The FIRE was in 2011.
All was lost.
Here is the story from my memoir:
Chapter 31: Boxes of Memories, (page 237)
In June 2009, God had sent me my BIG love. I was in my golden years and I was truly thankful. A gentle man who loved me for me. A person I loved, admired, trusted and adored.
Could I leave my home in Arizona where I had lived for twelve years?
Where I had built an art school and established a career?
Where I had created a safe place, a refuge, a haven for myself and others to heal?
Could I move away from my friends? Brent, my paraplegic neighbor and best friend? What would he do without me, and I without him? How about Sioux, Trish, Kathleen, Brice, Rosie???
I began to pray.
The answer came while sitting at the American Legion one afternoon. (Yup, we were at the bar, the only place to get a drink in this town on Tuesday and Taco Night was a must for us.) Two friends, Chaz and Adra, were sitting next to us and Chaz said “If you ever want to rent your house to us we would love to live there. It is a beautiful home and we’ve always loved your Boccee court.” Don and I looked at each other and I knew that God had answered my prayer. I was to move away, leave my home, my friends, and begin a new adventure. We discussed the rental agreement and I knew this couple wanted to take care of my home forever. The real estate market had crashed in 2006 and no one was selling their homes without a big loss. This way I wouldn’t have to sell. It was the perfect solution. Now I had a decision to make. It was my choice, this time, and I chose Don.
Before I moved to Florida from Arizona I spent weeks packing up all my belongings. Items I had collected for six decades that represented who I was and where I had been throughout my life, were put into boxes labeled and organized. I already had a yard sale to narrow down all my “stuff” but I still had years of accumulation that meant a lot to me. It’s amazing how “things” can become so much a part of our life’s journey.
114 boxes of stuff was everything I owned in my life, 7 of which were pictures. I had the photos organized by events or places in my life with approximate dates written on labels neatly attached to the outside. ‘Early years in Michigan’, ‘High school, Art awards and yearbooks’, ‘Fashion Design’, ‘Years of Teaching’, ‘Colorado’, ‘Doll Making’, ‘Texas’, ‘Arizona’, ‘Art examples’. I was moving in a few weeks so I went through each box, all my pictures that I had collected my whole life, in order to reduce them down to just two boxes, (yea right !!?*!!!).
I felt blessed that I had the opportunity to go through every picture that had ever been taken of my entire life, saving some, sending some to friends, but throwing most away. Each chapter of my life was represented in these photos. They were reminders of important events (and not-so important ones) but each brought up memories and I smiled and cried as the remembering brought me back years into my life. As I picked out the favorites to save, I remembered each moment in time:
*Me as a small angel, (maybe 4 years old), standing in front of our Christmas tree, hands praying
*Our family laying in our sleeping bags, by tall, white sand dunes, waiting to see the Aurora Borealis
*Sitting in grandpa’s lap while he told me stories of the Old Country
*My Halloween costume as a monkey in a tree (thanks, Dad. Why couldn’t I be a princess like the other little girls?)
*Our home on Meadowfield with a perfectly manicured yard
*Dad as a skinny Santa (we shudda known, but we didn’t)
*Bruce, my first boyfriend, standing in front of his parents green Biscayne
*A prom picture with a floor length, Hawaiian print dress that I designed and made myself
*My college roommates, all in PJ’s, in my MSU dorm room
*Hitting a home run soft ball, solid, with my arms straining with the impact
*My first art class of elementary students, in GR. Michigan, with finger paintings taped on the walls
*Navy 560 SL Mercedes with my hair blowing in the wind
*Large black Bouviers, my dogs that I loved dearly, and still miss
*Playing Bocce and drinking Champagne in my yard with friends, all laughing out loud
*The 60th birthday party I threw for myself with all my girlfriends, dressed in white
*Sunny, the precious Cocker Spaniel that adopted me, sleeping soundly in my arms
*Don and I on our first beach date in Florida (pictured above).
These pictures not only represented my life in Kodak moments, but they called into being feelings that surrounded each click in time. Experiences that continually shaped who I had become. Situations and people that made me who I am today. I smiled, I cried, I shivered, as I revisited each and every picture. I had saved each frame to remind me of the flow of my life.
My ups and downs.
My rewards, my mistakes, and everything in between.
It took me three days to go through all the boxes of pictures, re-living small moments in time,
and I’m soooooooooooooooooooo glad that I did…
Because in the move from Arizona to Florida there was a fire in the warehouse where all my belongings were stored, and everything I owned, all 109 boxes… were burnt to ashes… nothing left.
All my clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, furniture, dishes, 40 boxes of art supplies and lesson plans, 3 books I had written, video equipment and the beginnings of a new Expressive Art DVD…all gone.
Mementos that were most important to me like dad’s pipe and his WW2 metals, mom’s Delft collection and her tortoise shell hair combs, Granny’s crocheted table cloth, my foreign doll collection, my antique Singer sewing machine from high school, Grandma’s Dutch recipe books, the wooden Buddha statue from Viet Nam, my Tammy inner-child doll, the wedding suit I designed to marry David in, Drew’s last letter to me… all destroyed. Nothing left.
And all my pictures were gone as well. Not one photo saved.
Everything I ever owned was burnt to a crisp.
Everything in my living room, and ALL the rooms, burned.
I cried for three days with the realization. Everything I had collected in my entire life, all my necessities, my things, my stuff… were ashes.
Then something slowly started to change in my heart. I started to understand that these were just “things”. I had devoted myself to gathering and storing and labeling boxes. They had become a burden to me yet I still moved them around from place to place. I lived amongst things that I never really saw, or read, or wore. More things than I would ever really need. There was a slow turning in my thought process. Instead of feeling loss, I began to feel blessed for what I DID have. I still had Don my boyfriend; Sunny, my Cocker Spaniel; Promise and Wicky, my 2 parakeets; … not to mention my family and friends. I was still rich, wealthier than I could imagine. God had miraculously turned this catastrophe into a lesson beyond my understanding. This seemingly negative situation had brought clarity to me.
I had been given a blessing… the time to go through all my pictures and revisit each memory. The mental impressions would be embedded in my mind forever and that’s all I had. That’s all I needed.
I remember back to my mom holding one small box of memories when she moved out of her home. “All we have is what’s in our heart and soul, nothing else”. Remembering this, I somehow felt OK about my loss. I started to feel free of a burden, relieved of a heaviness. I have learned there has always been a gift waiting once the grief has settled.
I have lived a wonderful life up to now. My vulnerabilities did not suffocate my talent. I have accomplished some extraordinary things and my memory of it all, is enough. It has made me who I am today. I now have a chance to simplify my life and start over. I somehow feel lighter, freer. I have been given a fresh chance. Not only with a new love and a new place, but a clean slate… a blank canvas, another really new beginning.
Let’s see what happens now that I have nothing left to hold me down.