Oral Interview with CSRF volunteer
Friday before the evacuation I noticed some smoke, didn’t think much of it.
Saturday was a little worse, didn’t think much of it.
Sunday a Sheriff came by and said, “Hey, we’re gonna be chasing you out real soon.”
Monday morning, 4:30 in the morning, the fire truck came by with their bullhorn, “Get out, get out, get out now.” Grabbed what we could. I made the fatal error of not paying attention to the severity. I had the time to have grabbed a whole bunch more. I didn’t. My mistake, my error. I learned to live with it. More things lost than I can even begin to remember. Memories are never gone, but you pick up a thing, and you trigger your memory. Well that thing doesn’t exist anymore. So that kind of hurts.
Anyway, off we went that Monday morning. I knew that I had seen the signs [so] we went to the Auberry grammar school, and it said, we’re not here anymore, and it said Clovis High School. Down we went. So, we get there and found the Red Cross, talk to them, and they said, “We can put you up in a Best Western Hotel, is that okay?” It’s fine, because I have two cockateels. And we’re able to put them up there, and that was a pet friendly place.
Well, that was good until middle of November, there abouts, beginning of November, something like that when they said “Hey, you got to get out”. And then they put us up in the Residence Inn off of Bullard. I had made the choice and the decision, and having seen what wasn’t there. That house that we lived in –a 14 by 70 Trailer– the frame was bent in half from the heat. Everything I own. I had one of them cast iron dutch oven cook pots that belonged to my mother. It was purchased in ’38, ’39, somewhere along there, so it was older than I am. The heat was so hot it was warped oval shaped, the lid was cracked. There was nothing left.
So, knowing I wasn’t going to go back, talked to real estate agent. We hunted around looking for a place, found a place. I’m gonna buy it –$175,000. I could not believe that. That’s more than almost triple what I paid for my original house in 1980, in New Hampshire. Well, I went through all the paperwork and hoop jumping, and permissions, and “in addition to that and to that and to this,” to gain the house. I got the house. And it’s not fun. Well, we’re living up on the hill there. You might hear one plane every other day or so. So, its reached the point where it’s nothing to hear the police choppers, the sirens, the fire trucks the this the that.
It’s a whole new world. I can live with it. But it’s just, I have to think every single day when I wake up, “nothing behind, move forward,” because there is no “go back.” And that hurts.
One of the little lessons I learned–if you ever have yourself in this kind of a situation– that one of the first thing you want to get, it sounds dumb, is get you a notebook with a lot of sheets of paper in it. Don’t throw anything out every little note and telephone number and name and whatnot else, write it down so you have a record of what happened when. Really, that’s a very important thing. Because if you don’t, you’ve got little scraps of paper and they get lost, you don’t know where it is and “I knew I had her number” and “he can’t find it” and its frustrating… Yeah, I filled it up. I might fill the whole notebook. But it was a needed thing and it saved my bacon a number of times.
And fortunately the United Way and a bunch of others came by and some charities and church organizations. It hurt to have to stick my hand out. That’s not the way I was brought up. I was taught from an early age. “Give the shirt off your back, stand in the pouring rain naked to help a neighbor, but don’t you ever ask for help. You’re better than that.” So it hurt to have to ask, and hold my hand out. But then I had no choice. So I did. And it’s helpful. Every day is better. That’s really all I can say is, yeah. I never once thought of, “It’s too much for me to deal with it and I have to do myself in and because of it,” thats stupid, because, as it turned out those two cockateels, hahaha, now I have three. And I guess, because I saved them they gave me a gift of a child. So we had to learn and, of course, because they gave me the gift and the mother rejected it, we had to learn from a two hour old thing that just came out of the shell, how to feed it, raise it, warm it, keep it alive. And yeah, that was a learning experience real fast.
But we are surviving, we did survive. It was a lot of effort, a lot of, I would say sleepless nights, but nights where I cried myself to sleep, hoping I could just do what had to be done. And I did. So I’m kind of proud of myself for what I did do.