My mom hardly ever calls me during the workday. We’re both busy working, and most discussions can usually wait until we’re home. So, when I got out of an afternoon meeting to find three missed calls and two voicemails from my mother, I knew it was something big.
I tried to reason with myself. It was her birthday. Maybe she received a surprise she just couldn’t wait to tell me about. Maybe the passing of another year made her sentimental and she just wanted to chat.
I called her back. As soon as I heard her voice on the other end, I knew it was none of those possibilities.
“I wanted you to hear it from me first…”
Immediately, my mind started racing. Who is sick? Who is injured? Who got in an accident? Who died? I didn’t expect what came next.
“Our house is on fire.”
I froze. I felt the blood drain out of my face. I had to sit down. I suddenly forgot how to speak.
In the moments that followed, my mind raced. I had so many questions, not the least of which was the one I asked next.
“Is everyone okay?”
As it turned out, my younger brother was home when the fire started, but he was safe. His dog—a dog I now refer to as my hero—alerted him to the smoke and my brother was able to save both himself and his dog before the fire spread. After the fire was extinguished, the days that followed were rough.
It was my childhood home. My parents had owned it for nearly 20 years, and we moved there when I was in elementary school. It was the home where I met my first Okie friend, had sleepovers, and tormented my little brother. It was the garage where I started the ignition on my very first car. The bedroom where I slammed the door, turned up the music, and wrote in my diary. The bathroom where I tried on make-up and figured out how to straighten my hair.
It was in that living room that I told my parents they were going to be grandparents, and in that room that we passed around the first ultrasound pictures.
But the thing is, it was just a house. It was just stuff. Yes, there are memories there. Yes, valuable heirlooms and precious possessions were lost. Yes, it hurts to know that the house will never look or feel the same. But, we didn’t lose our memories. We didn’t lose our family.
I learned a few valuable lessons from the event, including:
- Take photos of your things, and inventory them today. You never know when a disaster will strike your home. From tornadoes to fires, you need to be prepared to deal with the insurance companies and processes that follow destructive events.
- People are amazing. Sure, there were people I found myself overwhelmingly annoyed with (looking at you, news crews who wouldn’t leave my family alone and onlookers who stopped outside to take pictures of the aftermath like it was a tourist attraction). But there were others who reminded me that the human spirit is a resilient one. There were the firefighters who risked their own lives to stop the fire. There was the Red Cross, who immediately came to my family’s aid. There were friends, family, co-workers, and strangers who offered their assistance and prayers. There was the man who stopped on the street and handed over the cash from his wallet because he felt compelled to help. The spirit of Oklahomans was clear through the ashes.
- Memories are not material. Some of my favorite memories in that house are tied to things we lost, but the memories are still tangible. When we were much younger, my brother and I snuck coffee grounds and cups upstairs and attempted to make coffee with hot water from the sink. The coffee cups have been trashed. The sink is black and smoky. The room is destroyed. The carpet will soon be ripped up, and the walls rebuilt. But, I still smile when I think of that memory. And I’m willing to bet my brother does too.
As my parents begin the process of rebuilding my childhood home, I know they’re hurting. I know they’re seeing an empty, destroyed shell that held nearly 20 years of precious memories. I know their hearts ache. I know it’ll never be the same to walk those halls. I know they’re sick thinking about how their belongings are gone.
I just hope they remember that our family remains intact. No one was physically hurt, which is a monumental blessing, and we will be stronger. If you ever go through a similar event, I hope you’ll remember this too.
We’re Oklahomans. We dust off, we bounce back, we rebuild, we stick together. It’s what we do.
It’s what families do, and it’s what we’ve done.