#2. "You will have gold pieces by the bushel." -Panda Express
Well, I am exhausted. We went up to the house to sift yesterday. On our way up, Mr. TBG made the comment that the entire mountain looked like a “sepia” picture, save the blue sky and dots of cars. He was right. I used to print many of our photos in that sepia color because I loved the antique effect. Those days are over!
Once we got up to the house, we spent much longer than planned. The treasure-hunt list included:
Grandma’s wedding ring and my mom’s diamond ring
The ring that JAG and CAG gave me for Christmas, with their birthdays engraved on it
A set of metal Christmas ornaments (one for every year since we’ve been married)
Turns out that we asked for too much. We didn’t find any of those things. But, after five hours, we did find:
A dime store hair clip (how in the heck did that cheap thing survive? NOT what I wanted to find!)
A star from CAG’s room (bringing back memories of when my niece Amanda helped me re-do his entire room as a surprise, while he was on a trip with Granny and Papa)
A soap dish that CAG made me in Mrs. Liotta’s class (she is now retired…and has lost her entire pottery studio and home to the Valley Fire)
A sweet little nutcracker ornament (the only surviving piece from JAG & CAG’s vast collection…I used to love dragging out that Christmas box, and they would unwrap them one by one and line them up under the stairs)
A few antique Easter figurines and some little pieces of pottery that JAG brought back from his middle school trip to Japan (perfect condition!)
And here's one we found earlier in the week...I just have to share it again...it's an ornament from our very first Christmas together as Mr. and Mrs. Gill! My heart about exploded when I found it!
Our friends Charlie and Bill, who are firefighters, helped us. Their perspective on the fire was interesting, hopeful, and horrifying all at once:
Interesting as they looked at our street, piecing together the story of the fire as it crowned over the tops of the trees.
Hopeful as they told us stories of other trees in previous fires that had burned, but later threw out suckers that formed into something more majestic than their original form.
Horrifying as they listened to my story, and estimated that if I had waited another 5 minutes before leaving, I would have looked just like my KitchedAid Mixer, which melted right down into its own bowl. According to their calculations, the 1500-degree heat destroyed things before flames ever reached them. I cried when they told me that, and I am crying right now while I write this. Because in that moment, I thought I had more time. There was no evacuation notice, no Nixle alert on my phone.
I am forever grateful to Gracie, who came to help me at the last minute, and to the “hero” that came running down our street, yelling for us to “get out now” at the top of his lungs. Last week, I found out that hero was my neighbor Paul. Thank god for Paul.
We sifted for hours between lunch (thank you, Patti!), visits from friends bringing gifts (Karol brought me the keys she found in her own ashes!), a hug from our insurance agent (so nice!), and fresh apples from Mr. Phelps, my grade-school teacher. It’s a little bit addicting, the sifting. You keep getting clues: first the hair clip that was on the window shelf next to your rings, then a piece of pottery that was sitting so close to them that they could have been touching. You think you are so close….and so you keep digging down through two stories of glass, sheetrock, roofing remnants, and bits of melted green goo (I have no idea what that was)…with hope in your heart. It’s hard to give it up and call it a day, but at some point exhaustion overrides all. My dad was there to help, too. Let me tell you - that man has been a rock by my side since I was a baby! He only claims his exhaustion once I claim mine. I love him so much!
When we got home, we were filthy, with faces like little kids that had been playing in the dirt all day. We ate dinner like that, sat on the couch like that, watched TV like that…and finally Mr. TBG turned to me and asked me to “please go take a shower.” And so I did, crying as I scrubbed the ashes from my skin. It sounds silly, I know…but washing the ashes off was a bit like washing the last 20 years down the drain. Those ashes were, literally, the love and memories of our home. I wanted to wear them for the rest of my life.
As I scrubbed, I cried for all the mommas who had lost the Christmas ornaments made by their kiddos – you know, the ones with the handprints that look like an angel? I cried for our kitty, Loki, and all the kitties that were left behind. I cried for everything in our house that had been consumed in a matter of seconds, and for all the little bits and pieces of love and memories that had been lost in every home. And I cried, mostly, for the trees.
About two weeks ATF (After the Fire), I had eaten Panda Express in the car while Mr. TBG drove us somewhere. I kind of remember mindlessly reading the fortune that came in my cookie, and tucking it into the little pocket of the car door. I forgot about it until yesterday, when I was once again in the passenger seat and we were driving up our sepia-colored mountain. I saw it peeking out at me, dug it out of the little compartment in the door, and read it again.
Hmmm...seems a bit out of place when your house just burned down. Maybe? Maybe not.
I know the need for “financial” gold is very real right now; whether you have insurance or not, you're wading through stacks of paperwork, applications, lists…in the hopes that you can somehow recover to where you stood BTF (Before The Fire). It's a full time job on top of your full time job. Every person who has been affected is desperately wondering if they can return to what they know as “normal”. Much love to all who have donated to funds, set up GoFundMe accounts, given gift cards and cash to our community. I think I speak for everyone when I say it is so hard to put a hand out, but it is also a great life lesson.
And then there’s something we might refer to as “emotional” gold. This week I’ve hugged countless people that I would have previously considered “strangers” – and you don’t usually give hugs to strangers, right?! But I’ve done even more than hug them - I’ve shared tears with them, too. People are loving on people that they don’t even know. Folks are volunteering hour after hour at community centers, organizing fundraisers, spending long days to help those who are sifting...and some of them are moving out of their own homes and offering them up to larger families in need! Hugs and tears come freely. It is absolutely amazing. Beyond words amazing.
So...maybe this little piece of paper I pulled out of my cookie with a “random” fortune isn’t so random after all. Because over the past four weeks, I’ve learned that gold pieces are funny things. First of all, they come in many forms. Secondly, they can go as quickly as they come. Life can turn on a dime, and you can find yourself standing in a spot where you thought only others stood. One day you might be in a position to give, and the next day you might need to put your hand out. And that second thing I mention...it's a hard thing to do, my friends. It is.
In the end, I think there's two things we can't forget. Most of us already know these two things:
(1) Whatever pair of shoes you’re wearing on a particular day, the important thing to remember is that you always have some gold to give, whether it be in the form of a dollar, or an encouraging smile, or both.
(2) If you are very fortunate, you will always have gold pieces by the bushel – either to give or to accept. It doesn’t really matter which end you are on, as long as you are participating in the exchange, and loving on your fellow man.
Thank you, Mr. Panda Express. You are one smart cookie.