Friday, April 4, 2014

Saying Goodbye To The Humble Hovel

Burning Down the House

March 14, 2014

For some reason I thought my run of bad luck was behind me.   The year 2013 was one of my worst, loosing my best paddling partner Sadie Dawg, loosing my Grandmother and just the day to day battles that seem to accumulate until it’s an avalanche waiting to drop on your head.  I was so happy to see that year-end and walked into 2014 with an open mind and a better attitude.

Despite a harsh and long winter things were going relatively well!  I had acquired a rare and vintage canoe to rebuild, picked up a skin on frame canoe for after work upstream paddles and was looking forward to warmer weather and getting some more work done on the Humble Hovel.

Now this abode has been a pain like a sharp thorn in my side since we bought it but I have come to love being here.  I know the sounds it makes in the high winds we get, the quirks of the plumbing and electrical systems.  A house to me in many ways is much like a living being, it moves, stretches, breaths.  Since the day we moved in it was and has been nothing more than a going on fourteen-year rehab, which flows like an ebb tide with available cash and time to get each project done.  I was proud of myself on some and completely disappointed on others, the joys of being a homeowner and stubborn enough to insist on DIY! 

On March 14 I watched as all those years of effort came to a one-hour screeching halt as a fire started in the walls and totally destroyed my home.  My better half called me at work and said, “The wall is on fire!”  I asked if she was joking and she screamed no.  As I ran out of the building a co-worker yelled what’s wrong and I yelled back that my house was on fire.  Now I’m six miles from work but by the time I got there the road was blocked off, there were flames shooting into the air from the porch and my better half was standing in the road a trembling mess.  We hugged each other so hard I thought one of us would break the other.

 She explained that she smelled something and going out to the porch where the wood stove was she could see smoke coming from the wall, not the pipe or the stove.  She took a fire extinguisher to it and called 911 and then took the second extinguisher and did the outside wall and that didn’t help.  Flames started and she grabbed Simon the cat and ran out and tried to unlock her truck and put him there but Simon did what all cats do and struggled hard enough to get loose and then ran through the cat door into the now smoke filled house as the flames started.  It was the last Karen saw of him until the firefighters brought him out. 

As I stood there and watched my home burning I was wondering why the firefighters weren’t pumping water on it.  Later I found out they were waiting for tanker trucks from two more towns to show up.  I will say this; those boys are brave and nuts!  They went into that burning mess and starting breaking windows out to get the heat down and to look for Simon.  I wasn’t surprised at how fast the house was burning as I had always said if it caught fire it would be a tinderbox . What I was surprised at was how fast the firefighters got it out once the hoses were pumping water! 

When it was all done with Simon was dead but not burned, most likely the smoke got to him and they gently and respectfully brought him out and put him in the carport for us.  The fire chief was so apologetic and told us they tried like hell to get him out alive.  We walked in with him to access the damage and it was mind-boggling!  Every room was devastated by the heat and smoke.  All of our clothes, even the items in our bureaus were covered in soot. Our computers were totally melted; keys popped off by the heat and melted into a puddle.  Things on our bookshelves were destroyed but the item next to it was fine.  A book had burned but right next to it was a candle that was untouched and looked brand new.  The stench from the smoke was so thick I knew it would be hours maybe days before I would get it out of my throat and nose.  I will never forget that odor!

  Every room was damaged so badly that I knew that all my almost fourteen years of work would have to be redone.  I tried so hard not to start crying right then and there.  From there began the bear part of contacting the insurance company and by the time the fire trucks had left he was on our driveway.  In the meantime the community had heard.  The calls coming in on my phone were non-stop as well as text messages and emails.  Between the insurance agent, the fire chief, the reporter who showed up and the leftover firemen I didn’t have time for the break down I wanted.

