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Writing Memoir – Uncommon Experience

July 26, 2018


Workshop 3 Page 61 – An uncommon experience.

Write about an unusual experience, concentrating on the particular details and the actual event. (15 minutes)

It was an unusually warm day in August when I left the house to collect the children from their primary school, about 2 kilometers from our house.  On the way to the school, two fire trucks passed me, going the opposite way. I thought nothing of as it wasn’t unusual to see them around town, with their sirens blaring and lights flashing.

As I was waiting at school for the children, I was surprised to see one of our employees walking towards the car. He didn’t have children at the school, and I was a bit perplexed as to why he would be there during working hours.

But as it turned out, he was trying to find me, amongst all the mums doing school pickup. From that moment on, the ordinary world of our ordinary family was changed by an extraordinary event.

He had come to give me the news that our house had burned down. How could that be? I had just left? Everything was ok before I walked out the door, only 15 minutes ago. We didn’t live in an old weatherboard house that would burn easy.Our house was a new modern brick veneer house. How could that possibly burn? These were all the questions running through my brain in the confusion of not understanding what had happened.

However, as was the fashion in the 1980s, much of our house was lined with pine boards, so once the fire started, it burnt very quickly, with no chance of putting it out. I found out later that the two fire trucks that had passed me, were going to our house and by the time they arrived, they could do nothing, except stop the fire spreading to the neighbours houses.

We went immediately to my parents house. I was conscious of not panicking and keeping everything as normal as possible for my three children who had lost all of their possessions in the fire. At this stage they didn’t know this and I was aware of how upsetting that news would be to them.

We all went to see the house the next day. I couldn’t believe that all that was standing were the exterior walls. Nothing was saved, but as we scratched through the ashes we found a couple of pieces of my jewellery. That was all.

I didn’t really care about the ‘stuff’ that we had lost. I was so thankful that nobody was home at the time the fire broke out.  Investigators told us that the fire was caused by faulty wiring being done at the time of construction. It started  in a bedroom, and was probably sizzling away quietly for days until that fateful day, when I opened the front door, to leave. That door was opposite the bedroom, and the fire burning slowly inside the walls, had probably reached the stage that it was almost ready to seriously burn, when I opened the front door to leave. The air that came through the open front door caused instantaneous burning almost like an explosion, even though I heard nothing as I left.

We stayed with my parents for a week, before finding temporary accommodation that wasn’t really ideal. The children were quite stressed and upset about losing their things and they showed their stress in different ways. On the day after the fire, I took Craig, who was 11 at the time, to the shop to buy an icecream as a treat, to take his mind off things. All the way there, he talked about which icecream he was going to have. When told they didn’t have that particular icecream he threw the biggest tantrum I’ve ever seen any child of any age throw. It was just the last straw for him.  I was too upset at seeing Craig’s hurt, to explain to the shopkeeper why this child of eleven was throwing a tantrum worthy of a two year old, over an icecream.  This boy was normally a very calm,  and placid child. But I could see that he felt totally out of control of what had happened to him and just lost the plot.

We were very fortunate to not need help from anyone to get back on our feet.We were fully insured and had a successful business that was able to support us and provide us with anything we needed, before the insurance settlement. I do and did realise that things could have been much worse than they were. But I couldn’t help feeling that I had lost control over my normal very controlled life. This was my first feeling of loss of control and it really upset me.

Three months after the fire, we moved into a beautiful house on two acres, that we had purchased just a few kilometres out of town. This house and the area was a fantastic place to bring up our children over the next few years. Because we were so happy there, I really can’t feel sad about the house fire, though it did take me quite a long time to get over the feeling of loss of control over my life.

The things that were lost in the fire that I missed weren’t the expensive furniture or jewellery or the latest fashions hanging in my wardrobe. I felt dreadful that a book that was published in the 1880s, and was give to me by my great grandmother was lost. My grandfather’s watch, that was left to me in his will was gone. It wasn’t an expensive watch, but it was quite old and I felt bad that it had been lost while I was meant to be looking after it, as he obviously expected that I would. I found it very easy to replace most of my clothes, but I really missed the old knock around things, such as trackies and comfy jeans. It just didn’t feel right doing the gardening in new clothes.

  • The writing exercises in this series are from Patti Miller’s book – Writing True Stories, published in 2017, by Allen & Unwin.

From → Family stories

  1. It’s true what they say about possessions not being important, but I get you with the new clothes doing the gardening 😉

  2. Such a sad story but you’ve told it so well. Great exercise.

  3. Oh Jen, how devastating for you and also what a shock it must have been. It is a cliche but things happen for a reason and you then moved to a beautiful home on two acres. I agree material possessions don’t matter in these situations but those sentimental items that you lost must hurt. Thanks for sharing your story with us. xx

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