It started out as a pleasant late afternoon workout at the gym. I smelled a little bit of smoke but was getting used to it, as it seems to be in the air, so to speak, every day in SCV lately. But then the fire engines pulled up right across the street. Some of the men came over to me because I was the only one “tall enough to see” out of the windows. (It could have been the LAFD jog bra that I was sporting, who knows?) Then just as we discussed our options the air quality inside of the gym took a decidedly “cloudy” turn that none of us could avoid noticing. I forced myself to leave, just short of a little much-needed abdominal work, to get my kid and me the heck out of dodge.
I live on the other side of the Calgrove “gate”. I knew that there were only a few hills, but quite a few homes, in the path of the blaze. I wasn’t concerned. Ed was at a cooking class and Sam and I were looking forward to a “girls” night at home. But before we got inside our house our attention was called once more to the billowing clouds, the parade of helicopters overhead, and most importantly, the sheriff driving slowly up our cul de sac calmly repeating a message over his loudspeaker system.
“There is a fire in your area…this is just a warning…you may want to pack up your photo albums…” Now it’s possible that last part was spoken to us directly. I can’t remember exactly. All I know is that the street was suddenly filled with people. My immediate neighbors and their children had collected outside, gravitating toward the house with the best view and the sheriff for more information. When given the opportunity I asked a couple of questions.
Was it that close? No one knew how close it could get was the answer. Or which way the wind was travelling. (And why on this particular evening there was any wind at all.) I do remember the last question answered from our sheriff and that was that he would only be back if it was to tell us to get going.
No way to sugar coat that to the second-graders standing within earshot. I convinced Samantha to head home, as others gravitated back to theirs. I called Ed as soon as we arrived back home, fifteen minutes before his class started, and got a little “ooh”, in response to my relayed information. He was a bit surprised but had no plans to give up his knife techniques class yet. I was calmed by his confidence but still planned to pack up a little bit. Just as a precaution.
Not ever successful at hiding my own nervousness I tried to re-direct Samantha into a bath while I grabbed a few photo albums. There was no way she was going to fall for that so I quickly established a box for her treasures too. She filled it with dog-eared stuffed animals, favorite videos, new CD player, hers and her dad’s Indian Princess vests, the pearl bracelet Ed bought her when she was born, even grandma Felicia’s spare robe and slippers that we kept in our guest room.
She worried that we would forget our cat Louis. I tossed his carrier in the front seat as a reminder. We both ended up taking baths in case we wouldn’t get to one until the morning. And when I was just contemplating calling my sister Charlotte that lives on the other side of Valencia to warn of the upcoming slumber party she may be hosting I flipped the news back on. The fire was out.
The neighbors were out walking around. Some had even climbed up the hillside at the top of our street that spills over onto Calgrove. But I could only view this from my window. Samantha is calm. She knows the sheriff won’t be back tonight. At least that’s what I told her.
But what about me? Well, I’ve decided to leave the trunk packed. Just in case. I still have emergency water bottles but nothing you would consider useful like an overnight bag. Just the “essentials” that I had to pack in my box? Samantha’s kindergarten box, a photo of Ed in I drinking a carafe of wine at a café in Venice, Italy taken eighteen years ago, my original framed wedding invitation, a framed photo collection of five generations of the females in my family, a fire chief’s hat recently given to Ed by the former chief of Big Bear, Eddie’s baby pictures and what I promised Sam we would go through later tonight; the infamous Saving Box from Samantha’s babyhood.
It’s time to pack your trunks neighbors. Even if we are lucky enough to survive this dry, hot summer with our homes intact, a trip down memory lane is due. And while your tripping, remember, if it wasn’t for our sheriff or fire departments we could loose it all without a warning.