My sister’s house burned down a couple of days ago.
Once the wooden structure caught whiff of a flame, it was over. Poof! Gone in mere seconds. No stopping a raging fire once it starts, not once it catches hold of fodder like decades-old dried timber. My brother-in-law barely had time to get himself and their three great Danes out of the house before it was reduced to smoldering ashes atop its foundation. Apparently he was frying fish on the woodstove, while frolicking with the dogs, when he accidently knocked the frying pan to the floor. My sister was a few kilometres away visiting our mother when it happened.
For the past several years, my sister and her husband have been living in a small chalet on their multi-acre property located in the boonies of “Boonesville,” while they built their dream home. The chalet was an old two-story structure, nothing fancy, not a house I could live in, but they were happy there. They’ve been happy wherever they’ve live, I think.
I’m the oldest of five siblings; she’s the middle child. With an age difference of five years, we were never that close growing up, but became closer after we each married and had children. Age difference aside, distance intervened when I married and moved away. However, despite the more than two thousand kilometers that’s separated us over the last forty years or more, we’ve always been there for each other in times of tragedy, no matter our slight conflicts and differing opinions in the past. She’s my only sister; I’ll never have another.
When I read the news in an email from my mother (I’ve been in Mexico for the past two months), I was shocked. Your home burned to the ground. Nothing left. How horrid. I can’t fathom how I’d feel if it happened to me – devastation, despair, disappointment, to put it mildly. Losing everything but the shirt on one’s back was something that happened to strangers, not to someone I knew, not to a family member, not to my sister. Being thousands of kilometers away, I didn’t know what to do.
I immediately sent off an email. It was the only thing I could do, actually. It was hard to form the words, but I did the best I could, hoping they’d feel my pain, too.
My sister and her husband are the strongest individuals I know. Their lifestyle is the total opposite of mine and our other siblings, although at one point in my life I did try to become a “back-to-the-lander,” without success. I like the modern-day comforts and conveniences. I’ve never understood how my sister has lived in the conditions she has, but she’s been happy, probably happier than I’ve ever been. After all, she’s still married to her husband of over thirty years, whereas I’m on my third marriage. Perhaps that says it all.
I’m stuck on material goods. Not the everyday stuff. Not the stuff like my dining room furniture or my leather living room set or my new cruising outfits, although they are important. I’m more into the sentimental things, such as my maternal grandmother’s china and my paternal grandmother’s roll-top desk and the old family Bible that has been passed down from my great-grandfather. Irreplaceable things, items that have meaning only to me. Of the five of us, I believe I’m the only one with that sentimental streak, and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost items that I treasure so deeply.
My sister may have a saving grace. The chalet was small and the previous house they had moved out of was so large that I believe most of their possessions had been stored in the garage/storage building that they built on their property. The actual chalet and their every-day possessions aren’t that important, I don’t think; its the sentimental items that insurance policies don’t replace, and I am hoping that the majority of their cherished belongings were stored away awaiting their new home, far from the raging fire. However, I’m sure they both had irreplaceable things that have been lost, not to mention their clothing and a roof over their heads. A house is more than four walls and a roof – it is a home, replete with memories and life.
Of course, it goes without saying that I’m also glad they’re both safe.
My sister and brother-in-law are strong individuals. They’ve had numerous challenges throughout their marriage, not the least of which was their only son, at the age of twenty, becoming a paraplegic after a tragic motorcycle accident . I’m not sure I’m strong enough today, or have been at any time, to deal with that or the destruction of a home. The “earth-shattering” obstacles throughout my adult life pale in comparison.
Heather, if you’re reading this, I just want to say that I know you’ll survive this setback. Your Facebook post says it all:
“Shaken up and still in shock, but we’re survivors. I’m a firm believer in things happen for a reason.”
I agree. You and Andy are survivors; you’ve always been.
Love you, sis!