Losing Everything to Learn I Need Nothing #Christmas #Life

True confession: I’ve survived three house fires in the same house. First, someone fell asleep smoking and caused a fire in our living room in 1977. Second, a babysitter left a pot of oil unattended and burned our kitchen in 1982, and the BIG fire of 1986…

My parents worked hard and did their best to give us good Christmases. Hard work doesn't garantee wealth, so we had very little in terms of possessions. There was no way we were going to get everything we wanted, and I don't believe that would have made my childhood happier, but it's hard to think that way as a kid. We had a large extended family and most of my holiday memories center around merry gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Everyone chipped in and made the celebrations grand. There was one particular year, 1985, that stands out. The SEARS Wishbook came to our house, same as always, I sat and circled all my favourite things. I remember getting almost everything on my wish list that Christmas. Either Santa spoiled us because he knew that 1986 was going to be a tough year or my Dad discovered Sears Credit Cards and splurged.

Fast forward one month to January 25, 1986. It will forever be the dividing line for my life in terms of growing up fast and changing my perspective on charity.

Picture a lazy Saturday morning, my parents have left for work. My ten year old self is eating cereal and watching cartoons (Gummie Bears and Smurfs), my 14 year old brother is out doing his paper route. I bundled up to go outside to play in the snow, that's what we did in those days. Eventually I ended up in a neighbours yard to join their children in sledding. We were called inside before 11 am, which was strange, normally we played outside ALL day. The neighbour mom was asking me if my brother was home, and if mom and dad are at work. I told her that everyone was out unless my brother got home early without me seeing him. She was relaying information to someone on the phone, while I itched to get back outside. I was invited in for early lunch, but didn't want to accept the offer and couldn’t think of a polite way to refuse. I was a kid who dressed herself for a day of playing outside - I was wearing fleece pajamas with thermal underwear over top. Not good dress code for lunch in someone’s house. Before I could figure out a way to explain why I didn’t want to stay, I heard sirens and moved to look out the window in time to see the windows of my family home explode outwards with flame and thick black smoke. I was frozen in shock and don’t remember how long I stood there. Eventually I went outside when I saw my dad’s station wagon pull up as close as he could get with the fire trucks blocking the street. We numbly stood and watch our house burn to stud. I wanted to laugh and make a joke to ease the tension because we were a silly sight. Dad in his business suit and dress shoes, Mom in her formal hotel uniform and work shoes, Big Bro in his too cool for winter clothes, clothes (runners, jeans, and flannel coat), me in full winter gear hiding pj's underneath. The clothes we were wearing were the only possessions we had left in the world.

The proceeding days and weeks are a blur- staying with family-wearing other peoples clothes (either too big or awkwardly tight or short pants and shirts.) Walking through my school gymnasium on a Sunday evening to “shop” for clothes and household items donated by our community. My adult self recognizes the depth of that generosity. People had little to give, but gave it anyway. My ten year old self was embarrassed to turn up at school wearing other peoples clothes and shoes. Stuffing myself into a puffy neon yellow ski jacket that was a size too small. It took years to get over the fear of fire, and the shame of being a charity case. Taking a house full of hand me downs was a blow to our pride. Some people were kind, some were not.

Eventually our house was rebuilt and things got better financially. The old house ended up being better than before the fire, repairs that couldn’t be done over the years, were corrected with the rebuild. I shake my head as I read these 1985/86 memories out loud. The embarrassed attitude seems so silly now. Thirty years later, I choose to wear thrift store clothes to stretch money and because people discard some really good items.

It took a long time for my attitude to change, though. When I first started working, I bought clothes and shoes obsessively hoarding them, tags on. I bought 3 of the same shirt and would stuff it away.  I vowed that I would never go back to having two changes of clothes. And the fear of losing everything was real.  Years of debt finally broke my attitude.  It took having my daughter to finally break me of my obsessive shopping habits and hoarding, now I purge our closets twice a year and give it to those in need.

It took losing everything to teach me that I needed nothing to be happy. Nothing but being near the people I love.

Comments

Jonnie (JB) said…
What an incredible story! I can't even imagine how much that experience must have shaped who you are. Nowadays there's so much focus on the having the latest phone or the biggest TV that it's easy to lose sight of how little we actually need. It's sad that it usually takes a tragedy to make us realize what's truly important.
Nicolthe pickle said…
This is incredible story. I can't imagine how much that would affect your life as a child.
Amy Dell said…
Yes, I feel the pull of having something new and have to remind myself that I can't pass that spend easy attitude on to my girl. Thanks for visiting
Amy Dell said…
It flipped my life upside down but 30 years later I can say it was a catalyst for great change in my family quality of life. Thanks for the visit to my post