Fire, insurance and a day in town.



I think I must have told you about the fire? If I haven’t then rest easy, it was not at my house. My friend’s friend, Harley was doing some home improvement in the basement late evening on New Year Day gluing baseboards as  a finishing touch for his new hardwood floors, using contact cement. It’s very volatile and one needs to have doors and windows open with a good cross draft to dissipate the fume, but it was the first of January. With bitter weather outside, Harley didn’t open up the doors and windows.

The electrical baseboard heater must have kicked on and it ignited the fumes which made an explosion he simply could not have contained. He fled for his life; woke all the family and got them out of the house in less than five minutes. Everyone but he was in their jammies. Of seven of them,  only two had shoes. The fire department was somewhat hindered by the heavy snow and dismal driving conditions. When they arrived in ten minutes, it was too late. The house had exploded in flame, collapsed and everything was burnt. There remained a pile of charcoal.  Everything was gone.

Harley is doing remarkably well or is simply still in shock. He’s tremendously thankful that  everyone got out safely. He’s herding everyone into doing the things they need to do.

Two of the seven were foreign students staying with the family. They too are uninjured. But they’ve lost absolutely everything they had with them. They are seriously shaken.

By miracle, the filing cabinet was not totally destroyed and Harley was able to retrieve everyone’s passports. My friend Dorothy was up one side and down the other of him for doing that. The house is condemned. If the house had collapse a little more, he could have been killed or seriously injured in the process and then what would the rest of the family have done? And yet Harley is pleased. These are the only things left to prove their existence, pre-fire.

The family are living in a hotel and are moving to rental house this week until their own house is rebuilt.  The insurance company won’t let them rent furniture, only buy, but they don’t know what they will need for furnishing the new house and want time to consider how they want to decorate if they are starting from scratch.

Meantime, they are surviving with furniture handouts from neighbours’ attics and basements and buying only the things that they will need but that will not affect their decor choices,  like beds. They have already bought a basic wardrobe each and now have, amongst all the other basics, shoes and coats.

So Dorothy  asked me to see if I had duplicates of things they could use, since they don’t have anything. They need every kitchen tool, appliance, dish, cleaning supply, and linen that you could think of. They need bathroom toiletries, towels, bed linens.

They lost the husband’s home based business – from his computer and all the information on it right down to the last paper clip. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be.

So Friday, I set about collecting things from my house that were duplicates and I took them into Dorothy on Saturday around eleven. I stayed for a nice cup of tea with her and one of her friends who was visiting.

Just before I left, I transferred all the chattels I had been able to gather – broom, mop, Corning Ware, a vase, wooden spoons, a bowl,  kitchen knives, two sauce pans, kitchen garbage pail liners,  cleaning liquid, dish drying cloths and hand towels, cloth and paper napkins. I brought face cloths and towels, a Queen sized comforter, and some toiletries. I included three ice cream pails with lids. I always find them so useful.

I had two small and one large  box full of goods plus plastic bag of the linens. It didn’t make a dint in my house. Now I’m keeping my eyes open for some more things to add; but the first load has been delivered.

When I knew I was coming to town, I let Doctor Gordon know. He is  ninety-six now, frail and bent over but sharp as a tack. (His latest acquisition is a Blackberry which amuses him to program and figure out). Doctor Gordon was my Mom’s only contemporary friend in the last three years of her life.

He asked me to lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant in Stanley Park. He was waiting for me at the main floor of his apartment building when I arrived.

“Where’s your walker?” I asked.

“Oh, I just use that in the house. I can do just fine. You’ll see.” But my heart sunk a little. If he faltered, could I catch him?

At the apartment, all he had to do was walk from the front door to my car door; at the restaurant though, we had no idea how close we could park. It was just the two of us and I worried about being able to hold him up if he started to fall.

Off we went.

“You’re my navigator,” I told him blithely. With no hesitation, he called out the directions. Left onto this street; right on Pacific into Stanley Park;  past Second and Third Beach, turn right and go until the Causeway. Drive under it and go round the circle halfway. Head North, turn left at the end of the road.  He never missed a beat.

We went past the area that had been devastated by the storm two years previously. Debris had been cleared away leaving a good view out into English Bay where a few tankers waited for entry to the Port of Vancouver. It was a lovely crisp and clear day.

Luck was with us. We got the closest spot to the ramp where he prefers to enter – the stairs are more difficult for him. Our mutual friend Noreen had cautioned me that I should keep a hand under his oxter to steady him. Much as he would like to be independent, at 96, he needs the support, but he did very well.

I was a bit amused at his determination. As we walked up the handicap ramp to the restaurant door, very softly under his breath, he kept repeating something. Finally, I caught it. He was saying “I can do this. This is good. Yes, this is good,” as if with each step he was conquering his faltering limbs.

At the restaurant, though the place was almost completely full, there was a window seat. My parking angel had done me well, and now the restaurant angel was helping out too!

I had an excellent visit with him, the best I’ve had yet, since I could hear him well and he could hear me and we weren’t distracted by other people or other things. He said this was his favourite restaurant. He dines or lunches there  at the Sequoia twice a week or more so the staff knows him well.

When we went back to the apartment, I brought him his belated Christmas present – a large batch of shortbread baked to and old recipe that  Mrs. Baxter had given to my mother. His nurse aide from the agency had arrived by the time we got back into his apartment. Julie fussed with him and then put away the cookies so that I could take the tin home. Gordon and I continued our  little visit. God Bless Julie. She makes his life happy and he is still in his own home amongst his own things.

