I am sure each of us has a moment of our life we wish wouldn’t continue replaying in our mind like a broken record. Almost a week later, I can hear the voice of our dear family friend Staci when she answered my dad’s cell phone and I can still hear the panic in Dad’s voice when he took the phone… I’ve never heard that distress and terror in his voice and I pray I never do again.
After a relatively minor fire while camping in the mountains last weekend, my Dad’s Excursion was in the shop. He picked it up Thursday evening and, as he always does, pulled it into the garage, shut the garage door and came inside. Less than thirty minutes later, Chase is sitting on the couch eating Cheez Whiz (he’s 14, that’s what he recalls from the evening) and he smells something funny. He and dad begin checking the house. When dad opens the door leading from the house to the garage he sees thick black smoke and an orange glow coming from the corner where the truck is parked. He tells Chase to call 911 and, thinking it’s a garage fire, races around the house to use the outdoor key pad to enter the first bay to rescue his 2008 Shelby GT 500 (Any car-loving guy can understand that). What he didn’t know was running up the wall next to the burning truck was the main gas line for the house. The truck, now engulfed in flames, burned through the wall, ignited the gas line and the fire then chased the gas line through the house. By the time the little county volunteer fire department arrived, the house was on fire. What should have just been a garage fire was now a 3-alarm house fire.
Nearly 100 firefighters responded, flushing over 141,000 gallons of water onto the fire and through my parents’ home. When the fire was finally put out, almost nothing remained of their home… my home.
The six hour drive to their home felt twice as long. Although I had heard my dad say nearly a dozen times, “it’s gone…. All of it”, I wasn’t prepared. I guess I had hoped he was exaggerating, or that it was mostly smoke damage that could be repaired. When we turned down their street early Friday morning I was stunned. Seeing a 5,600 square foot pile of ashes is enough to shock anyone, but when it’s 5,600 square feet of your memories it’s breathtaking in a way I have never before (and hopefully will never again) experience.
There stood my sister, brother and my dad staring at our home. In Dad’s arms was my cat, Montie, who we thought didn’t make it out of the house. Squeezing that fat, furry, mean old cat brought a brief respite in that time of sadness. During our tears and squeezes we realized all four paws were badly burned and Brynn and I rushed him to the vet. We arrived home just before my Mom, who took the first flight out of Vegas where she was sitting in the ICU with my aunt and uncle who were just in a very serious motorcycle accident, arrived home… my mom needs an island vacation, she’s had entirely too much trauma here lately.
Nothing. And I mean NOTHING can prepare you for walking into your home after it’s been destroyed. There is no smell in the world like that of a burned home. The mix of burned wood, melted plastic and tears gives it an odor unique to itself. I know that we only lost things. My family is safe, the dogs are safe, and the kitties are safe. But those things were our things. Walking through my brother’s room and seeing that he has nothing left… no more messy bed, no clothes, no baseball card collection, nothing. Holding that precious boy while he cries is absolutely heartbreaking.
We haven’t cried over the lost clothes, the dishes, the DVD collection, or the furniture. We have cried over the family photos, family jewelry, baby toys, vacation souvenirs, and small things that have no monetary value but carry countless personal value. I pray that you never hold your Momma while she cries over the charred remains of her hope chest, your baby toys, and her grandmother’s trinkets. I pray you never lay in bed beside your Daddy, running your fingers through his hair as you cry with him over the ache from just feeling so overwhelmed.
As you can imagine, 141,000 gallons of water can do a lot of damage. What survived the fire was destroyed by the water and is under about 2 foot of soggy insulation, drywall and ashes. All that water caused the front porch to cave into a 10 foot sink hole and cracked the basement’s concrete supporting wall allowing a couple of inches of mud to rush into the basement. I can now kind of empathize with the people who lost homes in Katrina… you wouldn’t think plain old water could do so much damage.
Sunday morning we gathered ourselves and headed to church, because there’s no better place to be, quite frankly. As we sang “Oh to be like thee, precious Redeemer, this is my constant longing and prayer. Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures, Jesus thy perfect likeness to wear…” I was overwhelmed with emotion. Where was my focus? “How much do you love me, Allysa?” God asked… “Enough to give me everything?”
