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TWO DECADES LATER - AND STILL THANKFUL
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TWO DECADES LATER - AND STILL THANKFUL

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In October of 1972, a Greensboro family lost everything they owned when they ran from their burning home. They are still aware of the care and love shown by friends and neighbors.

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One October evening in 1972 my husband, Dick, and I watched a documentary about a tribe of people in South America that had no possessions except one wooden bowl per family - which was carefully guarded.

``What a strange way to live,' I thought. ``Still, there must be a great freedom in such stark simplicity.'With five children at home and one in college, a three-story house, two dogs and a rabbit to take care of, our lives seemed very complicated by comparison.

Little did I know, as we went to bed, that we were heading for a life-changing experience.

At 3:40 a.m. an unfamiliar, sweet odor awoke me. Since I was awake, I decided to check on our 10-year-old son, who was sleeping downstairs.

As I passed the den I noticed that we had left a light on, for there was a soft glow coming from the door. What kind of light do we have that is orange and flickers, I wondered - and that is how I realized our house was on fire.

I called to my husband - there seemed no immediate danger at this point - and he came down to get the 10-year-old out while I went back upstairs to awaken the others.

In the upstairs hall I heard a crackle and was shocked to realize it was my hair.

``Out! Out! Everybody out! This place is going like a tinderbox,' Dick bellowed from the foot of the stairs. A few seconds later there was an explosion of inky black heat that enveloped me, and I knew the danger was both immediate and severe.

I called out to Dick, who was on the stair, which had disappeared in the smoke. When he didn't answer I knew it was because he couldn't.

There was screaming from the bedroom to my left, which I couldn't reach. But here in the hall was our middle daughter. Perhaps I could save her.

``They are yours, Lord,' I prayed, and turning my husband and children over to him, I pulled our daughter into our bedroom. The oily thick blackness followed us as though we were in a horror movie, seeping around the cracks and through the keyhole. As I strained to close out the heat and smoke, I felt I was also closing the door on the rest of my family and the happy life we had shared.

In spite of this, or in addition to this, I was surrounded by a peace I had never known before and had a complete assurance that all would be well, whatever happened. I felt wrapped in a blanket of God's love.

After breaking the window the two of us climbed out and stood on the porch roof. I had gone to bed a wife and mother of six. ``Now,' I thought, ``I'm a widow and mother of three.' But the peace stayed in my heart.

Just then I saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen: my husband and our youngest son walking across an adjoining roof. Somehow Dick had managed to crawl up the stairs, grab our youngest and, holding him in front like a football, had burst out of another bedroom window. Dick's face had been seared by the heat.

The inside of our grand old house was now a roaring inferno. In spite of this, Dick took a deep breath of the fresh air and had started back in after our youngest daughter when we heard her cheerful call: ``Mom, Dad, I'm out.' She had broken out a window with her radio and climbed out on the roof and down a tree. I am positive that her presence of mind saved her father's life.

Our oldest daughter escaped through the basement and came around to the front of the house. Quickly I counted: three on the ground, four on the roof, one at school. By the mercy of God we were once again a family of eight.

The firefighters estimated we had 30 to 45 seconds to get out. We did so using five different exits; we had a fire plan, and the children followed through. The firefighters said it was a miracle.

But the miracle of our escape was not the only one we experienced in the fall of 1972. The second was the outpouring from the generous people in Greensboro.

Help came from every direction: the fire department; neighbors; our church; many Protestant churches (we are Catholic); the black community (we are white). Food, clothing, beds, sheets, chairs, lamps and money - all of which we received with grateful hearts.

However, through these 20 years there has been a nagging guilt. We were not organized enough to write down who gave what. Many, I am afraid, were never properly thanked.

There is an oil lantern hanging in our basement that I'm sure we were supposed to return. We have no idea who owns it. We were not clear on what was given and what was loaned.

There is no way I could name all who helped, but there are three I want to mention by name. Kay and Ben Wilson, our wonderful nextdoor neighbors, took us into their home and hearts; they fed us, loaned us underwear and bathrobes as we floundered back to some sort of sanity.

And I thank our oldest son, John, who had just started his freshman year in college. Her had left a fairly competent set of parents and a comfortable home; he left school and came home for 10 days to care for us. It was he who raked through the ashes to find car keys, he who drove us around to find a place to stay and he who got us started on lists of things to do.

One of our younger sons said it best, as he looked at the charred remains of our home: ``At least we saved all the important stuff. We saved each other.'

And so we did.

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