Saturday, January 20, 2007

Significant -- Insignificant -- jcarolek

From the fire there were salvaged only a few things.

More than twenty years ago, my grandparents’ house burned down, as they slept. Awakened by the smoke, my grandfather, a double amputee, went in search of the origin. My grandmother, awakened by his calls, heeded his caution to get out and go to the neighbors. He thought he could get the fire out, but he was wrong.

When my uncle called to tell me of the death of my grandfather and the hospitalization for my grandmother for severe burns, I was, of course, taken to my knees. It was the first of several such incredibly overwhelming events I would encounter over the next few years.

Today, as my sister, my number two brother and his wife, my father and stepmother and I shared memories and enjoyed a wonderful meal, I asked Dad about the trunk of papers that had survived the fire. I was unsure of my recollection on this matter, but Dad verified that this trunk of memories had indeed been salvaged.

In the trunk were clippings from the newspapers where food critics had reviewed my grandfather’s offerings. There was the evidence of his participation in the forming of a culinary society in the state of Florida. There were obituaries of family friends and loved ones. There were letters my grandmother had received from friends and family. And there was my father’s baby book.

All were covered in soot and water damage was evident, but my stepmother retrieved some of the items tonight and we looked through them. In my father’s baby book, mounted inside the front cover, is a photo of Dad at about 7. We all laughed at the grinning face that is my son’s. There can be no doubt he is his grandfather’s spitting image!

And so, some things were preserved from that devastation nearly 22 years ago -- some important connections to the past. I recall my grandmother telling me that even the car in the front yard was ruined by the fire. The place was completely destroyed. And yet the trunk, well hidden under piles of clothing inside a closet, and containing so many important artifacts, was spared. And, in my grandmother’s purse, which suffered badly, but was still recognizable, was a single chocolate Easter egg that never even melted.

Tonight I thought about the significant and the insignificant that survives. And I thought about why each did. I like to think the trunk of memories survived to allow us to keep that connection. And I like to think the chocolate Easter egg survived unmelted, because it served to remind us of the inexplicable things that happen every day.

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