Ok, in the midst of our personal tragedy came an angel of mercy.  Our mail carrier is woman who has watched us try to get this Humble Hovel back to a reasonable living habitat and we have become friends with her over the years.  Karen and her have a lot of the same interests and she loved my Sadie Dawg and Simon, treats for Sadie daily on her route!   When Sadie passed she bought a flower for her grave and a card that I saved but now was lost, I had just looked at the card on Thursday night.  I saw her stopped up the road by the police and it was shortly after that Karen got a call from her offering us a spare home she had until we could get our feet back on the ground.  This was just the first offer of generosity that started.  Before I start there though I must mention the  Land Sharks!

To me this is the asshole that makes a living by honing in on the unfortunate while they are the most vulnerable.  The first one arrived minutes after the fire truck left asking if I needed to have the house boarded up and his company would do it tomorrow.  I already had that covered so to speak but he would not leave and was persistent to the point that I asked him to leave.  Next was a world-class asshole!  If I was he I could not look myself in the mirror every morning.   He is one of those guys that says my insurance company is going to screw me and he can do much better by challenging them.  My hackles got up and I had to tell him this was not the time but he drilled in knowing I was at a weak point.  Finally I asked him to leave as well but that took ten minutes.  I knew he would be back because he smelled blood, mine!  I knew he would be back.

So, what came next was amazing.  People showed up.  My friends, Karen’s friends, neighbors, people who knew me but I didn’t know them stopping to offer help.  The word got out fast.  As the night started on us we had to go but there was a stipulation.  Without the house being boarded up one of us would have to stay for the night.  I found my sleeping bags; borrowed some flashlights and then Karen and I drove over to where we would be staying.  She would be staying there.  I headed back to the Humble Hovel and found my neighbor waiting for me.  We walked down to my Canoe Shed where I would be spending the night and had some cans of liquid courage and just talked for a while.  It was comforting as he is the kind of guy that it’s easy to talk to.  I finally had to call it quits and off my neighbor went. 

Thankfully it was a fairly warm night out and I pulled out my winter sleeping bag and my summer bag and put one inside the other knowing I would be warm enough for the night.  As I lay there I realized that I had only had the clothes I was wearing left and that started me off.  I started swearing at everyone and everything and then the tears started.  I cried for all the efforts I put into that house, the lose of my Simon, the lose of all my personal stuff.  It is so hard to put into words seeing something go up in smoke that you have had since you were a child, something that was passed on to you by a parent, a friend and knowing what did survive the flames was completely ruined by the soot and smoke and heat and a living being that loved to sit on you and give kisses and purr.  It was a hard night.  

March 15, 2014

It was a little after one in the morning when I awoke knowing I wouldn’t be sleeping again.  My mind was racing with everything that had happened and what was coming up.  I lay there for a while and then decided it was time to make some coffee so went to the barn where my camping gear is and got the Almighty Coffee Pot, the one burner stove and then up to the charred remains of my house thinking that there was some coffee left.   Ok, maybe I was dreaming, but I wasn’t.  The new can of coffee was just a burned out mess.  More heavy cursing and admittedly kicking of stuff, what the hell it felt good and it was all ruined anyways!  Suddenly it dawned on me we kept some shit coffee in the freezer, that stuff that you bought thinking it be good but made you gag!  Well, it was that or nothing and goddamn it was cold now. 

Earlier in the day I had to pry the refrigerator door open where it had melted to get to some cans of liquid courage I knew were there and by God despite the fire they were still cold!  I pried the freezer door open and got out the bag of what we call shit back up coffee and went back to the Canoe Shed where I got the coffee going.  The jug of water I pulled off the floor of the kitchen stunk of soot but it was either that or melt snow.  I was getting cold and needed something hot to drink so opted for the water jug.  Hell, I was filthy anyways from being in the burned out mess anyways.  While the Almighty was perking I warmed my hands by the flames and started thinking again.  I knew that this community would be hearing of my lose, I knew my friends and neighbors would be coming in to help.  My conundrum was and is that as much as I like to help others I don’t like getting help unless I’m backed against the wall and need it.  My better half says that is my biggest weakness and I’m stubborn about it.  I just feel I can do it on my own, I don’t need others.  Not sure why I am this way but I is what I is like Popeye the Sailor Man!   I knew I was going to have to take offers of help despite my dislike of doing so. 

