While President William Jefferson Clinton was perjuring himself to a federal grand jury on a fated late Monday afternoon on August 17, 1998, I was playing softball at Tom Brown Park and my home was on fire.
Heather drove to the game to tell me that our house had burned and all the indoor cats were dead except for Dave the Cat, then 11, who was in the animal hospital. I immediately left the game and by the time I arrived home, Tallahassee Fire Department firefighters who were about to leave told me that when they broke down the front door, the gray and white cat ran out, but they couldn't save the other three cats.
Dave's buddy Goliath and the diminutive Miss Killer and our white cat Happy were all buried in the back yard that day. Dave spent three nights in the animal hospital, and then another few days sneezing frequently, but would recover with no ill effects and live six more years.
The fire started in the kitchen with the 1970 house's original push-button electric range, which demolished the kitchen and spread toxic smoke throughout the house that we would occasionally smell for years afterward. Flames through the kitchen window almost completely incinerated my Choo Choo Train Halloween costume on the carport and I finished the job in the back yard a few weeks later with appropriate pomp and solemnity.
Heather and her husband Dave and daughter Alicia, and Donna and I moved into the Howard Johnson's Motel on North Monroe Street for two weeks until the insurance company found us temporary lodging at Windrush Apartments on East Park Avenue, where we lived for two months while our house was repaired. We brought our outdoor cat Onyx to the apartments where he dutifully stayed inside for the duration of our lodging.
Most of our belongings went out as trash to the street, where it remained for weeks because our utility service including trash pickup had switched to our new residence. We eventually received a bad neighbor notice from the City of Tallahassee shortly before Waste Management Services removed the fire debris. It was more than a year before the grass under the trash grew back again.
Only weeks earlier, our friend of the family and handyman Richard Heburn had recommended his nephew Dave to perform some household repairs which had been completed a few days before the fire. We gave Carpenter Dave (to distinguish him from the other Daves) the contract to repair our house, after which, aside from the loss of three cats, we were in many ways better off than we were before the fire. The interior of our house including paint, appliances, fixtures, flooring and furniture was new. We put wood flooring in the living room and hall and removed a refrigerator alcove built into the kitchen that really opened up the living room and kitchen view from inside the front door.
We were able to move back home by the end of October. Halloween was all but canceled for us that year.
I spent far more than I earned in 1998, but our homeowner's insurance provided sufficient coverage, so actual monetary losses were minor to insignificant. We spent a lot of time inventorying our losses, but we all recovered and life went on. For many years, "Before/After the fire" became an operative phrase to describe family and historical events.
As I remember all this, my heart and thoughts go out to fellow Godby High School Class of 1981 graduate Gary Bryant and his wife Michelle and their dogs, who lost their Tallahassee home to fire during the fierce thunderstorms last Sunday afternoon, June 26.
Gary, we are still expecting to see you and Michelle at the reunion in two weeks.