For the first time since July I can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Losing a house is terrible. Finding it again is fraught with unexpected troubles.
From the information in the newspaper, driving around and looking, gossip and talking with other families who were burned out, it seems that a little less than half of the 66 of us who lost our homes to the Charlotte/Mink Creek wildfire are in the rebuilding process. There are a few families who are not going to rebuild. One person is getting on in years and wants a simpler life. A few others are moving to other communities for retirement.
From the grapevine or perhaps straight-up gossip, it seems that the remainder of us are floundering. We have heard that there are families who are rebuilding but have to build substantially smaller houses than they had. I am surmising that some of these families were insured for the appraised value of their house, not the replacement value. In today’s market the appraised value and the replacement value of a home can be hugely divergent. Sometimes families had the minimum amount of insurance. If your house worth $200,000 and your mortgage is $100,000 you are usually only required to carry enough insurance to address the bank’s risk, that is the $100,000. The balance of the risk is yours. A few people had paid their house off and seemingly had no insurance at all.
We had replacement cost insurance so the amount insured is the amount it would cost to rebuild the house on the day of the fire. So, even with money, it can be an issue. The preliminary bids on the first design our architect and we worked our hearts out on ended up being over three quarters of a million dollars. That was out of the question by a quarter of a million or two. We went back to the drawing board and have a new plan that we think will work but now have to find a builder.
You would think that finding a builder would not be too hard. It has, at least for us been very hard. One of the issues that you have to deal with is the replacement process. If you had 4 potties in your old house and you now want 5, one of them is not a replacement. The insurance estimates for rebuilding are painfully detailed. Our is 69 pages of what amounts to a spread sheet. Matching all of that up and working with the insurance company is not an easy task.
Another challenge is that very few of the 66 houses that burned in our area were on flat, simple to build on land. Each presents unique problems including septic fields, rights of way and intersections with federal land. They were 20 to 50 years old and building codes are different. Our county was enormously helpful when they passed a resolution just days after the fire that if we were rebuilding on our old footprint we could get variances for some of the modern building codes that were impossible to meet. Of course, everyone in the building trades is stretched to capacity because of the loss of so many homes at once. The County appears to have had something in the neighborhood of a 10 fold increase in the number of permits issue compared to last year.
For us I think the core problem has been matching the house to the budget to the land to our personalities to our ways of functioning in a house. Matching two or a few of those is hard. Matching a bunch of those can be nearly impossible. By dent of great patience and effort on the part of our architect and a lot of sweat equity from us, I think we are there. I am not going to get too happy yet because we have been down this road only to find the bridge washed out. The difference with the house plan we have now is that it is important enough to wait until the flood waters receded and we can ford the river in our new-to-us-old Subaru. This plan has many rooms just like what we had. It has improvements we had always wanted to make and it has safety features we never really thought about but need to as we are aging in place.
When I was washing the clothes tonight I realized that our sheets seemed unremarkable. That was remarkable. Sometimes I still get surprised by what comes out of the washer since I cannot always remember what we own. Folding our new sheets as if it was the most normal thing in the world was a good thing. The new has worn off the sheets.
When I was folding the dishtowels I carefully folded a red plaid one that is raggedy and has a couple of holes in it. It is so soft and cozy. I love that dishtowel. My niece sent that dishtowel to us. Right after the fire she and her mom both offered to come help us. As it worked out it was best for my sister to come. When I was talking to my niece I said, “I don’t want to ask for too much but do you think you could send me a dishtowel with a hole in it?” I think I understood then what I understand now and that it was about having continuity. It was about having things long enough that they can get holes in them. It was about having a home.
Wy sister arrived the next day bearing family photos and wooden spoons and small meaningful rocks and other family memorabilia. Ase unpacked what she and her daughter had for us, she was embarrassed that her daughter packed their old dishtowels with holes. I reached over and said, “I asked her for them.” Of course, I cried. I feel tears in my eyes even now thinking about that moment. Those dishtowels were not full of holes, they were holy dishtowels to me. They were imbued with the best of the spirit. They were asked for in humility, they were sent with love and they were tangible signs of the fact that a home could not be burned.
Whenever we do get our new house, I will take those dishtowels and place them lovingly in their new drawer. Each time we use them their softness and their humble holes will remind me that holes in your life can be filled.