How many times have you sung those words? This little church-of-Christer has probably sung that song a million and one times and Sunday morning, September 19, I felt as though I’d heard it for the first time. It was at that moment I realized that they were just things. We had lost the possessions but not the memories associated with those possessions. I prayed the entire trip to North Carolina from Kentucky that God would allow me and my family to minister through this tragedy and I was finally beginning to see how we were going to do that…
And then stupid satan got in the way! Damn him. Seriously, damn him. Just when you feel God calling you in one direction satan pulls as hard as he can in another. I began growing more and more bitter at the HUNDREDS, wish I was exaggerating, of people who drive by to stare at the charred remains of the house. How dare you enter a relatively private estate neighborhood, hidden off a county road, drive down our dead end street and take pictures and video of MY home. Who do you think you are?! How dare you, anonymous jerk, comment with your mean, hateful, nasty comments on the story about our home on the newspaper website. Just because our home is 5,600 doesn’t mean we deserved this. I wanted to comment back to them, to justify our situation. A situation that needs no justification. No, my parents’ mortgage wasn’t worth more than their home, yes we did have lose our motor home to a fire as well, and yes we have had previous garage and house fire. I tend think we either have really bad luck with fire or that God is trying to get a point across. Bitterness was eating me alive and that’s exactly what satan wanted. I wasn’t ministering to others through this, instead I was beginning to throw a pity party… not beginning, never mind, I was throwing a full-on gala of a pity party.
Now, a week later, I am not bitter, though I still don’t understand how stupid people have nothing better to do that to drive by our home and stare and I realize that if I had remarked on those anonymous people’s comments it would have just given their meanness more fuel. I do believe that jealous is an ugly thing- I am assuming that’s why people made ugly comments on the article in the newspaper that for some unknown reason listed our home’s square footage.
For days the only word we could find to describe the situation was “overwhelming”… now, as the restoration company packs up the few salvageable things and the smoke clears (literally) I don’t feel as overwhelmed.
Over the past few days I have watched my family come together. We have prayed together, cried together, laughed together. Everyone has put on their work clothes and sifted through the ashes for things of no value to us but of infinite value to another, grabbed a bottle of water for everyone even when we didn’t ask for one, and shared clothes, shoes, makeup, food, you name it. I have been blessed with the most amazing army of friends. The Story family put us up in Hotel Story for 2 nights; the Mitchell’s… don’t even get me started on what the Mitchell’s have done. What a blessing to have those loving, godly people in our lives. Laura packed a snack basket and took care of my dogs when we hit the road in the middle of the night. Countless others have prayed over my family and been their when I needed to talk because I was hysterical (thanks, Linz, Sonja, Paula and Em), picked me up at the airport (Frannie) or commented with beautiful, kind words about my family on my facebook wall or on the newspaper’s site.
I pray that you never have to go through something of this magnitude, but if you do, I pray you are surrounded by godly loving friends and family and that you never forget that GOD IS FAITHFUL and so, SO Good. The Pruitt family firmly believes that “all things work for good for those who love the Lord” (Rom 8:28) as HE proves this to be true time and time again, and this will be no exception.
We may be setting up the Christmas tree in the travel trailer this year, and we may have lost everything, but my family will gather around that tree with everything that truly matters- each other, our God… and our animals (you know I can’t leave them out!)… Plus, how easy will Christmas shopping be this year! :) When you’re grieving, you have to find the humor in things because if not you’ll never stop crying.
Last night, I arrived back in Columbia and as I walked down the hall to my bedroom I began to weep. Here I was about to crawl into my big, comfy bed…something my parents’ wish they could do. I would walk to my closet and choose from an assortment of clothes, something my parents don’t have. I didn’t lose my house, so why do I feel like I don’t have anything? I never lived a day at 165 Regency Road… but I snuggled into that king- size bed with mom when dad was away for work or when I was sick, I’ve eaten countless meals around that dining room table, I’ve done hours of homework at that desk, I’ve pilfered the clothes in that closet looking for something of mom’s to wear to a special occasion, I bought Dad some of those neck ties… I didn’t lose my house, but I did lose my home and many precious things from my childhood.
Hug your family. And remember that you can’t take it with you and you can’t guarantee it will be here tomorrow. Enjoy the earthly blessings God has given you but don’t covet them and never stop praising God for His infinite blessings. That’s unsolicited advice from the Pruitt- Gooden family.