On August 20th, 2009 my home burnt down.
It could have been much worse. I hadn’t even moved in yet. I was having a new roof put on and one of the workmen was smoking and dropped an ash into the bone-dry 100 year old vermiculite insulated attic. That ash smoldered for eight hours before bursting into flame in the middle of the night and taking the top floor of the house down in minutes.
When I bought my house, it was on a whim. I happened to see the MLS listing with its outrageously low price and decided to have a look. The moment I walked into that house, I knew. I knew it had to be mine. I made an offer before I had even walked back out the front door. The daunting task of trying to be approved for a mortgage as a low-income single mother lay before me. Forces seemed to be aligned for me as I was approved for a mortgage by an amazing broker. The house really was meant to be mine.
I have always dreamed of living in an old home, one with walls full of stories and lives lived within them, all the scuffs and scrapes standing as a testament to the ghosts within. I dreamed of slowly fixing everything that is broken and bringing an old home back to life.
And then it was gone.
Over the past six months my home has been slowly rebuilt. I have watched as it has been torn apart, bin after bin of drywall and floorboards and timber trucked away. As each wall has been taken down, hidden treasures and evidence of a century of home fix-it jobs have been revealed.
Behind a wall in the kitchen we found another room, a small pantry, with a few tins of food still on the shelves. A calendar from 1951 in the crawl space, a score card from a poker game in the bedroom wall, cat skeletons under the house. Each time we found a new treasure the kids and I would march down the hill to our little museum and gingerly hand over the little piece of history from our community.
And the house came down, leaving behind just a few feet of the main floor and two back bedrooms that were saved from the fire. Slowly, so slowly, it has come back to life. My heart has ached watching all the new things come in. A little bit of excitement and a little bit of sadness. So much was lost when that house burnt down. A new house is sitting in someone else’s shoes, but it still has the same feet. No longer threadbare, the house is all stainless steel and eco-friendly paint. Gone is the horsehair and newspaper insulation on the main floor and the toxic vermiculite that littered the attic.
Over and over people have told me how lucky I am that this fire happened, that I have a brand new, hassle-free home that is safe and warm and comfortable for my children and me.
Not once have I felt that way. I am happy that we still have a house to move into. I am proud that I bought a house all on my own. I am excited to fill that house with love and new stories, to make it a home. But I will always mourn the loss of that old home and all the stories that lived there.
“Broken Pledge” by vincegiantesano, Creative Commons, Some rights reserved
“After the Fire” by Jess Howard, ©2010 All rights reserved.