums in there I think, I remember them anyway. There were photos going back for generations, a lot of mementos of both my great-grandmothers. We’d just transferred a bedroom set that my great-grandma Freda had left to me to my parent’s house for the kids to sleep on when we stayed there. Her last name is the name I’d chosen as a pen name for writing. Then there was my husband’s glasses, Our Elf on the Shelf we’d stored there because it’s where we go for Christmas. Then it was the harder things, like the wall just as you enter the living room where we all measured ourselves as kids. Our friends and cousins measured themselves there, my kids for as long as they could stand had a measurement for at least twice a year. My parents lost a lot more: work records, important documents, furniture, computers, their home. My dad collects family historical and local geographical items like, Native American relics that had been passed down in his family, my grandfather’s war medals, and World War II uniform. Things I cringe to write, because I know they might read this post and be reminded. Even though they’re strong, resilient, adaptable, and being positive about the whole event.

My cousin is an EMT and was volunteering for the community fire department and was on the call. They were able to throw a few things out the window before it wasn’t safe to do so anymore.

One of the items saved was a small cut out of me on my wedding day and hand and foot impressions of my kids we'd given my parents as a Christmas gift.

One of the items saved was a small photo of me on my wedding day and hand and foot impressions of my kids we’d given my parents as a Christmas gift.

I remember during a particularly bad fire in in the forests of Chico, the air was filled with ash. It swirled like snow on the sweltering smoky day. I would avoid looking too closely at the debris floating around me—in hopes that I could shield myself from the disaster of the loss of people I didn’t know. I saw one land on my car, smacked right in front of me, begging to not be ignored. It was the letter “a” fully visible. Someone’s home library burning at that very moment.

I faded in and out of strange mixed dreams all night, each time calming my racing heart by reassuring myself that my parents were okay, nobody, not even the family dog were inside the home while the fire raged. I’d not trade a single item for that. This is just stuff.

The mantra my mother kept repeating: it’s just things. Things are replaceable. Things are not needed.

And Pam put it into words best this morning for me: cancer is curable, houses can be rebuilt, and memories do not burn.

Fire heart

A childhood craft project. The project burned in the fire, but left the ghostly impression of a heart.

 


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24 thoughts on “Memories Do Not Burn

  1. Pam

    Aw, honey, what a beautiful blog post. You are maintaining such a positive attitude and I’m so proud of you. I’m glad if what I said helped in any small way.
    Looking on the bright side, they saved, “Herbie goes Bananas” on VHS! Classic movie. (I always wanted a VW bug after seeing those movies as a kid.)
    On a more serious note: Keep moving, keep writing, keep being awesome and everything will work out. My love an prayers to you and your family.

    Reply
    1. Tina Post author

      Thanks Pam! I was unsure I would write anything about it (as you know I second guess writing anything personal on the blog), but when you said that I knew that a positive spin would help. Loved the words (more proof that you’ll be famous some day 😉

      Reply
  2. Kristie turner

    Tina, what you have said here is so true. Having been through the same experience
    with my parents in 1980, I can tell you that houses can be rebuilt and memories do
    not burn. In fact during this time, many more memories will surface during this time and the positive Karma will come out. I am with you on that. Tell your parents that I am thinking of them. I know they have wonderful community and family with them.

    Reply
    1. Tina Post author

      Thank you, Kristie! Remaining positive is the best way to move through some things–and keeps focus on what to do next.

      Reply
  3. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Memories do not burn, but they can fade. Try to find some time to write down some of the most important ones.

    And please… Find that positive karma!

    Reply
    1. Tina Post author

      Absolutely! One of the things I regret is that I never wrote down the stories my great-grandmother told me. She and I would spend hours talking. I’d visit her after school and later after work. When I went away to college, a family member got me a special book specifically designed to “interview your grandmother” with all sorts of questions to spark conversation. I set the book aside, thinking a) I didn’t have the ability to correctly interpret the stories because I made so many spelling and grammar errors b) I believed I’d remember the things she told me, and c) I thought I’d have more time to spend with her. I’d intended to sit with her and get more information about our family history since she immigrated from England when she was young. Tyler and I were moving there for a short time for school and I wanted to visit places she may have been. She had told me she was thinking of a list of names to look up. She died that fall before I left for London.

      And some of those memories have faded, but really important ones remained.

      Reply
      1. Martin L. Shoemaker

        Sometimes telling the memories refreshes them. Maybe share them with Tyler and your kids and all your surprise house guests, and record them as you do.

        Reply
  4. Tammy Strobel

    Tina,

    Logan read me your essay as I was driving home from Eugene, today. I had tears in my eyes as he read your words. I’m so sorry about your parents home. And, the news about Meghan too!

    Please let us know if we can do anything to help. We love you!

    xo,
    Tammy

    Reply
    1. Tina

      Thank you, Tammy! My parents are just going through things right now and hopefully they’ll know more during the week when offices are open and can answer questions. Thank you for your comment and well wishes.

      Reply
  5. Joan

    Tina,

    We are so very sorry to hear about your parents home and about Megan, too. I don’t think we are ever prepared for these kinds of things to happen in our lives. If there is anything at all that we can do to help, please let us know.

    I’m so glad that our lunch last Friday was a good thing that happened in your week. You looked amazing in your beautiful dress. The pictures turned out great! I love your idea of 100 days of Good Karma! I think it is good to focus on the good things that happen in our lives and will try to participate.

    Sending our love to you and your folks and to Megan as well,

    Joan
    XOXO

    Reply
    1. Tina Post author

      Thank you, Joan! Glad you can participate–and yes, lunch on Friday was a lot of fun. So glad Gary is now on the mend.

      Reply
  6. Marina Lostetter

    Oh, Tina! Thank goodness everyone is safe, and thank goodness you have such a remarkable bunch of people around you who can also see the silver linings in disaster. Good thoughts going out to you and Meghan and everyone in your family.

    Reply
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  8. Pat

    Dear Tina,

    I came to your blog via Tammy’s link at RowdyKittens.com. My heart goes out to your friend and to your parents. Your mom is so right, though–it’s just stuff! After my father passed away last year and I had to move my mom, I was left with cleaning out their home of 50+ years. I desperately tried to give away clothes and furnishings, but because they were smokers, no one wanted the items. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I had to put 2.5 tons–yes, 2.5 TONS–of household and personal items in the landfill/recycle center. I was mortified. To my parents, this had all been important, treasured belongings, but at the end–it was just landfill “stuff.” The “stuff” is gone, but I still have my good memories of them and their home because “memories don’t burn.” Tammy and Logan have the right idea about “stuff.” All my best to your friend and your mom.

    From N.C.,
    Pat

    Reply
    1. Tina Post author

      Hi Pat! Thank you for popping over, reading, and commenting. I’ve been in that same position on helping clean out a house. It’s so awful when most of the things people hold onto are unusable and end up getting thrown away. One of the most heartbreaking things about this whole experience is while talking with my mom, she was telling me how the firefighters were tossing items out the window to save them from the fire. It was incredibly brave and thoughtful to save what they could, but most of the items, my mom noted was stuff that she could have done without. She said if she hadn’t had those things, maybe they could have save something really important like her files for work, the computer (that had some of her work on it), or one of my dad’s historical items he was planning to donate to museums. It’s just one more reason to go through things and let them go, so you can make room for things that matter (not just physical things, but the time you gain when you have less things to maintain).

      Reply
  9. Laura

    You will all be stronger when you come out the other side.

    Pam’s saying is perfect and if you put those words onto the photo of the burnt craft project. I feel it would be a single powerful picture and reminder to others going through a similar difficulty.

    Reply
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