Somewhere around five I decided I needed more than the swill I was drinking and headed into town for a real cup of Joe.  Heading back home with a cup of Newman’s real coffee Karen called me.  She was at the house wondering where I was.  We met at one of the schools I work for so she could check her emails and then went back to Micky D’s for some food and another cup of joe.  We both had only the clothes on our backs and needed more so we headed into Concord to Wally World and bought a couple of sets of clothes to get us through the next few days. 

When we got back to the house my neighbor, the contractor, was there.  Today we had to get the windows boarded up.  He took off to pick up materials and then folks began showing up.  For the rest of the day people were stopping in with kind words, and offers of help.  One woman stopped and told me I didn’t know her but she knew me through someone at work and she offered to let us stay with her as she had a large home.  Others stopped and asked what we needed and left us their numbers.  Others just stopped to give us a hug, a handshake and moral support.  And our phones were ringing non-stop. 

In the midst of all of this madness someone called and said he was on his way.  My brother who I hadn’t seen or heard from in almost three years was on coming over.   It was a pretty damned good reunion.  In the end he promised to be better about being in touch.  There was more but that there be personal.

By somewhere around five we finished and Karen and I headed out to the new digs.  I hadn’t eaten since Thursday night, was living off adrenaline and emotions, pretty much a raw nerve.  The house we were offered is beautiful and it would take too much time to describe it.   I smelled of sweat and soot and headed for a hot shower after which I basically passed out. 

March 16, 2014

I woke up at an ungodly hour and made some coffee.  It was only in the single digits out and was so angry about how cold and long this winter has been.  The dreaded thoughts I had been trying to hide from since this started finally found me and I began to cry, not hard but long.  I hate crying for probably all the typical male reasons but I couldn’t stop.  What really got me going was thinking that Simon and my Sadie were back together again sitting on a step somewhere like they used to at the Humble Hovel, Simon cleaning Sadie’s face and ears and just watching over her.  He was always her protector.  I just could not get that image out of my head and probably never will. 

Now in the meantime the district I work for rallied.  We are a close-knit community, not just the schools the entire community.  At the local store someone set up a one hundred dollar tab, which started to grow, the staff of the schools started collecting money for us and the offers started coming in for clothes, food, places to move into, and more.  From an email that was forwarded to me:

“Doug’s services are invaluable to our district, let show our support in this time of need. “

I am nervous about going back to work; I work in the shadows and do not like being in the limelight but know it is going to happen.  It is the nature of this type of event.  I will have to grin and bear it and pray I don’t break down in front of folks.  My biggest worry is I just don’t know how I will be able to pay back all of the people who stepped up to the plate on my behalf.  

Now in the midst of all of the carnage humor has to make it's way in.  When I opened up the new undees and socks it was one of those moments that just has to make you laugh a little.  I bought the wrong size underwear, too big, and the frigging socks were those ankle high ones which I count as just about useless!  Yeah, we laughed hard about that only to find that Karen had bought the wrong size undees as well!   

Oh yeah, I did get to buy some new boots!  Now that was kind of nice but I'm still aching to get a set of Muck Boots soon as I use those for so many different environments and  rely on them for how well they are made.  In all this insanity, especially shopping this tune came to mind!  Made me smile!

So this tale is far from over, it is in its infancy.  I know that the battle will be long and hard before I am back to my Humble Hovel.  We’ll have a new house when it’s done and over with, I am praying.  We’ll have a new grave for Simon the Wonder Cat, and I have a new appreciation for my community and friends.

