Crisis Averted

So, here it is.

Two weeks ago, my computer crashed and I lost about 65,000 words of the novel I’ve been working on, all summer. I spent some four or five hours in a frantic tizzy, trying to bribe a guy named Hutch at Google to help a girl out, before he and I finally found a way to “sort-of” recover my words. This was a big frickin’ crisis. I mean, I had a total mental breakdown–sobbing-in-the-fetal-position-lost-my-mind-kind-of-day.

BUT the words were found, and though there will be some effort required to get them back in the shape/format that I want them, all is not lost.  I have a hard copy, and that is all I can ask for. That was the worst day of the summer, for me.

Until… fast forward seven days, to last Thursday. My two big kids had gone to the high school football game. Hubby and I had finished dinner and cleaned up, and we sent the two littles upstairs to brush their teeth and put on their pajamas. A moment later, they came back down, announcing that the lights wouldn’t turn on upstairs and that there was a weird smell up there.

Hubby and I investigated and found smoke, though the source was uncertain. We checked lamps and plug-in air fresheners, radios and fans, to no avail, until I went into the kids’ bathroom. The first thing that I noticed was something odd had dripped onto the toilet seat. At first, I thought that little man had made a mess when he’d gone to the bathroom and just hadn’t told us, but when I looked up, I could see scorch marks on the ceiling. Hubby brought in a flashlight, and when he touched the metal cover of the ceiling vent fan, it was hot.

I’d like to say that we were totally on the ball, rushed into our pre-planned fire escape scenario and handled the whole thing with aplomb, BUT that would be a lie. First, he removed the cover and we stared up into the smoking remains of a clearly fire damaged fan. Then, I opened all the windows upstairs to let out some of the smoke. We sent the kids to the basement, to get away from the bad air, but at this point, we were seeing no flames and we honestly thought that the motor had blown on the fan, but had been contained by the metal box that held it.

So, we talked about electricians and told the kids that they could sleep in the basement overnight, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. Hubby called his dad to see what he thought about the situation, and I got on the Google. Turns out, a lot of house fires start in a bathroom vent fan. Turns out that it can start the insulation in your attic to smoldering, and you won’t even know you have a fire until WHOOSH! Your whole attic and roof goes up in flames.

I was sitting there, at the computer, and in the back of my mind, I could hear my dad’s voice. For those that don’t know, my stepdad, who raised me, passed away a few years ago. He was a fixer and a tinkerer, and he was my go-to handyman. If he were alive, I’d have been on the phone with him, right then. I stared at the screen and I heard him say, as plain as day, “Don’t you leave it like that. Get up. Go check.”

I took the flashlight out and shined it at the roof, and my heart stopped. I could see smoke leaking out of the roof. Our home was on fire.

The next moments were a whirlwind of activity. I called the fire department, gathered the kids and their beloved blankies. We unplugged the external hard drive that holds all of our pictures and I grabbed the file folder with the hardcopy (see above: the only copy) of my novel, and the kids and I hopped in the car and drove away. We passed a multitude of flashing lights on the road–four huge fire engines, a couple of smaller fire trucks and an ambulance, maybe a police car. To be honest, I lost track. In my mind, all I could see was that smoke, rolling out of our roof.

In the end, we discovered the fire, just in time. The damage was fairly minimal, in the scheme of things, and we have a great Home Owner’s Insurance policy. We have worked with an excellent restoration company that has gotten the mess (mostly insulation from the attic) cleaned up and livable, once more. We are very, very lucky and very, very fortunate.

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The fire department told us that we had maybe 15-20 minutes before the whole roof caught. If we hadn’t been home, or if we’d been asleep–we could be looking at a total loss. We could be looking at a loss of life. We could be looking at the kind of grief that I cannot even put into words.

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The last few days have been hard. The mess was being cleaned up, but I needed to wash every piece of clothing and stuffed animal and bedding and everything from the kids’ rooms. We’re talking about 40 loads. We couldn’t run the A/C until the ducts were cleaned, and it has been hot and humid, these last few days. I got sick–whether it be stress, or back-to-school germs, or allergies from the dust, and that hasn’t made things easier. And I’ve been walking around with that feeling, like after you narrowly avoid a car accident.

