by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 28, 2003
STARTING OVER WHEN THERE'S NO LOOKING BACK
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Lynne and Ed had just moved their family, dog and all, from Indiana to California. They were not fully unpacked when flames engulfed their new home, all escaping, the screaming children, the barking dog, just as they were - eyebrows singed from their last ditch effort to grab a box or two, not knowing if they contained pots and pans or precious memories.
This fire was a spontaneous happening, electrical as I recall, not a national emergency, just their own private tragedy. They went to a motel, fell exhausted on top of the beds just sobbing in each others arms until the whimpering dog woke them in the bright light of morning.
"Reality didn't set in when I realized I had to walk the dog, I always do that first thing. No, reality set in when I realized I didn't have a comb ... or a toothbrush ... and Ed didn't have a razor and the kids would wake up and reality would face them, too."
I listened to all she said and realized she wasn't thinking of what was lost in the house, the valuables they accumulated in their 12 years of marriage, she was thinking of the cheapest of things money can buy - and she didn't have them. "Talk about starting over," she said. "This is a new beginning, all right. Square One. The Drawing Board. Where do we go from here?"
All of us, her old neighbors, wondered what we could do to make things easier for them. "Pictures," she said. "If you have any of us showing up in your own family pictures, beach parties, barbecues, school plays, and the like, we would love to have them. We have none." And we did. The baby shoes and children's art were lost forever but a number of pictures would tell the story of their happy early days in the Indiana Dunes.
We've lost touch over the years but the fires raging in California right now remind me of Lynne and Ed's fiery ordeal while I ponder what surrounding me now is valuable and what is just plain "stuff."
I got up and walked from room to room. Almost everything could be replaced or at least, not missed if it couldn't be replaced. Lamps, paintings, do-dads, things. They create an affect that might reflect who we are, but in the face of this hypothetical loss, I doubt if we would ever be again who we were when it happened.
The things we would want are things not visible in a walk through. The pictures, the stories of our lives in photos and in my journals are in bottom drawers and on shelves in every room. They are paper, they would burn. If disaster stuck where we live, it would no doubt be from a hurricane - and paper doesn't hold up in water, either.
I've entertained following the advice I once heard to put negatives in a safety deposit box. It's time to get serious about that and gather them up now.
Whenever I hear Santa Ana winds I'm struck by the mystique about them, about how fast weather can change when the winds are coming across the desert to the beach, the warnings, the happenings. And yet, the mind's image to those of us who have never been to Southern California is one of tropical breezes, balmy, embracing winds of change. It sounds tender, romantic.
On the other hand, the mind's image of "monsoon" is not sentimental or exotic. Monsoon is an ominous word for an ominous event.
"Santa Ana" may be soft-sounding in name, but not in its fury. The news as I write is that the winds are blowing the fires away from the firefighters trying to contain it. With 14 dead and 300,000 acres destroyed, this fire, started by a lost hunter who wanted to send a signal for help, is still out of control.
How many of us have spent an entire Sunday afternoon trying to get a fire going in the fireplace and nothing happens? We check to see if the damper is open, we stick our head in and look up at the sky to see if the way is clear, brushing away falling ash with sooty fingers, then lighting match after match without results until we use paper and lighter fluid to get an anemic flame licking the sides of the log.
In the woods, though, one lonely, scared, hunter can take his last match, cupping it against the wind as he lights one dry leaf to then ignite the little campfire designed to be noticed for its light within the darkness and the smoke rising above it. I continue visualizing how it could have happened and see almost immediately, he's stamping out errant embers and fearing the worst as he loses a few to the wind.
A later report was from someone who saw a gray van with two men in it who tossed out incendiary objects as they passed. I have my doubts about this story. Why? Because I never see a gray van and yet that's what all these "eye witnesses" report as having been seen. I see black, blue, white, silver, green, tan, psychedelic, and multi-colored stripes. Never gray.
This disaster will come to an end and I hope it's sooner rather than later. Perhaps the fire will only give up the ghost to heavy rains. In the meantime, we can all mourn the losses in Southern California, a place whose name has a ring to it, a place of sunshine and warmth, a place so special that residents keep going back to rebuild their homes, whether lost to El Nino floods and mudslides or rampaging fires out of control.20
It's a matter of starting over... and remembering the true value of what you had before you lost it.