Part 1 of The House Fire
Our son’s house burnt down. The four occupants (three house-mates and one guest on that particular night) and two cats got out; the house was razed within minutes.
We received a phone call mid-morning, our son in shock, standing in the driveway in his dressing gown (faring slightly better than his house-mate who was only in underwear until he was given some firefighters’ coveralls). Our son’s voice was shaking as he tried to tell us what had happened, the fire sirens audible over the phone. It was alarming, to say the least!
What followed was, on one hand, particularly impressive; yet on the other hand absolutely expected and normal. This is the series of fortunate events during the crisis-aftermath (and I’m sure I’m inadvertently omitting some):
First of all, the house guest on that night – the one who first saw the fire and alerted the house-mates, thereby preventing them from being trapped inside – was in a position to put up all five newly-homeless (three humans and two felines) together: he volunteers as a mentor for young people transitioning from such places as juvenile detention to wider society (a government-sanctioned halfway-house situation). Due to Covid-19 lockdowns he did not have any other residents in his house at that time, and was permitted to take in these new people in need. This allowed the household to stay together, further allowing them to divvy up1 the enormous amount of administrative jobs required after a sudden crisis event such as this. It also enabled them to process the emotional impact together, .
Secondly, all three house-mates have supportive families which swung into action over the following weeks: despite all living 150 kilometres away (our children had been attracted by the bright lights and were loving their city experience after their country childhoods), we drove down on multiple occasions to offer immediate assistance on the day of the fire, drive them to house inspections2, help salvage, sort and move stuff into storage (towing trailers and driving the 3 tonne moving truck supplied free by the self-storage company), then out of storage a week or so later … that was a huge 36 hours!3
Strong contenders for this family support was the third ripple outwards: close and extended friends and relatives of the house-mates and their parents. On the day it happened a “care hamper” arrived at the temporary abode, then the friends who had sent it arrived in the evening to help consume its contents … thus providing much-needed time for debriefing. Our son said it took four nights before he was able to sleep through the night without waking, reliving the trauma. After seeing more photos (on the first day we only received one) and realising the extent of the devastation, I also did not sleep through the night for many nights, waking in a cold sweat with my heart in my throat and thoughts racing, “That fire destroyed that house in minutes … our boy is so lucky, as are all of them!” It’s frightening to have that sense of mortality thrust upon us unexpectedly! It gave me more insight into the tragedy of people who must contend with deaths from fires (house, bush, car …) although I know the outcome of our experience is happier than many … I am eternally grateful to the cosmic forces that helped our people get out of there!
Their Melbourne-based friends chauffered the newly-homeless to inspections, allowing the country-based parents to return home in between visits. Part of this included the surface-trivial yet not-to-be-underrated coffee- and food-runs, to nourish the mental stamina necessary to process and sort the multiple inspections and work their way in orderly manner through the lists.
The voluminous offers of furniture meant that there was enough to set up two 3-bedroom houses, and that essential white goods (fridge and washing machine) were covered. One of my friend’s furniture donation with a deadline for his own move necessitated other friends of mine picking it up with a trailer and driving it halfway across Melbourne to the temporary abode, then delivering the borrowed trailer back to the northern suburbs before heading home again … I am so grateful that I have friends who back me up, that I can call on and that I know will support me, time and time again, without fail!4
Then there’s the financial assistance which eased the pressure of closing off the old place and setting up the new place. The workplace donation of a Mastercard funded by one of the house-mates colleagues’ donations allowed the purchase of “start-up household items” which perished in the fire: all the things that are bought once only and then never consciously thought about again, they’re just there every time a little job needs doing … the brooms, mops, rubbish bins, basic cookware and cutlery that help to make a house feel like a home. Add to that the supply of money in bulk from a loving grandmother to cover bond and the world starts to look that little bit brighter in a time of darkness.
My son remarked, “Statistically, people go through only one house fire in their lives. So I guess I’m done.” Wry humour aside, I’m impressed with the way our young folk have handled this crisis: each person has taken responsibility for different aspects which, when combined, means it’s all come together. There have been times when things didn’t go to plan, so – with a minimum of hissy fits5 – new plans were simply put in place and the process could keep moving forward.
It’s said that it takes a community to raise a child: in this experience, the community has bonded together to protect our children and help them get started again … and I am extremely grateful for our good fortune, that we have such people to draw on, who can help us out, when we are helping others out, in their time of need.
1 divvy up: Australian English for divide up 2 despite all the house-mates being country kids in their mid-twenties, none of them had their drivers' licences. You can take the millenial out of the country ... and they’ll make excellent use of public transport – which I applaud. Clearly a drivers’ licence is expendable for the millennial population, an optional extra which is not needed … until it is … 3 revealed in next fortnight's post 4 more on this in a month and a half 5 hissy fit: Australian English for hysterical fit, ie. chucking a tanty (translation from Aussie English having a tantrum), especially about something beyond control