Out of the Ashes

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – Arthur Ogden surveys the damage from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

I’m legendary for my status as “not a morning person.” It takes an atomic bomb to wake me up and at least two cups of coffee before anyone should ask me what my name is. But it’s amazing what adrenaline can do.

In the wee hours of Monday, January the 4th, before the sun had even begun to color the sky, my husband’s career as a football coach, his legendary status as a light sleeper and that booming coach’s voice saved us all.

He tells me that it was the 6th time he screamed my name before I answered him but the next thing he yelled was “Fire!”

I was still addled, and not thinking clearly as I ran from our bedroom to the upstairs foyer to find him beating on a tiny flicker of flame on our oldest child’s bedroom door…with his bare hand.

The bedroom door was slightly opened and my first question was where India was. My brain wasn’t all the way on but I could tell that there was light coming from her room that was surely from fire but I have a tendency to never think it’s as bad as it is. After all, he was standing there trying to extinguish flames with his bare hand…how bad could it be?

He told me she had already left for work and he began yelling the other children’s names. I too started yelling, “Up, Up, Up…let’s go.”

While I made what seemed at the time to be the logical decision to get a towel from the laundry room because you don’t beat flames with bare hands…you beat them with towels… men are so silly thinking you can battle flames with sheer force of will…towels are what are needed. Do you see why I need coffee in the morning?

By the time I returned to the foyer (no more than 10 or 15 seconds) I realized from the looks of things that I was significantly under armed with the bath towel and it was time to make sure the kids were really truly getting out of the house and not just standing around in shock.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the staircase, up toward the second floor foyer.

Arthur got the girls from their bedroom, that coach’s voice never fails to generate quick action, and down the front stairs. At least I think that’s how they got downstairs. All I knew was that I had seen that my girls were safe in his care and I was going after my boys.

I headed down the back hall for the boys screaming “Up, up, up” and “Move, move,move.” I found my boys both bewildered and out of bed.. I ushered the boys down the back stairs in their bedroom and shooed them toward their Papa and sisters heading out via Arthur’s office.

Again, a testimony to lack of coffee and brilliant morning emergency thinking. I had seen the mop bucket on my way through the kitchen with the boys. I told Arthur, “I’ll get a bucket.” as he called 911 and kept the children safe.

I filled a small bucket with water in the downstairs bath tub and ran upstairs via the back hall. Barefoot, as I ran onto the wooden floor of the foyer I could feel the heat in the floor itself. I hurled the water at the now flaming door and nothing noticeable happened. I said something in my head that is not fit for print and realized it was futile. The only thing to do was get out.

I’d been working with a kind of tunnel vision, where I was only seeing the most important thing in front of me at the time. Arthur’s face, flickers of fire, buckets, towels, Nathan, Benjamin, Savannah and Zarah. I looked at India’s room burning and brief flash of “what if he was wrong…what if she wasn’t at work?” went through my mind. Everything was happening so quickly. All the thoughts and actions that had already happened couldn’t have even taken more than seven or eight minutes. But I remembered that he’d told me twice already that she was not in there and I trusted him.

A few seconds is a long time in a fire, I’m sure the brave men of the Demopolis Fire Department can tell you that. It seems like I remember every bit of what my eyes glanced over as I turned to run. The arch way leading to my room beginning to be touched by flame, India’s door putting off flames so big I could feel the hot air being pushed on my face five or six feet away, the stair rail marking the place I needed to run , the reflection of orange light being thrown off the bathroom mirror , and the escalating heat under my feet. Then I saw the doorway to the back hall that was right then free from all but a faint bit of smoke.

And I remembered the shawl. It had belonged to my great great grandmother. According to family lore she wore it on her wedding day in 1861. It had been a wedding gift from her uncle. (I’ll have to check the year, those records are in a box in my closet…who knows if it’s still there.) I had worn it myself on the day that Arthur and I took our vows in The Church.

So I chose to run out the back. I had bolted not even 10 feet when I got to the open hallway closet where I had purposefully kept the shawl to grab in case of some horrific emergency. By the time I was reaching for the satin pillow case it had always lived in I could not see nor breathe and I was surrounded by thick, hot black smoke. I thought to myself “You are a fool, run.”

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - The Ogden's lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – The Ogden’s lost much of the second floor of their home to fire on Monday. This is the room where the fire is believed to have started.

And blindly I took off through the boys room, down the spiral stairs and felt my way through the rec room calling for Arthur and the children. Somewhere along the way I remember hitting my foot on something but decided that I would think about that later.

By the time I found them in his office the smoke had cleared from one eye and I could see them all enough to count heads. I made him stop telling someone on the phone that our house was on fire to tell me one more time that India was at work and not upstairs.

