Ten Things I Would Have Rescued From Our House Fire

On October 21, 2007, a ten year old lit a match in a strong wind and forever changed my life. The winds reached gale force and that afternoon the fire from that little match raged fifteen miles through our canyon and burned our home to the ground. My husband, Greg and I were both away from our home. I was attending my martial arts class and Greg had left the area with our dog Lucy to get away from the high winds and smoke. He had been assured by the firefighters that there was no way the fire would reach our home, but that it might be a good idea to pack an overnight bag because the road was being shut down to help the firefighters gain easier access to the fires. As a result, by that afternoon, my worldly possessions were limited to the clothes I was wearing, my martial arts outfit I had trained in that day, my glasses, contacts, a change of clothes , toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and a hairbrush. When we were finally able to return to our house three days later, we saw that absolutely nothing had survived. Later, with about twenty friends, we picked through the rubble and found only bits of dishes and twisted metal and broken glass amongst the ash. We found nothing that had any value other than the memories that were suddenly so precious.

I have often been asked what I would have saved and I’ve never been able to give a good answer. Every year, my aunt gives her writing class the assignment to write about their favorite possessions as if they had to pick one thing to save from a house fire. A few days ago, she and I got e-mailing back and forth about the things I would have saved and I realized it was time to sit down and really think about the question, “What would you have saved?”. So, a few days and tears later, here it is. My list of the ten things I wish I still had.

My daddy was a pastor when I was growing up and for all of my childhood he had the same black bible. I don’t remember what it looked like when it was brand new, but I remember realizing that the pages were getting more worn on the edges and that the bible would open almost of it’s own accord to my dad’s favorite passages. It gradually got more and more worn, until parts of the cover started to crack. My dad, being the practical one, put duct tape on the cracks until almost the entire cover was held together with the silvery tape. When it finally came time for the bible to be retired, it was given to me. When I left home, it came with me and I remember holding that bible and seeing the worn pages and remembering the countless hours of study and wisdom gleaned that my Dad put into his teaching and into my life. It was truly a priceless possession!

One of the more unique things that I would like to have back is a small soft leather, hand bound book with the title of “Friendship“. My great-grandfather gave it to my great-grandmother, who I was named for, when they were first getting to know each other. On the inside cover was the handwritten inscription, “To Laura, from your friend, Russell“. Looking at it, I would smile and wonder at what point did he realize that Laura was to be not only his friend, but his love and if he had any idea that his great-granddaughter would smile over the sentiment inside that book.

My grandfather was an amazing woodworker and he made me both a “special” box and a hope chest. They contained so many precious things. My special box had letters from my first boyfriend, a note written to me on toilet paper from one of my funnier friends, the ring box that my husband opened up when he proposed to me and so many other treasures from years past. My hope chest had tea cups, my great grandmothers gloves, candlesticks I bought in Israel and the little outfit that my mom took me home from the hospital in a few days after I was born. To me they contained so many beautiful memories of my past, hope for my future but most of all, every time I looked at them, I saw my grandfather bending over a piece of wood and lovingly carving yet another beautiful thing for someone in my family.

I would love to have that outfit I was brought home from the hospital in. I would open my hope chest and smile at that tiny little piece of baby clothing and dream of dressing my own child in it to bring him or her home from the hospital. Now that my dream is a reality in the form of a sweet little boy, I wish I had had a piece of clothing that had history and meaning to bring him home in.

Sitting close to my hope chest in the closet, were a pair of lime green, high heeled tennis shoes. They were horrific in almost every way. My husband, then boyfriend, and I found them for four dollars at Payless Shoes. I was being weird and told him that I wanted them. He dared me to try them on and said that if they fit, he would buy them for me and that I had to wear them on our wedding day if we ended up getting married. About a year later, we did get married and I wore the shoes. I will never forget the look on his face when he saw me for the first time and in that somewhat awestruck moment, I lifted up the edge of my skirt and showed him the shoes. He had forgotten entirely about them and we were both doubled over laughing at the green shoes under the princess dress. I think I would have liked to have worn those shoes on our anniversaries no matter how casual or dressy we decided to make the occasion.

I love collecting unique china, but not your everyday rose patterned china. I had around 20 tea cups, all unique or odd in some way. I had a line of Russian blue, gold and white china that always came in unique patterns and shapes that I preferred and would buy whenever I found a piece. But, any unusual cup would eventually find it’s way into my collection. When I graduated from high school, my mom gave me a white cup with a purple thistle painted on it. It reminded me of the thistles in our back yard and the pricks I got from them and something so harsh painted on a fine piece of china was intriguing to me. Since china is fired at a high temperature, a lot of it survived the fire. I quite a bit of my china when we dug through the ashes. A few pieces were completely intact, some were cracked or burned almost beyond recognition. I never did find my thistle cup, though and I miss it.

When I was in high school, my parents and I realized that I was going to be a better than average flautist and it was time to get a good flute for me. We went to Seattle and a man handmade my flute especially for me. It was beautiful! It traveled with me all over the country and to parts of the world when I played for my college’s touring choir. The most memorable place I played was in an empty water cistern on the top of Masada in Israel. My group was assigned to do music there and I played You Are My Hiding Place, bringing myself and everyone else to tears as we remembered those who had died rather than become the slaves of Rome, but more importantly to remind ourselves that we should place our trust in God alone. The only time I cried when we went through the rubble of the house was when I found the bottom portion of my flute, keys melted away. I held that small tube to my face and wept as I remembered thousands of hours spent in hard work and the way the world would melt away as I played my beautiful flute.

