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After the Fire

by Maxine Davis

We are just coming out of the holiday season, and I bet you have seen at least one picture of a burned house on television or in the paper.  These things happen.

A while back, I was having lunch with a group of friends.  We began talking about keepsakes and sentimental Christmas ornaments.  Everyone was saying that these items meant more than they could say.  Whatever would they do if something happened to them?  These weretreasures that they just could not bear to lose.  One could not envision a table without the crystal bowl that belonged to her great-grandmother or, heaven forbid, if anything happened to the Christmas ornaments they had lovingly collected for years.   These were priceless pieces of family history.   Everyone agreed that it would be tragic to lose these things–that is, everyone but me.    My thinking on this subject was a little different.

I thought, but didn’t say, “Well . . . sure you can bear to lose them.  They are only things!”   And I know if tragedy did strike them and their houses burned, every one of them would look at the blackened rubble, take the hand of a loved one, and thank God their family was unhurt.  That’s when a person realizes that all those treasured belongings were just things.

Oh, sure, you may have promised grandmother’s china to your daughter.  That nephew can’t wait to get that antique Camaro Super Sport.  There’s furniture you loved, clothes you paid a fortune for, jewelry, and, yes, Christmas ornaments, that, if you look them up in a company catalog, some are worth hundreds of dollars today.

But after a fire, you don’t dwell on these things.  Reality is staring you in the face. You take a loved one’s hand.  You accept that things happen and, no matter how you feel at the moment, it is for the best.

I know this.

Years ago, I was in Scotland and received a call that our house had burned during the night.  My husband was there and was not hurt.  During the long flight back home, my one wish was to see my husband and hold him in my arms.

The fire had started in one of the cars.  They said it was one of the tires exploding that probably woke him up. That’s all that mattered.  He woke up and got out. Today, you would never know it had ever happened.  We moved, and we moved on.    And here we are years later, and the house if full of “things.”

I have reached the point in my life that I now want to de-clutter—throw away, give away and, in general, minimize the things sitting around to be dusted, the things in the closet, the attic and garage.  Have I pared away the clutter?  Well, no, not very much, but I am slowly working on it.  By the way, could I interest you in a book?  A pitcher?  A collection of Christmas mugs?   Oh, all right…. they mean a lot, and I may want to give them to a niece . . . .


Mary Preston - January 8, 2013 - 2:55 am

At the moment here in Australia the temperatures are just soaring. This is extreme bush fire weather. Whole towns are being evacuated. As one Mother said: she got the kids in the car & drove to safety because nothing else really matters.

Marilyn Baron - January 8, 2013 - 6:31 am

I had no idea your house had burned down. I’m sorry about that but you have your priorities in order. Life is more important. My mother is also starting to throw things away. Instead of de-clutter she calls it “divesting” and says “divest” is yet to come.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 7:35 am

Mary, I’ve read about the heat in Australia. That mother was right. I hope you stay safe. Take care.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 7:38 am

Marilyn, It certainly taught me a lesson. I hope I don’t have to “learn” again. I love your mother’s “divest” is yet to come. It is so easy to keep things and hard to decided what is is to go.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 8:04 am


Anna Doll - January 8, 2013 - 8:58 am

Maxine, we just downsized big time! It was hard to part with things (print books I’ve carted around for years, files of kids’ school work from kindergarten on, to name a few!) It was very difficult. But it helped to think, “What would the kids do with it if I were gone?”

So I gave them all their mementos (which, surprisingly, the boys kept and the daughter promptly threw away!) then I tossed books in boxes, carted them to the library bookstore, and gave away most of my clothes that hadn’t been used in two years (except for the wedding dress!) Because I am a borderline hoarder, it hurt! But I feel so much better now!

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 9:09 am

Good for you, Anna! You certainly have a head start. Funny that your boys kept them and the girl threw away, :) I know when I retired, I took a trunk full of work clothes to Goodwill. Now, I need to go again. Those slacks and tops can really pile up, too.

Pam Asberry - January 8, 2013 - 9:11 am

Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Maxine. I enjoy all my treasures and would hate to lose them, but I would trade them all in a heartbeat for one more day with loved ones I have lost. Like many others, I am in the process of decluttering and downsizing. It’s a process, but it helps me keep many things in perspective. Happy new Year!

Mia Crews - January 8, 2013 - 9:20 am

Maxine, I love your approach. My husband’s family home burned down when he was a small child, so we only have one photo of him when he was little. But his family was grateful that all of them were okay. I never heard anyone moaning about losing everything, only how grateful they were to be together. Thanks for sharing, Mia

Debbie Kaufman - January 8, 2013 - 9:58 am

Maxine, your attitude is the one that really matters! For me, people are first, but I would miss my photos. I’ve contacted someone about scanning them for me. Then I’ll keep one cd set with me and another at a child’s house. Then, even if I lose mine, it’s unlikely that both houses would burn at the same time :)

We did lose a family antique in a house fire. A dresser that was stored at my daughter’s mil’s house was lost in the fire along with all their possessions. The mil felt such guilt over that, but our take was we’d rather have you guys than a dresser any day. It took her awhile, but I think it was easier for her to lose her own stuff than someone elses.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 10:40 am

Pam, thank you, and Happy New Year to you! Isn’t decluttering and downsizing a royal pain! Thank you for stopping by.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 10:44 am

Mia, thank you. That is terrible to have only 1 photo. Being a former business teacher, my pictures were in a metal file cabinet, in folders by year,and, sometimes, special events, lol. Most of them came through. It was in the far end of the house and was not totally burned. But you are right, family is #1. I have pictures on the walls that are a little dark, but it doesn’t botherme.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 10:45 am

Debbie, Good idea for the pictures. I’m sorry about the family antique. I know it must of been hard for your MIL to lose someone else’s belongings, but bless her.

