Life can turn on a dime. On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the unthinkable happened. My beautiful, beloved home in the country we named “Trail’s End” went up in flames and burnt down to the ground, leaving nothing but memories behind. I stood helplessly outside watching a lifetime of personal history vanish in front of my eyes. I cannot find the words to describe the feeling of despair.
Gone are the children’s memorabilia, the little shoes, dresses and remnants of baby blankets I kept as part of the precious memories. Gone are the baby albums with samples of baby hair and hospital wrist bands I kept for them with my notes about their growth and progress. Photo albums and boxes of our family pictures went up in flames. Gone is the box I kept with “kids “stuff” they wrote and drew over the years (“Mom, give Erin a lickin’, she likes it”). All the notes telling me how proud they were of me when I went to law school (“my Mom the lawyer”). Gone are the framed drawings the kids made for me hanging in our bedroom. Justin’s little handprint with the inscription “Thank you Mom for your love”, Alexis’s painting with a child-like scroll of ”Mom, you make my heart sing when I hear your voice” and Erin’s drawing with the words “I have all the stuff I need and all the love and care I need”. How can these be gone? I thought I would have them forever. It breaks my heart.
I stood on the driveway, helpless and numb, as the fire progressed from west to east, consuming room by precious room. Priceless furniture, paintings, books, rugs, dishes, crystal, all consumed by the fire. Framed photographs of life lived as a family here, gone forever. A wardrobe built over years, a jewelry collection that was personal and eccentric. I will never be able to replace or rebuild any of it. At the moment I feel like I lost my identity. My home, personal belongings, clothes, jewelry, books, they make a statement about who I am. This is how I present myself to the world every day. Who am I without these things?
And my kitchen, oh, my beloved kitchen. I spent hours every day in that beautiful, warm and comfortable place, cooking, feeding my family, talking on the phone to my children and friends and photographing so many pictures for my five cookbooks and recently for the blog. Gone. Never again will I make dinner for my husband in that beautiful kitchen, setting the dishes at the edge of the counter so it’s ready for him when he comes home from work hungry and ready for dinner. My beautiful kitchen. The wrought iron baskets on the counter filled with fruits and vegetables. The herbs in clay pots. The copper pots hanging above the counter, the family of five blue and red roosters on top of the cupboard, set upon set of dishes, glasses, serving platters, pots and pans, kitchen equipment accumulated over years, camera equipment, props, gorgeous linens. Ahhh. Nothing left.
And my books, over a thousand cookbooks collected over decades, many first print and inscribed personally by the authors. Other books about so many topics that interested me over the years. My life on the bookshelves. Such a devastating loss.
I know that “things” are not what is important. The fact that we are all safe and together is what’s important. As I said to the kids, I would torch the house myself if needed to protect them. Of course I know that there are worse things that could happen and that people suffer losses all the time. Yet the sense of loss is nevertheless great. I sought the help of a psychologist who told me I would experience depression and anger intermittently and should focus on the positive: I did not vanish in the fire, no one was hurt, my kids and husband still have me. I still have them. We still have our family. I am trying.
The kids have been incredible during this ordeal. This is the first time in my life that I felt depleted, nothing was left in me to give. I know it’s their loss too, not just mine, but I didn’t have the strength to give. And the kids came through. I have always been their anchor of stability, now they became mine. I had to depend on them for help and support and all of them came through in a way that makes me so proud to be their Mom. Their love, resourcefulness, and support is what is sutaining me these days.
And my friends, you know who you are. I know this event affected you deeply. We have a special connection developed and nurtured over a long time and now again you are providing me with comfort, wise counsel, a sense of belonging. What would I do without you?
I am vulnerable at the moment yet I feel strong. I know I will recover and come through. But I feel such a deep sadness. My husband still goes to work, trying to keep his routine. My house was my routine. Making beds, emptying the dishwasher, straightening up here and there, morning calls with kids and friends, cooking, photographing, blogging. Making a home. I am experiencing such a profound sense of loss.
I am settled in a hotel room facing the aftermath, feeling overwhelmed. A while ago I begun a photo-memoir book about our Trail’s End and now I know I have to finish it. It will be the story of our life in the beloved Trail’s End, from the happy beginning to its sad demise. If I don’t have physical things to leave to the children, I will leave a photographic legacy the best I can gather.
I will continue to share my love of food, cooking and travel with you on this blog but need some time to begin the healing. I have many posts that I have prepared in advance and I can start with those in the next while.
I am ending with an article I posted a while ago about what it means to me to come home to Trail’s End from vacation. It is my best tribute to a house I loved and felt intimately connected to. I hope you enjoy the read.
Coming Home from Vacation
Written in May, 2012
I love coming home from vacation. We live in the country, in a home we named Trail’s End. It’s an artistic house, nestled in the trees at the end of a long trail winding through the poplar forest and ending at the front door of our house (hence the double entendre name). We have lived here a long time and my identity is woven into and has become part of this house. Trail’s End is a special place for me.
Our house is an organic being. When I leave, it senses my absence and falls into a silent, slumbering sleep while I am away. The sounds of daily living are silenced. The long phone chats with kids and girlfriends, the sounds of food cooking, cameras snapping, book pages turning, music floating and dishes clanging are absent, allowing the house to retreat into a contemplative state, awaiting my return.
Returning home, I meet with silence in the house. A bit of dust accumulated in familiar places, leaves from the indoors trees have fallen, quietly waiting on the floor to be gathered and placed outside. I walk through the rooms, letting my eyes rest on the much loved architecture and personal belongings, allowing my presence to gently wake up the slumbering house. I open a door and let the cool air stream in.
Soon I hear the house wake up gently. A creak here, a sound there, it is stretching, warming, opening itself up, welcoming my return. I walk into the kitchen. The empty baskets on the counter ready to be filled with produce again. I reach up to the copper pots hanging above the counter to wipe a spot of dust. The pots are clanging together, creating a melody of lived in sounds. I raise the blinds, letting the sun stream in, lights and shadows interplay, inside and outside merge, almost becoming one.
Soon the dust is wiped clean, fallen leaves taken outside, the baskets on the countertop filled with fruits and vegetables. A soup is gently simmering on the stove, its fragrance floating, permeating the air, promising dinner. The furnace is humming again, the hardwood floor sounds under my feet, acknowledging my presence. The sounds of both of us return, my house and I working and living together in harmony, creating a home.
I love coming home.
- Copper pots in my kitchen/ image by Dr. Justin Honce