House fire: A Time for All Things
Last summer I woke at five each morning, just to savour the early birdsong, the cool air. But since the fire, I’m wide eyed at five, in a panic. What will go wrong today? My spouse and I are still in emergency mode, with the resultant mood swings. Our emotions fluctuate between anxiety and anger or depression and aching exhaustion.
On one particularly cheerless morning we took the 7:50 ferry to the Restoration Company’s warehouses. We were to view a container filled with our damaged goods. We had tried to put this off – we knew it would be difficult – but as the insurance company was being charged storage fees on it, it was necessary for us to do.
The staff at the warehouse was affable, tough and brisk. They’d seen it all and were not being paid to hold our hands. Their broad, black humour left us numb, and their attitude of “just buy a new one” didn’t apply to unique and handmade objects. Our house – like many houses on Saltspring – was a craftsman’s house, filled with hand-wrought things. Much of what we owned had been made by hand, washed by hand, and handled with loving care. Our dishes, breadboards, curtains, cabinets, the art on our walls and some of our clothes were locally made. We hand-washed all our possessions (except everyday laundry). Taking care of what we had was both a pleasure and a moral imperative. “Waste not, want not” has always been my motto. So it was disheartening to see our things stained, broken, mildewed, and beyond repair. Beautiful art books warped, the pages clotted. Our favourite paintings and etchings were terribly stained; our pottery and china broken, our telephone, our baskets and our furniture were stuck with cinders.
I like to restore things, repair them, re-use and re-configure them. The attitude of “throw it away and buy a new one” dismays me. Normally I love the challenge of fixing things. But these aren’t normal times. Having replacement insurance means that the item will be replaced or repaired – whichever is cheapest. Labour isn’t cheap. The cost of refinishing is often more than the cost of buying the same thing new. Faced with fifty boxes of ruined goods, we had to let them go. The company wasn’t about to spend a year trying to repair all this – and unfortunately, neither could we.
I’ve always railed against the idea of throwing out what could be fixed. It comes from being disabled (in a car accident) in my twenties – a die-hard belief that broken, wounded, bent and twisted things have a right to exist. But this fire has been a lesson in letting go. I can’t fix everything. There’s a time for all things, and this is the time to accept what is gone.