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Holy Shit. Something really, devastatingly horrible almost happened. Something that changes everything, forever. But it didn’t. You know the feeling that I mean? Adrenaline shaky and checking everyone over for bumps and bruises? Waiting for the other shoe to fall.

I nearly lost my mind when I thought I’d lost my book, and now, faced with the possibility of actual, horrible loss, that feels downright trivial. It feels microscopic. It feels like it happened to someone else, entirely. I haven’t cried over the fire. I don’t need to. We lost nothing that cannot be replaced. We were lucky. We were fortunate. We are blessed.

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Two weeks ago, I almost lost my book.

Last week, I almost lost my home, and I could have lost so much more than that.

This week, I am just going to breathe deep, let the tears come if they ever need to (although, I don’t expect them). It’s all good. I’m going to watch both of my sons play football, tomorrow, and I’m going to try to relax. Because when that book–the one that I lost, and then found–gets published, I’m going to have a damn fine story to tell.

Best Wednesday Gift, Ever.

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That’s my grandfather. When I was growing up, he and my grandmother lived fairly close to us, dropping in each day for coffee and a chat. When I was very small, before Grandpa retired, they lived outside of town, on a dirt road. Every day, Grandpa got dropped off at the corner, some 3-ish miles from his house, by his carpool buddies. And every day, rain or shine, or three feet of Michigan snow, he walked home in it.

One of my earliest memories is of waiting for him at the edge of their yard. He was a whistler–beautifully skilled, with a little tremor to his tune. Just thinking about it, now, makes me well up. But back then, that whistle crested the hill before he did, and I can still remember the giddiness, knowing that he was almost home. He’d come over the top of the hill, swinging his metal lunchbox, and I’d squeal with delight. When he reached me, he’d pick me up and toss me in the air. Call me a “Dutchman.” Then he’d pick up that silver lunchbox and open it up. No matter what, there was always something in there for me. A half a brownie, or a Twinkie. A sandwich bag with potato chips inside.

That lunchbox carried within it the smell of overripe bananas and bologna, which is a pretty odd scent for me to associate with love, but there it is–as strong in my memory as if it happened, yesterday.

When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a poem (one of my first) about that lunchbox, and I gave it to my grandparents. When I graduated from High School, they gave me the lunchbox. It is maybe one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

 

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About a dozen years ago, the lunchbox (“dinner pail” as Grandpa called it) was lost in a move. I was heartbroken, but of course, sometimes you can’t go back. This was one of those times, and it wasn’t until cancer was eating away at my Grandpa that it really hit me, how much that dinner pail had meant to me. When he died, I lay in bed that night and dreamed of the smell of bananas and bologna. Losing that dinner pail is one of my greatest regrets, in all my life.

It’s strange, the things that mean the most to you, once someone is gone. When my Great-Grandmother died, the only thing that I wanted from her was the round, cardboard cheese box that she kept crayons in, for when we came to visit. I was 23, when she died, but all of my memories of her are tied up with those broken crayons in that beautiful, ancient cheese box. (I have it, and it still has the wonderful bits of crayons inside, some 35 years after I first used them.)

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When my grandmother passed away, the only thing that I could even think of asking for was the plastic wigs that my sisters and I had played with, as children. (You can see how thrilled my young man is at modeling the “lady hair.)

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And when my grandfather died, the only thing that I wanted in the whole world, to keep of his, was that old dinner pail. Which I had lost. Which I could never have. Which brings me to the reason that I write this, today, and why I found myself sobbing in the grocery store parking lot, this afternoon. I received a text from my sister, who confessed that she has been looking for a dinner pail, just like Grandpa’s for the last twelve years. Today, she found one, bought it for me, and she sent me this picture.

 

 

 

 

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My sister and my cousins are all younger than I am. Most of them hardly remember Grandpa going to work, so this particular talisman is all mine. I realized, when I saw that picture, that while I loved the dinner pail, and while seeing the one that was so like the one I had lost made me so, utterly happy–that wasn’t the whole of it. 

I can still smell the inside of Grandpa’s dinner pail. That’s what love smells like. And today, that’s what my sister smells like. I cannot put it any plainer than that. This is the second greatest gift I have ever been given, in my life.