flame-resistant memories

Today, the headline on the front page of my local newspaper declared “Home severely damaged after fire.” The damage was obvious in the photo that ran beside the article: the siding was blackened where flames destroyed a window. I didn’t read the article, not at first. I usually skim the headlines then move on to the death announcements listed on the front. If I think I recognize a name, I open up to the obituaries.

That’s what I did this morning before flipping through the rest of the first section. It’s a small paper, so this doesn’t take long. The story about the fire continued on the back page and was accompanied by another a photo. This photo was from a different angle. It showed a detached one-car garage. I recognized the garage. I flipped back to the front and realized I knew this two-story house with its front porch. A porch where I used to sit and watch my older cousins play. Without reading the article, I could tell the fire started in the kitchen. The kitchen where my aunts and uncles used to play poker. The kitchen where my grandma would make salmon patties.

I began to read the article. I recognized the street address even though I haven’t been there in many years. The house once belonged to my maternal grandparents. They are both gone, so the house is owned by strangers.

I feel for those strangers. When I worked at the Red Cross, I saw firsthand the devastation a fire can cause. The local chapter reported to the scene to offer assistance to the family of four who were inside when the blaze began. The newspaper didn’t report any injuries, which is a blessing.

While I empathize with the family, I don’t feel as sad as I thought I would. Or should. Maybe it’s because all of the memories I have of the place are unscathed. They remain untouched by flame.

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