May 8, 2010 10:18:00 PM
Pardon me as I stray from my usual topics of lipsticks, mascaras and bangs for this column, but last Friday morning my definition of "beauty" was expanded when the historic house we called home was destroyed by fire. The phone rang in Jackson, where I was visiting with our four dogs, Naomi, Stella, Lillian and Sophia, and I have not been the same since.
On the other end was my Chris, his trembling voice barely audible and hardly recognizable, saying, "Oh, David, the house is on fire!" I fell to my knees and have been trying to stand up again ever since the nightmare began. Never in a million years would I have ever believed that our family would be victims of such an act of God. They always happen to "somebody else."
I have questioned many things over the past week, and to be honest have battled feelings of depression, hurt, anger and hopelessness. It was only a few months ago that we moved to Columbus.
We fell in love with the vibrant small-town neighborhood of the Southside and its residents. Many fast became our friends; others are destined to become so in the fullness of time. But more than the historic town with its sprawling mansions, giant magnolias and winding sidewalks, it has been the larger-than-life goodness of the people that won our hearts and that is on my mind today.
My new friends, Jan and Jyl, were buzzing about us all having a porch party with colorful neighbors, beloved pets and those famous stories that make living on the Southside so darn fabulous. "Soon, very soon, y''all," was my hurried reply. I was working very hard to get everything in order.
We fell in love with the beauty of a wraparound porch with sweeping views of neighbors as they walked dogs, with the gloriously preserved hardwood floors and mantles in most of the forgotten rooms, and we fell in love with this old house as we stripped wallpaper, varnished floors and hung a chandelier.
We were busy as bees restoring our future "home," returning it to its original grandeur. We were so busy in fact that we barely had time for socializing, other than the occasional wave to a neighbor or the promised glass of lemonade to our next-door neighbor and treasured friend, Mother Goose.
Just the other day I was scrambling across the radio waves and caught John Tesh speaking about a new study done about a man who had lived his entire life in a neighborhood without knowing, truly knowing, a single neighbor. Even then this stunned me. Is this true? When did people stop caring about our neighbors?
The friendly lady on the corner with the picket fence who brought us cookies, the warm wave and smile from the woman who walks her terrier past every morning, Adele and Chris with their newly fabulous purple home, fun-loving Jan, Jyl and her shelties, the kids dribbling basketballs in the street beside us ... are they just figures that adorn the neighborhood, or are they more?
Well, I got my answer the hard way, but I am able to find beauty in it. And I am not really feeling like a victim anymore.
Not only do these wonderful neighbors and friends matter to us, but we matter to them. They all stood in the streets below our house and cried the night of the fire -- some armed with cold Coca-Colas, others with an invitation to open up their own homes to us; these folks needed no introduction. These were our heroes.
Mother Goose consoled Chris until I got there. These families held us up while our dreams burned down. We had voicemails on both phones, Facebook greetings, e-mail and written messages of hope, love and human compassion from our town, our neighborhood, our friends.
Beyond the ashes
I asked God, "Why?" For a long time after the fire, I asked this question, but the only sense of peace I got was the miracle that lives were not lost, that our cherished dogs were not there, and that none of the courageous firefighters were injured.
We were blessed, believe it or not, on Friday morning of last week, and we continue to count all of our blessings. We made a promise to ourselves that we will never again underestimate the value of neighbors.
So, our lives are changed forever because of this horrific nightmare. As we sift through the ashes of what was once our life, we feel, see, smell and touch the blessings left around us and marvel in the beauty of second chances. And to you, Jan and Jyl, that porch party still lies ahead, perhaps just in another form.
Former Columbus resident David Creel owns Beautiful With David salon in Jackson and has 20 years experience in the beauty industry. Contact him at [email protected]