Week of March 17 – 22

It has been a week of total madness and I can’t believe I have lived through it.  I can’t write about the day to day stuff, it is just to mind numbing.  Meeting with this person and that, worrying about scumbags trying to break in to the burned out Humble Hovel for scrap metal, that is a whole different story.  The running around to get clothes, food and other essentials.  I can only thank the blessing of Tara to let us stay with a warm and comfortable shelter on a beautiful lake to stay on.  It was the only sigh of relief.

Today is the 22nd of March and the snow pack is so thick that we can walk on it like concrete.  We have a mobile home for temporary shelter coming Monday so I had to hire my neighbor who is a contractor to move about three of snow and ice off a section of our field so the home can be put into place.  Now in the meantime my poor Simon needed to be buried and with the thick layer of snow and ice I just didn’t think I could dig a grave for him.  What I did not know is that my contractor neighbor had just bought an excavator, a big honking machine and he had told Karen he would bring it over and dig Simon’s resting place.  So he did by driving that bad boy through the woods, across two fields and up to where we wanted the final resting place to be.  Holy crap!  The snow pack was so solid that that tonnage never broke through more than a couple of inches.  In the end we had to laugh about this as Simon was a unique character that was revered by many.  Hell, how many cats get buried by an excavator?

March 28, 2014

It has been two weeks since the Humble Hovel burned and in that time Karen and I decided we could wallow in our lose, our pity, our emotions but choose to move forward and we did at a furious pace.  We got done in one day with the help of many friends the cleaning out of the burned out hulk of the Hovel, got a mobile home delivered to the property and started shopping for new items.  It was a mind numbing experience and every day ended in us being in an exhausted state knowing we would have to do it all over again! 

Today was a pivotal day.  The mobile home finally got power so electrical and water was soon flowing!  Tomorrow we start moving back in so we will be on our land again and the stresses of not being there will end. 

March 29, 2014

Today we started moving from the lake house back to the new home, the mobile home!  When we arrived at the lake house we had only the clothes on our backs literally.  The generosity of so many people and some dreaded shopping saw us taking several trips to get our modest belongings into the mobile home which I have decided to call The Camp!   I'll take a moment here to describe The Camp.  It is 12' x 44' with a "master bedroom" at one end and two small bedrooms at the other.  From the master bedroom the bathroom, washer and dryer and closet live and then the rest of the area is an open area with a kitchen and living room area.  Ya don't want to have a party in here!

March 30 - April 4, 2014

It has been a whirlwind.  Between getting cable hooked up, computers, kitchen stuff, more clothes bought and going to work I am having trouble remembering what I did each day.  On top of that the hook up for water started leaking in the basement and of course my sump pump decided to shit the bed so I had go buy a new one and deal with that for four hours or so.  The plumber finally arrived and fixed the problem but I was so wiped out by then that I couldn't do much more than sit down.  I think I had finally hit my wall.  If you asked me what day that was I wouldn't be able to tell you.

Between the last two weeks of trying to stay as positive as I could, putting on a happy face at work, burying my cat, dealing with insurance, dealing with the scum that kept stopping to ask for scrap or the remains of my woodpile and worrying about break ins on my out buildings found I couldn't move.  I finally laid back and fell into a long and deep sleep, maybe nine hours worth. 

It was dark when I got up and meandered my way down to one of my sheds where I work on my boats, this is my therapy place.  From the doorway I have a good view of the Humble Hovel and just stood there for a long while staring at the burned hulk wondering why all this shit was happening to me, to us?  I like to think that I'm a good guy, that I do good for my friends and community!  I am not a church goer but do have my conversations with what I believe in and had to ask what have I done to have this happen?  One of my thoughts was that we were in year thirteen of owning this house and as I've mentioned I thought 2013 was a shit year and was over it.  Maybe in my fogged mind the number thirteen was really as unlucky as its reputation and I still had four more months before we were into fourteen years of living here and maybe then my luck would change.  It is truly amazing what blazes through your mind.

More To Come.

