By Jill Hayward – North Thompson Star/Journal
The road back from the wildfires of 2003 that took our ranch, home, possessions, and lifestyle, has been an emotional, physical and financial roller coaster for my husband and me.
There have been many days when we wondered about rebuilding our life, what we were doing, and why we were doing it.
Five days before Christmas 2003, we moved into our new home from the 27 foot RV we had lived in since the fire. Believe me, an un-skirted RV in the middle of winter is not home sweet home at minus -20°C.
New home, new furniture, new dishes. Although we had a house again it really didn’t feel like it was ours. For days it seemed like we were staying in a hotel and the maid was going to come and tell us check-out time was 11 a.m.!
But Christmas was fast upon us, and to gather some of the spirit of the season we put up a Christmas tree. This was a positive idea, and should have been a joyous one, but it brought forth sad memories of what we had lost to the fire.
Gone were the irreplaceable family mementos and heirlooms that had always been on our tree in the past. Gone was the hand-painted porcelain bell from my mother, the ornaments my sister had made and painted for us, the special decorations we had collected in our travels across North America, Brazil and Australia. We no longer had the ornaments that used to hang on my parents tree (mementos that we kids had made so many years ago), or any of the many items that meant so much to us and brought our family (if only in spirit) into our home over the holidays.
Sadly, our Christmas tree had lost its joy and glitter and the spirit of the season was not a happy one for us. However, we had a tree, and a large box of decorations that had been generously given to us my many kind people since the fire.
I started to hang the decorations on the tree, and as I did my mood of somber loss changed to a feeling of comfort and happiness. I realized that we still had a family with us at Christmas. Perhaps a different one than the one that had shared our trees in the past, but one just as special nevertheless.
Our tree was decorated with handmade bells and ornaments from the generous folks in Tatla Lake, lights that had traveled to us from families in Revelstoke and Prince George, decorations (many of them homemade) from the Legion Ladies, Senior’s Clubs, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, schoolchildren, and many other wonderful people. Almost all of the decorations and lights had come from people we had never met; people who took the time to care about us and the Christmas we would be having in 2003.
The ornaments that had been re-homed to us moved me the most as I hung each one on the tree. Yes, these items were used, not always in the best of shape, and many had seen better days. One was missing the tip of an angel wing, another had a Santa beard that was no longer white, and the star for the top of the tree listed to the left. But for me, all of these second hand items held an honoured place. Someone else had hung these ornaments on their tree, and they had shared Christmas with their loved ones around that tree as they celebrated the joy of the season and moved on into a promising New Year.
These small pieces of another family’s Christmas had come to our community for distribution to fire impacted families. Each item had been carefully wrapped and bagged, as caring people had thoughtfully sent our community a part of their personal Christmas tradition and memories. This gesture meant a great deal to us.
It’s been 10 years since that first Christmas after the fire. And not surprisingly I still have that box of special decorations from the families who’s names and faces we do not know; yet every year I carefully unwrap each ornament and hang them onto our tree.
I would like to think that some of those caring individuals might possibly read what I have written here. If so, to those folks we would like to say, “Thank you for brightening our Christmas in 2003 with your friendship and spirit of the season, we will always remember you for it. Each year as we hang those ornaments onto our tree and welcome you all once again into our home, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the joys that the season can bring for the kindness you extended in 2003.”