OUT OF THE ASHES
by Dorothy Ainsworth
I got the dreadful call from my son, Eric, an hour after I'd gone to work at 2 p.m. on June 29th, 1995. "Your house is on fire, Mom! I'm afraid it's a goner. I was in the piano studio. It happened so fast, all I could do was call the Fire Dept." His voice broke....
I ran out of the cafe, sped 3 miles home in my old pickup, and rounded the bend just in time to witness the most horribly spectacular sight of my life. The entire black skeleton of timbers and logs, engulfed by fluorescent flames, stood out in bold relief against a backdrop of bright blue sky. The metal roof panels were rising and falling as if waving goodbye. It seared into my brain like a branding iron.
As I stood there in disbelief, watching my castle burn to the ground...the log home I had painstakingly handcrafted for 6 years...it never entered my mind that anything good could possibly come out of this tragedy. "Nature is a hanging judge" I thought to myself. "One strike and you're out!" A tiny linseed oil rag had transformed 6000 hours of hard labor into a huge pile of charcoal briquettes in just two hours.
Although I was surrounded by firefighters and news reporters, I felt all alone in my grief. Memories harkened back to the financial insecurity and heavy responsibility I experienced years ago when I was virtually abandoned with two young children to raise. I had learned to trust no one but myself.
I sighed in silent resignation of the facts of reality and wondered if I would be able to muster up the enthusiasm and money to start over. (My insurance was nominal.)
Feeling like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, I sat down to contemplate the ruins of Tara and pet the dogs. "I must rebuild, yes, I will rebuild. I'll think about it tomorrow," I whispered to Gypsy, Dottie and Joe. They wagged their tails in unison.
That was to be my darkest hour. Unbeknownst to me, the dawn would come soon and bring sunny surprises. I had a lot to learn about the benevolent nature of my fellowman and the art of accepting help.
First thing, Kirt (my devoted boyfriend) was truly there for me. He came home from work to the shock of no home on the hill and was devastated. He shed real tears and we comforted each other. Even though the house had been my coveted project, together we had carried each of those 300 logs out of the forest 6 years ago. A man light on words and heavy on action, he promised to help me make it happen again, and I believed him.
Then before the coals had even cooled, editor Dave Duffy sent a representative from Backwoods Home magazine to check on my welfare, and asked permission to tell BWH readers of my fate. He hoped the notice would generate positive responses from all over the U.S. (And it did!)
Next, my employer at the cafe where I waitressed called to tell me he opened a donation account for me at Western Bank. The Ashland Daily Tidings, and Sneak Preview of Ashland, and the Medford Mail Tribune, all printed sympathetic stories about the disaster and mentioned the donation fund. Each local T.V. station, in turn, interviewed me and informed people of whom to contact if they wanted to help. District 5 Fire Dept. said they'd clean up the mess and offered skilled help in rebuilding. Copeland Lumber and Ashland Hardware volunteered special discounts on all rebuilding materials and supplies.
Out of the blue, I got a call from the nicest stranger I've ever met: Christina Johnson, a young woman from Medford, who said she and her husband Kerry wanted to help by organizing a clean-up crew and a music benefit on my behalf. She said the Lutheran Brotherhood Church pledged to double whatever money was raised by the music benefit concert.
Clean-up day was a huge success. Everyone showed up nice and clean, and left hours later nice and dirty. Ashland Sanitary donated a huge dumpster for the party and hauled away my whole former-house in one fell swoop. Businesses around town sent food.
The Out of the Ashes music benefit was a magical evening filled with the spirit of love and empathy. Local musicians played and sang their hearts out. Son Eric wound up the program with some impromptu humor followed by a magnificent classical performance on the piano. My daughter Cynthia flew up from L.A. to hold my hand and wipe my tears.
The spirit of helping one's fellow man was alive and well, here and everywhere. Offers of help and gifts flooded in. Donations added up. Letters filled with encouragement and contributions arrived daily for about three months. Several prison inmates responded, egging me on to rebuild so that they could keep their own hopes up for a new start. Even people at poverty level put five dollars in an envelope and humbly apologized that it couldn't be more. My heart was touched forever by the kindness and generosity that is out there.
Ashland should be called "the little town that could...and did!" Locals donated about $6000 to my rebuilding fund. BWH readers generously contributed over $3000 to the cause. I've joyfully written at least 200 thank you notes and now correspond with several new pen pals.
With donations alone, I was able to put in a new concrete foundation, build the floor, buy the supporting timbers I need, and secure all the logs.
The owner of Grizzly Log Homes of Jacksonville, Oregon, pledged to sell me all the logs for the house at his cost and deliver them to my site. Kirt and I jumped for joy and danced a little jig at the prospect of being able to build the same house without the gut-busting labor of carrying logs out of the forest again. We enjoyed four months of ignorant bliss. Late in September, the man informed us, for reasons beyond his control, he would be unable to keep his promise. We groaned when we had to eat our words of never again logging the hard way.
Desperate to duplicate the original house, or have to go through the entire permit process again, I was highly motivated to find a source nearby for lodgepole pine. (The Forest Service has closed most of the public cutting areas.) After a zealous search I found a man who owned timberland 20 miles away, and told him my story. He kindly agreed to let us take all the logs we needed for the house off his land, provided we burn the slash piles and thin trees along the irrigation canal.
Once again we jumped for joy and danced a little jig...in spite of ourselves!
Kirt "Bunyan" Meyer singlehandedly felled the trees and carried the huge and heavy logs to the truck, on his not genetically average shoulders. This time around the logs were green and twice the weight of dry (300-600 lbs.). Even though I'm an industrial-strength woman, I was unable to lift my end of a single decent-sized log, so I happily demoted myself to truck driver. I stood by, taking photos and worrying aloud about his lower back and adjacent giblets.
Without a scratch or bruise, Kirt managed to stockpile my 300 logs in just three weeks, finishing the job only minutes before the first snowfall of the season. What a guy! I feel like the luckiest unlucky woman in the world!
Thank you, everyone!