If I’m totally honest with myself, not every hour of playing my flute was all that beautiful. A lot of it was just plain hard work. Hundreds of hours playing out of exercise books with a metronome, sometimes getting very frustrated over what I believed was a hopeless cause. My senior recital music was harder than I could play, but when I was told I couldn’t do it, my stubborn streak flared and I played one of the hardest pieces every composed for the flute and played it well. I spent hundreds of hours over that piece of music, sometimes in tears and having fits of swearing, but most of the time I spent writing corrections, notes and reminders all over every page. I wish I could have that sheet music of Prokofieff’s Sonata in D back, but I would love to have all of my flute and piano music as well. Each piece of music was special and different in why I loved or hated it. I miss sitting down to the piano and playing a piece of music that had my 8 year old bad handwriting on it and notes from my piano teacher. I wrote “you can do it” on several hard parts of my flute music and I miss seeing that encouragement and smiling over a conquered piece.

I wish I had all of my pictures! I am a photographer of sorts and my camera was rarely not with me. I had boxes and boxes of pictures from my childhood. Pictures of my dogs, of me riding horses, of me and the banner my mom put on our house proclaiming my first win at a flute competition, 18 rolls of my trip to Israel and many of my years in college and of my first years of marriage. My kids will never pull out all my pictures and laugh at mom’s crazy clothes in junior high, my buck teeth when I was 8, or see my very short hair after it grew back in after my chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Each photograph represented memories. Some of those memories are getting dusty and covered in cobwebs and I’m sad to know that without photographs, some of those memories will fade into nothingness.

The common thread amongst my ten precious treasures is not the monetary value , but each one contains a beautiful and priceless memory. Each one connected me both to my past as well as to my future. I think that I have learned that it is okay to treasure stuff. Stuff IS important because it reminds us of who we are and who we should become.

Even though I do love and miss my precious things, I choose to remember the verses that I was taught as a little girl. In the famous sermon on the mountain, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I will keep my eyes on heaven, even as my hands hold my earthly treasures.

Maybe even more important than that is to remember that the God of earthly and heavenly treasures loves me more than anything. Even though all my things are gone, He has given me a family, a husband, a son, and even another flute but more importantly, He has given me Himself. He comforts me and holds me through the darkest times in life. Knowing God is what makes me able to say with all honesty, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but I will say, “`Blessed be the name of the Lord’”.




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18 Responses to Ten Things I Would Have Rescued From Our House Fire

  1. James says:

    I started this but can’t finish it right now because I don’t want to cry in public. Very good writing Mary. I promise I’ll finish it later!

    • Thanks James. And yeah, crying in public might tarnish your bad-ass reputation. 🙂 By the way, my aunt, the one I referenced in my essay makes her kids do this every year and guess what she shows to kick off their imaginations? Your video. 🙂 So, well done again, my friend.

  2. Laura Jane says:

    I’m sobbing at my computer.
    This is lovely and sad.
    I love you so much.

  3. cheekypinky says:

    You never fail to astonish me,
    friend of my heart.

    I love you so much.

  4. Darlene says:

    Oh my I do remember digging through your things after the fire hoping to find something intact that you treasured.
    Mary what you have written here is so beautiful, but the most beautiful part is the last two paragraphs.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  5. Michael says:

    Thank you, Mary. Your reminders of memories and how important they are brought me tears, and that is a very good thing. “How precious in the sight of God are the tears of his saints.”

  6. Carol Ewing says:

    Just lovely Mary! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Dyann says:

    So beautiful, so insightful, so cut-to-the-heart-of-what’s-important good.

    So great.

  8. Brenda says:

    Loving you so much, all over again. I am so lucky to have you for a sister.

    (And now, great, thanks, your essay was so totally awesome I don’t even want to TRY writing one for Susi’s class. 😀 )

  9. lisa soltes says:

    This is beautifully written and riveting. Though the physical items are no longer here, you have just preserved each of them forever, with your words…


  10. Carol Wiley says:

    Thanks for sharing about what you would take. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get to save your special memory keepers.

  11. Catherine J says:

    Mary — so good – so sad – so joyful. Thanks for putting it in writing!


  12. Lisa Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing from your heart. It helped me to know the adult you a bit better. It helped me to prioritize my own life a little bit more. Yes, I sat reading, with tears. But tears are sometimes good. They are cleansing, and healing. They help us stop. They help us think.

    I have so enjoyed sharing a moment in this journey with you. I look forward to another one, as you give us windows into your heart, and your God. He is amazing.


  13. Mary,

    As I sit here and read this, I can hear your voice in my head. I can hear the pain you went through and I am welling up inside. I wish I could have been there for you and Greg.

  14. Leisa Klinge says:

    Your writing is so beautiful. As I read your 10-things, I thought of our fire on 8-29-2005 and have a similar 10-list. It is a list of things that only mean something special to me or my little family, handed down china, a china cabinet that Don was the 7th generation to be trusted with, our dog Oliver. I am thankful to be able to read the writing of such eloquence, someone who is able to express things that are in the hearts of people that have similar experiences, but not the written words to express them. I don’t believe in coincidences, God brings people in to other’s lives for a time and reason. I feel blessed to have a connection with you. LK

  15. Catherine says:

    Praying you don’t have to write this essay again! Mama

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