Carol Burnside - January 8, 2013 - 1:10 pm

It does make my heart sore to think about losing the treasured family mementos because of the memories attached. But we’d still have the memories. These days, with my kids gone from home, I worry whether I’d be able to get all the dogs out. I guess we have to have something to worry us. lol

I have a friend in Texas who sends photos in her CMas card every year of the whole family. I’ve kept them over the years because it occurred to me that if her home was to burn someday, she’d have numerous photos of her family scattered across the country which could be returned to them.

Hubby started converting our photos to digital last year. I should suggest he keep up that practice and keep a copy in a bank vault or send a copy to another family member.

Roselynn - January 8, 2013 - 1:28 pm

Great post!

It is a refreshing reminder of what is important in our lives :)

Roselynn - January 8, 2013 - 1:29 pm

Great post!

It is a refreshing reminder of what is important in our lives :) :-D

Karlene Conroy - January 8, 2013 - 2:01 pm

Maxine, you are right about people being more important than things, and I’m so sorry you had a house fire. I live in Florida and we had one year where someone was setting fires and one fire came a little too close to our house. We were ready with garden hoses, but thankfully, the fire department got it under control. I also worry about getting pets out in a fire. One family in my town lost their pets to a house fire.

So sorry you’re dealing with fires in Australia, Mary. Best of luck to you.

Experts advise having a grab-and-go box of important papers, etc. that can be taken if you have to evacuate your home. It makes sense and can be helpful even in flooding, which has been a huge problem in the U.S. northeast recently.

Everyone else’s comments also make you stop and think about priorities. I’m still trying to declutter things my parents left behind and wish they had handled at least some of it. I’m working my way through and donating to local charities.

As for photos, I scanned my grandparents and parents photos, put them on CDs and distributed them to my children, aunts, uncles and cousins. A major undertaking, but at least the pictures will be preserved.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 3:39 pm

Carol, what a great thought that you could send several of her family photos if the need arose. I have a fire box. It may sound silly, but when we go off, I put my thumb drive in it with books and partials on it. Our house fire “got” my laptop and the insurance and I had a big fight ’cause it had a book on it. He said they paid for something like Gone With The Wind. I asked him what made him think mine wasn’t. He paid but not much.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 3:40 pm

Roselynn, love your name. So glad you stopped by and commented. Thank you.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 3:43 pm

Karlene – another pretty name. That grab and go box sounds good. I have my fire safe box, but I’m afraid it would “drown” in water. Great idea of scanning photos and sending to family. They will enjoy that even if they never have to copy and send back to you. Thank you for stopping by.

Hildie McQueen - January 8, 2013 - 6:43 pm

When I was a kid someone broke into our house and stole a bunch of things. It’s sad to lose items that were so important to us, items that no one else would treasure as much. My heart hurt to watch Mom mourn over our baby bracelets and other momentos. I am so glad your husband is all right.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 6:55 pm

Helloooo Hildie, Thanks for stopping by. Break ins are terrible. Had that happen too – twice. We think it was some guys that did some work after we moved in. Anyway we now have a good alarm system (with a siren on top of the house, lol). I am so sorry–I know it was hard to watch your mother being sad, but all of your were safe, which is good. Thank you for commenting.

Maureen - January 8, 2013 - 9:01 pm

I have talked to several people who have grown children like myself and we all have really cut down on the Christmas decorating since we moms are the only ones that care about them.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 9:14 pm

Hi Maureen, So glad you stopped by. We have no children, but I’ve always decorated. Now it is down to a small decorated tree that I store wrapped in a sheet. So easy. That and a couple of candles are it. It’s just us here to see, but I enjoy it. I’m trying to cut down on everything. Happy New Year.

Maxine Davis - January 8, 2013 - 9:15 pm

Winner of Gift Card will appear here tomorrow morning.

Susan Carlisle - January 8, 2013 - 10:40 pm

What a nice reminder of what is important. Thanks for keeping us grounded.

Sia Huff - January 9, 2013 - 12:24 pm

Thoughtful post, Maxine. I agree, people are the most important. It would be hard for me lose some of my parents things, but only because I don’t have them. So each time I look at an item, a happy memory comes forward.

Maxine Davis - January 9, 2013 - 6:41 pm

Congratulations to Roselynn Roberts the winner of an Amazon gift card. I will be sending you an email. Thank you, Maxine Davis

Linsey Lanier - January 12, 2013 - 4:30 pm

Wise words, Maxine. We’re trying to declutter, too. It’s not easy. So I’ll pass on book, pitcher and mugs. :)

Mary, stay safe!

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