After that, I went to see Noreen who lives in the same building. Noreen is a friend I made, having met her at one of Doctor Gordon’s dinners.  She is in the middle of Estate woes and so we had lots of talk to share.

When we met a few years back, we knew each other like soul sisters. Our liking was instantaneous. She’s twenty years older than I – a free spirit of the Beat Generation. She fled a staid, Ontarian family of the Establishment for the theatre in London.

Now,  her health fails  and she is frail, but her spirit is just amazing. She’s an inspiration for me in how she keeps bright and happy and never complains.  Her skills with the English language had been honed in her literary career, so her imprecations on her greedy and conniving siblings in the matter of her mother’s Estate gave us much to laugh about.

At quarter past four, I regretfully had to go. I couldn’t risk a parking ticket and I wanted to get back home before daylight ended altogether. The only exception I was willing to make was if I could have a bit of time with my nephew Ron.

I regained my chariot and headed out of town via the Cambie Street bridge. Curses on old habits! With the construction still underway, traffic inched along the bridge as three lanes of traffic merged into one. If I had chosen another route and I would have saved myself a half an hour.

As I waited my turn to merge impatiently,  I phoned nephew Ron to see if he had a bit of time for me. I could easily pass close to his house on my way out of town, but he wasn’t answering.

Before I was off the bridge, he phoned back. I could hear the happiness in his voice that I had called. He said to come right over and I did. I was glad to do so, because I wanted to deliver a belated Christmas gift of shortbread and cookies to him, too.

The snow at Christmas and my subsequent car  breakdown had prevented me from coming earlier.

It took another quarter of an hour to get to Sixth Avenue and to turn back to Great Northern Way. I had only driven three city blocks.

When I arrived, he was out in the driveway waiting for me. He had a parcel in his hands.

“I’ll just put it in the car. That way I won’t have to worry about you forgetting it when you go.”

It was just about dinner time and I suggested calling for delivery; but he said he wanted to eat in, and he would cook! The menu choices were pizza or hamburgers.

“It’s all the same to me but the thought of pizza is good.” I said.

I detected a trace of disappointment.

“I have the the barbecue already fired up,” he replied.

It was obvious he had already started preparing for hamburgers, so hamburgers it was. While he was defrosting them, his mother phoned. She was just outside the house but was checking to see that she was not intruding on other visitors. So we added in a hamburger and she stayed for dinner. Then Ryan asked if it would be okay if Sherry came over and ate with us as well. He was expecting to see her later that evening and she came.

Sherry is a friend he recently met at a neighbourhood bar and they sometimes played pool together and shared some conversation over a beer;  so they have become friends.

She’s lovely. I hope she remains important in his life even if she doesn’t become his special girlfriend. She’s a hair stylist and she loves riding horses. She stables her horse out in Pitt Meadows not far from my house. It’s not even a ten minute drive from here. She’s mature, friendly, calm. Seems happy.

I’m very thankful, for Ron’s sake. He’s got a woman friend. He still has his job and nothing is slowing down there, so that too, is to be thankful for.

I drove home in the dark thinking about how fortunate I was. I love Hugh and Ron, the two nephews I had a hand in rearing during their teenage years. I was happy to see the changes in Ron as he takes on a manly self-assurance. Hugh, you may remember, is in Ottawa doing his studies. We keep in touch by phone and, being a year older, is more sure of his path. He knows where he’s going.

As I was watching my late evening television show, I opened up the parcel Ron had given me. I was delighted to see my belated gift from Lizbet. She sent it down with Ron from Nelson after his Christmas visit to her. The box said it was an  Optima digital camera! However, inside was a disc for that awesome series, Planet Earth, and a very lumpy other Christmas present  which turned out to be the brush washing, brush protecting, water holding receptacle which only a water-colourist would treasure. It’s wonderful. I think I may try it out today! I’ve got a drawing that would be interesting to try expanding into a painting.

I feel very blessed to have a sister who is equally engaged in art as I am to whom I can talk about the fine points of our art. And I’m very thrilled with my Christmas presents.

I forgot to say that the drive into Vancouver was stunningly beautiful around the Mary Hill Bypass. The trees were covered in hoar frost and it was one of those winter wonderland kind of scenes – light, airy-fairy, briskly cold but wintery sunny. I took photos whilst driving (at a red light, but through a not perfectly clean windshield) and the quality of image is not there,  so they are only indicators of how marvelous it looked.

It’s been a day Maggie Muggins. So many people!

Tomorrow I shall stay home and keep all to myself.



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3 Responses to “Fire, insurance and a day in town.”

  1. swatch Says:

    Look at that beautiful tree – what a stunning picture. Your story is another reminder for me to keep a backup of my data somewhere offsite.

  2. wrjones Says:

    Beautiful photos – you are a wonderful story teller. Bet you would be fun to talk to over a glass of wine.

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, be diligent in your backing up of data. I’ve had two wake up calls – my own computer crash, this month (it didn’t affect the hard drive, thankfully, but it could have – whew!) and then these friends and their fire. It’s good to keep records off site, too.

    That could be arranged! I really enjoy your post too. I went looking this morning and read yours and Lisa’s posts. You hold some huge talent in that family of yours – both in writing and painting.

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