This post is quite different from what I would usually write, however the past week has been a different time for my community. A week ago this past Saturday a neighborhood in my community of Carolina Forest had a horrendous fire where over 108 people lost what seemed to be everything they owned with 26 condominium buildings having burned.
Although we don't live in the neighborhood where the fire took place, we do know some of those who lost all they owned and heard of heartbreaking stories of wedding rings, loved ones urns, photos, and so many pets lost to or in the fire from many others. In each story we began to notice there was SOME good that came and we wanted to see more. Although we had donated boxes of clothing, shoes, and household items, my daughter and I wanted to help with what was touching us the most...and that was those fur babies who fled the area during the fire.
Each day Facebook and the news outlets became more cluttered with images of dogs and cats that were missing and thought to have run away during the outbreak of the fire. Having two cats and one dog, this was unimaginable to us and we were thrilled to find a gentleman in Murrells Inlet who organized a "Walk for the Lost" in the surrounding neighborhoods searching for those lost animals.
We met so many big hearted and incredible people during the walk, some that we now consider friends. The night was a success as we found where several of the cats are congregating and reunited one of them with their displaced owner. We all made plans to return over the next few nights and try to capture more of animals we saw and reunite them as well.
(our group searching woods for pets. photo by JANET BLACKMON MORGAN with The Sun News)
We were trying to capture one particularly cute black and white cat in the area of the one building which really showed the destruction as it was the only one that was still standing. The rest were burned to the ground. When the cat dashed around back although it was beside of the burned rubble and probably not the smartest move, we ran right behind it. When we came to the back of the building we stood with flashlights looking for the cat who has gotten away again.
What we found instead was a completely fire and smoke gutted home. It took your breath not only from the stench that was still in the air but from the sadness of memories and homes lost. We looked around for the cat again and all three of us settled on a table that was set just outside the house where everything else in sight was charred beyond recognition. This small round table was almost untouched. What was on top of it was more incredible to us though. It was a bible. Although burned around the edges and completely burned on the bottom, the pages were spread completely apart and upon looking closer we could see handwritten notes were still there as was the untouched bookmark. While looking at the bible, my daughter and I looked at the ground and discovered what really made our hearts leap. PHOTOS!
(building where we were seaching for black and white cat and where bible and images were found)
(bible resting on table as we found it)
(one image of those recovered)
They weren't pristine. They were dirty. They smelled of soot and smoke. Most were burned in one way or another, but there they were on the ground. I had seen the large industrial dumpster in front of the building knowing it was being cleared for reconstruction. We were also expecting horrible weather with winds and rain throughout the weekend. If left here this would all be destroyed further. We gently scooped them up and placed them in the car. Abandoning our cat search for the night and taking these pieces home in hopes of somehow finding their owner.
Once home we looked through the images closer. They were mixed in with negatives, some unharmed for the most part. They were also mixed in with those old film envelopes we all used to fill out at CVS or any other photo-mat. That envelope was our needle in the haystack.
The envelope had a phone number on it which although it was a New York number we called crossing our fingers...wereceived no answer and the voice mail wasn't working. So we continued to look. My daughter noticed the last name, which was an unusual one, and immediately said she went to school with a girl who had the same last name. She also said this same girl's father had lost his house to the fire.
I didn't want to get her hopes up, but my daughter shot her friend a text asking what building and unit her father lived in. A few moments later we had an answer...it was his and his mother's unit. Not wanting to get them excited about something only to dash their hopes she gave the girl my number and ask that her father call me ASAP about the house.
The next day I got a call from the gentleman and explained the story. He was thankful and very eager to see the pieces we had. He is a firefighter our schedules didn't mesh for the next few days. When I met him at the library with the box containing those precious memories in hand I had a lump in my throat and was a bit shaky. The pieces were all his/his mother's and I don't think even he realized what a treasure and gift they truly were until he saw them and held them. The first image he pulled out was a black and white image of his father. His eyes teared up and emotions were flooding. Although I had never met he nor his family, I was teary as well from knowing he and his mother have a few images from their past...a few tangible pieces that connect them to those they love. A few peices they thought were gone forever. These are the "things" we fear loosing the most and he was getting a very few back that he never thought they would see again.
We stood in the rain under the cover of a popped up trunk for a few moments as he sifted through images and his smile grew wider. After hugs and thank yous I made my way in the rain to the grocery store where I ended up teary again...this time from a text explaining how much the pieces meant to him and how much they would to his mother. I saved that text, and I saved a few images we snapped with my daughters iPhone the night we found his memories. I'm going to remember to pull them out and look at them the next time anything seems hopeless to me. I also have to thank that little black and white cat!