April 5, 2014

Today's lecture begins with the insurance stuff.  We were lucky to have a great company who has stood behind us every step of this difficult way.  They got us money right off to live off of, they were there an hour after the fire was out.  But now came the difficult part and you may want to pay attention to this if you have read this far.  You have to inventory everything!  This means clothing, TVs, electronics, personal belongings from underwear to pictures.  This means knickknacks, kitchen stuff, cleaning stuff, mops, everything in your home.  Please keep this in mind.  The agent counted my shirts as I pulled them off the hangers and then he asked me how many hangers I had in total.  I said they were junk but his point was that they cost money to replace and so we counted them and put them on the inventory sheet.  This is how detailed one has to be in this situation!

Take a few minutes to walk through your home and just do a visual inventory of what you JUST see, not the stuff in closets or other hidden places.  You will need to make an account for ever single item so it can be claimed.  This process is hard, you suddenly realize just what you lost.  What hit me hardest was all of my caoneing journals from each trip, those are so much a part of me and I spent the time each day to enter my thoughts into my notebook.

Yes I did have most of them on line but the one that I lost that I thought was safe dated back to 1974 right after my father died and I was still fresh off those feelings and we were way up in the Canadian wilderness in some not to nice conditions.  At fourteen years of age it was a hard go but one that made it a life changer for how I guess I've turned out.  To lose that journal was truly a tear jerker for me and I had to walk out back and give myself a few minutes.  I think I mentioned I am not a true patriot of crying but I do have my moments.

Today also was a banner day for both Karen and myself.  We had her daughter, our grandson, and her new beau come down from VT for a visit.  It almost brought me to tears to see a mother and daughter hug each other so hard and long, I finally had to call a time out and then break out the tissues.  I think the best part was our grandson seeing the emotion going on and starting hugging them both.  This was a moment where I fell in love with this family all over again, a moment I will always have in my mind. 

So that is my triad for this moment.  Since I can't work on the Hovel I'm going back to work on the boats, hopefully!

More To Come.

April 6, 2014

Well neither of us wanted to do this but we had to go back into the house and try to finish off the inventory shit.  It's just plain nasty.  It's dark despite the spotlights I have in there, it stinks so bad you have the taste in your mouth and almost burns the back of your mouth and you just know you will have that oder on you for a while.

We got the kitchen done and boxed so the agent can take a look before we haul it to the dumpster.  It was really difficult to see all our stuff go into the trash heap.  My bread cooking pans and bowls that my mother gave me, the first cook book I every bought that had years of recipes written in the blank pages, yes, I do love to cook but what really set me off yet again was my Sadie Dawgs bowls and her camping mattress now bound for the trash.  It was not the stink in my throat is was my heart breaking and I did something I never do, I hit the charred remains of the wall hard as hard as I could and tried to fight off the tears that I knew were coming.  It just hurt me so bad.!  I had to walk out back yet again to get control. What I love about Karen is when I do get like this, not often, she gives me some room to breath and then comes to me to see how I am doing, a hug, a kiss, reassurance so I can move on.  And so we did, the kitchen got done and so what is left is her stuff.  A friend came over to help her with her business stuff and I'm taking a break.

I keep asking myself why I am putting this stuff out there but I got an email from someone who I respect and admire despite the fact I've never met him.  He told me:

"Keep on writing.  In catharsis lies salvation"

These are fine words and I am going to follow them.

More To Come.

April 6 - 11, 2014

Things are starting to settle down despite knowing the real shit storm will be coming down the road.  The contractors/inspectors came out a second time and stayed for over four hours to take measurements, more pictures of the foundation and asking questions about the double roof and especially the foundation.  We are hoping for the report early next week to see where all stands with the rebuild.  Delay upon delay is eating me up. My biggest fear is being stuck in the Camp when next winter hits.

