Previously, I wrote about my early years living in the woods. I purposely hadn’t told the end of the story, though. I did that because I knew it would become the focus of the story and might run the risk of overshadowing the other points I wanted to make.
The end to that tale shows that hope can come from any tragedy, victory from every defeat, gain from every loss.
If you decided not to read the previous entry, it can be summed up briefly. When I was five and six, my parents and I lived in Northern Idaho, thirty miles from town, without running water, without electricity besides what we got from our truck’s battery, and subsistence farming chickens, rabbits, garden vegetables, and trees. Here’s what happened next.
It was fall of 1985. I was asleep in my bed in the cabin extension my father had built. I woke up and I smelled smoke. My six year old brain knew there was something wrong, very wrong, and I needed to get out of the house. I knew that fire was dangerous. I didn’t have time to save anything really, and I even forgot my only pair of glasses, but I went to rescue my best friend – a dog named Susie. I found her on the back porch, and I also found one of my favorite books, one that had all kinds of great stories and good pictures in it.
Susie and I went outside of the burning cabin, out into the snow. I didn’t even have my shoes on, or my coat. I was wearing my sleeping clothes, shirt and underwear. Our Orange Dog Susie stayed with me, and I went and found my parents. They were standing near the truck, watching the cabin burn. They’d been just about to go in and try to find me, bring me out. But I’d brought myself out. There we were, out in the snow, everything we owned going up in smoke, in the deep woods of Idaho, miles away from power lines or phone lines. One of our cats never made it out, we found the other.
I later learned that there had been a hole in the stove pipe and sparks were landing on our cedar shake wall. The hole had been worse than we’d thought, and the angle was bad – the thin metal was too close to burnables. We’d managed to gather a decent winter stock of food and other needed things but now we were destitute. All we had left was a dog, a cat, our truck, and each other.
Neighbors took us in, found us hand me downs, gave us shelter. We attracted another kitten on the way out, a blue eyed Birman who became my mother’s best friend. He’d asked my dad for some warmth as he sat in the outhouse, shortly before we left. We went back to Seattle, in hopes of finding work, since a friend had offered us the use of his house. We promised to come back in the spring to rebuild.
Though we never came back to that five acres of timber, and it was likely repossessed by the bank, we took some hard lessons from it. I thought of that forest as my true home for quite a long time. Love of forests is still evident in some of my stories, even though I’ve learned to love my current circumstances even more. I cried over that cabin and the life I’d lost. But we rebuilt. It was many hard years before we had anything like what we’d lost in the fire again, but that struggle taught me not to give up, that no matter what, other chances were possible.
We stuck together. Susie lived to be sixteen. Will, the tiny half frozen kitten, lived a hearty sixteen years or so as well. We worked and grew and kept going. A song by Stan Rogers, a Canadian Maritime folk singer, became our family anthem. It was about a salvage operation and always gave us the will to try one more time. I still think of it when I’ve suffered a loss, to this day.
You see, even after we got to Seattle, sure we had a place to live – for a while – but we were still dirt poor with no savings and a thoroughly aged vehicle. We were more than willing to work. My dad tried doing various jobs over the phone, this being before the great days of call centers when computers were still rare. No one really wanted to hire a blind person, but his disability income, meager though it was, made sure there was a little coming in. My mother worked cleaning houses and offices, later working in a veterinary office. We got by. Through it all, that song, “The Mary Ellen Carter” reminded us of important things. We survived.
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
Find out more about this song at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mary_Ellen_Carte…
Now I run my own household. I work, I take care of my partner and my cat, I make a life. I’ve lost my home in adulthood too, gotten uprooted and had to give up almost everything again. Yet, that early training has showed me that no matter how hard it might seem, there’s hope so long as there’s breath. There can be joy after heartbreak, you can build something better after you’ve lost everything.
Ruse again, rise again. Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
This post by Rohvannyn Shaw.
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