Part 2 of The House Fire
As noted in last fortnight’s post, this post continues the story of the house fire. I’ve found this experience surprisingly emotional (even though it wasn’t my house that burnt down) and acknowledge some of my reactions in this post.
HELP ON THE GROUND
My first visit to the burnt-out house, six days after the fire, was on the occasion of clearing out the shed: everything salvageable – that is, not irrevocably burnt, melted, smoke-damaged or water-damaged (from the fire trucks) – had already been put in the shed. To get the bond back everything needed to be cleared from the property, so we – parents and our children – were standing at the house in the middle of piles of *stuff* that required sorting.
I was taken aback at how difficult this job was, emotionally … and it wasn’t even my stuff! To see school graduation certificates and university mortarboards assailed me somewhat, knowing the investment my son had put into his (not always trouble-free) education, having shared the highs and lows of his schooling, and the enormous achievement it was for him to succeed – as it is for everyone, taking as it does such a monumental part of a young adult’s life, and being such a transition period of development and maturing: graduation is a right-of-passage for many, and something to be justly proud of.
Surrounded by soot and grime, with soggy clumps of insulation (which, with the age of the house, may well have had asbestos in it) stuck to everything, it was difficult to know where to start. Different people chose different little jobs, every now and then taking a breather, a little sit, a necessary pause to regain some mental strength with which to look at the next pile. The first job my son and I undertook was to sort clothes and books into wet and dry: it was surprisingly difficult to decide for some of them, the coating of ash having such a slick feel that it was hard to determine if it was wet, or just dirty.
After five or so hours two trailer loads had been taken into storage, yet not everything had been moved. With mobile phone torches in hand we surveyed what was left and called it a day. (It hadn’t helped that we were attempting this big clean-up on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, having only started around lunchtime.) My car was filled with smoke-filled and wet clothes and books, all of which I drove home to deal with later.
I arrived home with my carload of affected belongings and stumbled in the door. My husband took one look at my face and said, “Tell me where you want everything” before proceeding to systematically wash and air the smoke-filled clothes and air the many books on a washing line. He could see how emotionally and physically exhausted I was and did my usual evening chores, allowing me to rest and regather myself somewhat. Thank you, honey! I’m so glad you read me so well and know when I need nurturing, and that I can depend on you.
The next week I processed the washing basket full of clothes in need of dry cleaning: although it was days later I must have still looked affected, judging from the concern on the faces of the staff at the dry cleaners. I hope I looked a bit brighter when I picked the clothes up two weeks later, especially when I was able to tell them a new house had been secured. Compassion from unexpected sources such as this has helped me make sense of this intense situation … and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this.
This is my biggest single contribution to this situation: driving my car to Melbourne, driving a 3-tonne moving truck from the new house to the two Melbourne-based places of storage (the temporary abode and the storage locker), loading the furniture there and offloading it at the new house (not alone, I collected the target young people along the way to help with the lifting); driving the truck home to the country with my son as passenger, loading up our donations of furniture as well as the processed clothes and books; then driving it all back to the new house in Melbourne. Phew!
All that while narrowly avoiding suddenly-increased restrictions due to heightened Covid-19 cases, to which the Victorian Government responded by locking down its entire capital city … again. (We actually would still have been able to move, it just would have taken many hours and a conversation with the police longer – which no doubt would have increased the truck hire cost because we would have been overtime.)
The statistics speak for themselves:
*all that driving took us over the generous 300-kilometre allowance by 39 kilometres;
*we used around half a tank of fuel, which cost just under $60 to fill up;
*we made it back within the 24-hour limit with 15 minutes to spare, and thankfully were not charged for the 10 minutes past our time it took to unload;
*we booked the truck 3 days in advance, and avoided the new Melbourne lockdown by 12 hours;
*we all discovered the many latent muscles we hadn’t used for a very long time … me less than the young people, who at half my age should be equally fit, if not fitter, but who don’t exercise every day like I do. That made me smile!
I’m proud that we were able to achieve all that moving and that long drive within the 24-hour hire period, even though it meant leaving Melbourne at 7:30 pm (the full truck drive home was consequently in the dark) because the loading and unloading the initial two locations took far longer than usual. I hadn’t seen the full storage locker and was a little perturbed at the sheer amount of stuff in it until I slipped into Director Mode and packed that truck’s interior like a Tetris expert: “Pass me that box there, I’ve got a spare square foot here; now that pink bag which will fill in this hole under the table; that plastic sword can go in the drawer of that cabinet,” and so on and so forth until it was all packed. I was so tired out at one stage that I was speaking gibberish: my son handed me my water bottle and told me to take a breather, which energised me sufficiently to give the next lot of instructions more intelligibly.
I was also struck by how smoky everything in the storage locker smelled: when we were loading the trailers and the first truck it seemed like we were leaving all the smoky stuff behind. So I realise that my comparison was out: the stuff we stored was not as smoky as the damaged goods we left at the house for the hard rubbish, but it was definitely not fresh like … well, everything that hasn’t been through a house fire …
The truck company I booked was not the cheapest, but it was the most inclusive in terms of its conditions and their representative delivered the truck to the house. When I first turned up I saw that the rep was ready to go in his little car and I assumed that a second person who had come with him, one driver per vehicle, had already gone. I was pleasantly surprised to see how he did it when he picked the truck up again: he simply drove his car into the belly of the truck, secured it with ratcheted straps and drove the truck away. Such a simple solution this Australian-owned company created!