Now in the meantime another act of kindness came in, yet another on top of all the others.  All the teachers at one school collected scarves for Karen as all sixty-four of hers were ruined.  Now how the hell someone collects that many is a mystery to me and hell it was my house as well but I never knew, probably typical ignorant male stuff!  Every teacher in that school wrote a personal note to add to the scarf and there were a good amount of them.  The one that was the most heart touching was from a teacher who gave Karen her sister's scarf who had passed five years earlier.  Let's just say there wasn't a dry eye for a bit.  How do you repay that kind of kindness and personal sacrifice?

A basket of scarves

It was a very nice and personal touch to the end of another long and difficult day.

More To Come.

April 26, 2014

We are in a lull.  Bureaucratic stuff while insurance and contractors/inspectors get their shit together so they can tell us where to go from here.  Frustrating and despite my calls there is always a delay.  Don't the bastards know I'm not sitting here with my thumbs up my ass because I want to?  It is because of their delays.  So I'm sitting here in limbo which is like feeling as useless as I have ever felt.

On this cold and rainy April day I spent most of it in my canoe shed just staring up at my house and it was memories.  I miss so many things outside of being in it.  I raised and loved my dawg in that abode.  It was all she knew and let us know it was her abode that we provided just for her!  Same for our slew of cats we had over the years.  I recalled the massive amount of renovations we did, the hours of time put into rehabbing this hovel, the money and blood and sweat into each room.  It was close to a tear jerker day but my skin has gotten thicker and will need to do so down the road when we finally get a determination about the status of the house and then dealing with those who rebuild for us.

All I can say is that I am spent.  I look forward to falling into the bed every night so I forget the day I just had.

More To Come.

May 5, 2014

It has been a while since I've said anything.  It has been a crazy ride of digging holes and filling them in, waiting for someone else's  timeline to give us an answer that turns up with the true facts so we can move forward.  Yet despite the delays we are making some headway in more ways that I care to get into.

The dreaded inventory is close to being done and this weekend I closed the final chapter on my nine year relationship with Simon.  Buried he is but his marker was not ready and I needed to finish that off.  In the end I put a marble piece down and surrounded it with birch logs to celebrate his white fur.  I mentioned earlier I know that Simon and Sadie are now together and it's a thought that gives me some peace.  It was a good night to sit out and watch the stars.

More To Come.

May 23, 2014

It is a done deal.  We confirmed with a contractor for the rebuild, the insurance company is good with it and goddamn it will probably start next week!  When we met with the contractors are first question was how long?  Three months is the estimate which puts us at around Sept barring any delays which of course there will be but snow will not be here yet!

It was a relief to call the dumpster company to finally have them haul that away although it will be replaced next week for the demo that is coming.  The house will be gutted of almost everything and then the City will come in and look for code, notify the contractors and then they start the rebuild.

I almost can not believe we are going to get things going.  It has been a such a long hard road of the waiting game, calling folks, having inspectors out again and again.  To many days of feeling like I'm doing nothing more then pounding my head against the wall.  Now the rush is on.  We still have shit to move out of the house into the barn, finish inventory and finish some final small time bullshit stuff.

Now in the midst of all this madness something happened that took me by such surprise I literally did not know how to react for a days.  A package arrived one day with a check from folks who I grew up with, went through the rigors of making it through Jr and Sr High with.  Many I haven't seen in more then twenty-five years and yet the bonds of being raised in a small New York village makes for strong bonds.  We don't forget each other when it comes down to it.  As one friend said, "the bonds of a small village never cease to amaze me."  One can go through this journey of life but the bonds and friendships of the now and the past are the ones that define you is all I can think. I am a lucky man to have so many people watching my back!

More To Come.

Two Years Later.

I tried like hell to continue this story but it got to long, ugly and in the end we ended up in a new house without all of my building  mistakes. To say it was pleasant process would be a lie but sometimes one has to put the chapters of life behind them and move on.  I still have my days when I miss the old and have a hard time with the new but it is growing on me.  The one thing I will never miss as it is embedded in me forever is my Simon and Sadie on the steps loving each other. 

I guess this chapter is over.

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