My hero looked at his idiot wife holding a soot-stained pillow case and I asked him one more time to tell me where India was. “She’s at work, the car is gone, I promise.”

It was all I needed to hear. I’m not ashamed that at that point I went back for another great great grandmother’s butter knives that Arthur had shadowboxed for me that hung on the dining room wall while he herded the children out the door.

And we ran to Miss Vickie and Mr. Robert’s house. We’ve often said that the Taylor’s are the best neighbors we’ve ever had. True to form Vickie and Robert began being Vickie and Robert and they swung into action.

The Demopolis Fire Department’s response was quick, but Vickie had socks and shoes on us all and jackets and blankets wrapped around us before I could even wash the soot off my face. Thank goodness Robert had already started some coffee because Vickie can’t make coffee….don’t tell her I told you that.

I joke frequently about my husband’s stubborn streak. I poke fun and am sometimes irritated about all that administrating he did in academics and athletics over the years that led to him thinking that his natural born delegating and administrative skills makes him think he’s always in charge. The entire family complains about having to be sensitive to his light sleeping. It’s no fun to have to turn your music way down on the other side of the house because Papa turned in early.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back the the second floor foyer.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view from the upstairs hallway, back toward the second floor foyer.

The running joke about him is that he can “hear smoke.” Thank God that he can. Thank God for that booming voice. Thank God for that will of iron that sometimes makes him think he can battle a house fire with his bare hands but also lets him slip effortlessly into the man you know you can count on to get your children out of a house fire.

It’s no joke, who he is, with ever fiber of his being saved us. I’ve never been so glad in my life that he was in charge and on watch. It’s not every woman who get’s to be married to her hero. I am a very lucky girl.

I can not even begin to describe the immediate and enormous outpouring of love and aid from the community. I didn’t want to watch my house burn, I had not the stomach. But I’m pretty sure the fire wasn’t all the way out when Kaye Evans appeared and the next thing I knew she was back with clothes.

I tried to alert my parents out of town to what was going on and when I finally got through to Daddy I had to tell him, “I don’t know…I have no answers yet. The house is still smoldering and I need to get off the phone because half of Demopolis has just come through Vickie’s front door and they’re all here to help.”

And since Monday morning we have received such a flood of love that it is overwhelming. I simply cannot name everyone. Our dearest friends have shown not only how much they love us but also how well they know us. Our neighbors across the street and all across town have shown the heart of this community. Our Church has stepped up so that we may lean on them. The school teachers have reached out to let us know our children will be covered when they go back to school.

I know I saw a lot of faces that morning and into the afternoon and every day since. That administrator I am married to has a list and in the near future a far more thorough thanks will come but for now I want to thank: Vickie and Robert Taylor for being who they are in general and the innumerable thoughtful and practical things they did for us and are still doing for us. John Wallace who came instantly with such kindness. The Brookers, and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t think anyone can name all of the Brookers and how awesome they are in one paragraph. Lynda Ray for knowing which of us needs what. Kaye and Arthur Evans for things large and small. Jay and Rosemary Shows for putting a roof over our heads.

Our dear friends Michael and Laura Clements get their own paragraph as thanks and as an explanation for why readers are getting this first person account. Michael left work and was in Vickie’s living room so fast I couldn’t even understand how he got there so quickly. Laura showed up and immediately stepped up to organize and shield me from having too great a load. I was back in my uniform of yoga pants, cami-tank, cardigan and signature hair clippy before noon and she didn’t even have to ask what I needed. Because it’s the South, she also brought me a brand new bag of make up…she probably color matched me better than I could have done myself. She even fussed at me until I went to the doctor and got my foot looked at. (I win the most damaged award as I broke my pinky toe in the escape, Arthur has a few burns on his feet and some singed hair…but he needed a haircut anyway.)

It was Laura who said I should write this. She knows me enough to know that I needed to do the writing. I told her I would do the telling but only if Michael used that camera of his to do the showing.

I’m incapable of being brief. But I usually can tell when I’m about to devolve into rambling. So I’ll end this by saying that 2016 is going to be a very hard year. While we look to rebuild our lives, our home and our collection of things we know it won’t be easy. The one thing we know for sure is that if this had to happen to us there’s no place we’d rather it happen. This city is a wonderment. It really and truly is The City of the People…and what people they are. We are so blessed.

Demopolis, Ala. - 1-6-2015 - This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden's home on Monday, January 4, 2015.

Demopolis, Ala. – 1-6-2015 – This is a view of the upstairs foyer from the fire that destroyed part of the Ogden’s home on Monday, Jan. 4, 2015.