Of all the interviews coming out of West Philadelphia after the assault on the radical group, MOVE, one made what happened in the aftermath of the fire truly personal.
A woman tearfully related that she lost to the flames baby clothes worn by her newborn son when they left the hospital. He's 18 now.
We accumulate a lot over the years that is testimony to our productivity and success--TVs, stereos, appliances and clothes. Yet, when we lose all to fire, flood or theft, it's the loss of personal items that create the most pain, things only of value to the owner.
When fire consumed Gene Kelly's home we learned that his Oscar was lost in the blaze, along with everything else. It was replaced, sure, but it is rare when an intrinsic item can be duplicated. The woman on Osage Avenue in Philadelphia wasn't so fortunate.
I took a mental trip around my house, conducting a silent inventory of all we've accumulated over our 23 years as a family. There are yellowed trappings from our wedding, art projects, lessons with "excellent" stars, report cards, certificates, trophies and honors saved from each of us from preschool through college. A lot of it junk, but good junk.
Like the homeless residents in West Philadelphia, I grieved for the losses that would never been seen again and I felt insecure. Those baby teeth and clothes, locks from first haircuts, pictures and negatives tracing the evolution of offspring are but memories now. Stoves and stereos can be replaced, but photo albums? Insurance companies don't have a price list for items that trace a family's history.
We never know when our belongings today will disappear tomorrow. Remember the woman fleeing her Mandeville Canyon home as the fire raced closer? She only managed to save a vase she despised, leaving behind priceless paintings, artifacts and other irreplaceable items. I also thought of the news interview I had with a man whose home, horses and car were lost in the Big Tujunga flash flood. He got out with an alarm clock. Plan ahead?
I was moved to immediately round up possessions dating back nearly 50 years and put the away for safekeeping while we had the chance. But where does one begin? How much are we willing to pay to keep them safe? I became unmoved when I thought of the sheer enormity of the project. After all, it always happens to someone else, doesn't it?
DON A. NORMAN