A Values Clarification

I’m one of the lucky ones.

Several of my friends lost their homes to the CZU Lightning Complex fire north of Santa Cruz (so called because it was started by a dry lightning storm) which began in the early hours of Sunday, August 16—and is still burning. The city of Santa Cruz, was thankfully spared.

But on Wednesday, August 19, Robin and I awoke to dense smoke in the air and a layer of ash covering our yard. I went online and discovered that much of Northern California was on fire. (Now, a month later, much of the entire Western United States is on fire.) A few hours later, Robin got notice that her 97-year-old mother’s assisted care facility near the Vacaville fire was being evacuated, so she drove up there to take her mom to a friend’s house and stay with her.

ash covering our deck

Then Thursday morning I learned that the fire was within a few miles of UCSC, just above our house, and that gusty winds were making it impossible to stop its spread. Containment was at 0%.

late afternoon sky from my front yard

The fire district zone just north of ours was under mandatory evacuation orders. Our zone would be next if the fire continued to progress. I talked to Robin on the phone, and we decided I should fill the car with our possessions in case the order came.

So what to take?

Files, photographs, and important documents of course came first. But then what? I spent most of that Thursday (after going to my 91-year-old mom’s assisted care facility to pack up clothes for her, since they were now being evacuated, as well) making very hard choices.

And what I ended up choosing proved to a fascinating values clarification. My favorite shirts, my kitchen knives, my grandmother’s cast iron pots. Items of sentimental value. Memorabilia. Possessions that couldn’t be replaced.

Here’s a sampling of some other things I packed into the car:

Mom’s 1950s edition of The Joy of Cooking, and other irreplaceables
Beatle dolls, circa 1965
my grandmother’s recipe files
stoneware castle made by my mother
Steiff pony that was my fifth birthday present, and photo from that day

In the end, we were thankfully not evacuated, and our home is safe. But those were some scary days. And if there’s ever a “next time,” I’ll be able to pack the car a lot faster.

So my question for you readers is this: What would you save?

44 thoughts on “A Values Clarification

  1. Glad you’re OK. It’s scary, isn’t it? I live in Colorado.

    Listed in order of importance: my dogs and their food and bowls, my meds and vitamins, clothes, combs, brushes, toothpaste and toothbrush, my laptop and cord, cell phone and charger, my mother’s baby book and genealogical info, a few sentimental knickknacks, and account numbers.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My heart breaks for all of you in California and elsewhere in the West who are dealing with fire, smoke, bad air, and terror. I had a mild taste of it a couple of years ago when I was visiting New Mexico near the four corners while a wildfire raged in southwestern Colorado. The smoke and the choking smell was unlike anything I’d experienced.

    When I was little, our house caught on fire due to a direct lightning strike. I had all of my stuffed animals gathered at the door, should we have to leave. We didn’t. The fire was quickly contained, but it left an imprint on me of what’s important and what isn’t.

    Sending hugs, Leslie. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Annette. It is indeed very scary–especially since this is only the beginning of fire season, with annual fire seasons to come…

      We had tornado warnings in Columbus, Ohio, when I was a kid, and I’d ready my stuffed animals, as well. That direct lightning strike sounds terrifying!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. They asked this same question over on JRW today.

    Koda and a leash. We have a fire box of important papers, plus a folder from the cabinet in the dining room. My computers/phones/chargers and a single hard drive of photos. It would be gut-wrenching to lose my mother’s piano, but there’s no way we could take it (unless we had days worth of notice and I could arrange for a mover).

    The fires are devastating. Stay safe, all you West Coasters.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My brother was afraid the fire would take our grandfather’s old baby grand piano which was at his recording studio, but it was thankfully saved. But he posted a video of him playing one of the first songs he learned to play on it (“Martha My Dear”), just in case, which totally made me cry.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Please continue to be save. It’s crazy!
    What would I take?
    The safe with mine and my daddy’s papers in it.
    My iPad, cause it’s got my kindle books on it.
    My Julia Child cookbooks.
    Photo boxes and albums.
    My knives.
    My No Plot No Problem book by Nanowrimo creator Chris Baty.
    Clothes would be just casuals.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am so happy that you are safe! Praying for all of those in the West!
    There are many things I would take but for purely sentimental reasons – my mom’s recipes, the spice rack my dad made, the last quilt my grandma knitted & a hot air balloon lamp that was a gift from a dear friend.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I wasn’t as lucky. I’ll be out of my house for some time. I took pants because I have really ong legs and have a hard time finding ones that fit. I took original paintings either because of the artist or because of their meaning to me. And I took my two-foot-tall Santa because I got him at a yard sale where the seller wouldn’t take cash for him but wanted one of my books in lieu of money. He’s sort of a book selling good luck charm.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Living in Colorado, I think about this all the time. One of my friends lost her house a few years back to a fast-moving wildfire and many others I know were evacuated in a hurry. I’ll never forget that one of them took a cucumber that had been sitting on the counter “because it was almost ripe.” When you have to assess it all in a hurry, you forget things and you make weird decisions. Make a list and make it now. This WILL happen again. My daughter in Oregon came THISCLOSE to being evacuated and had her list taped to her front door. If you have time, also walk through your house and videotape everything, opening cabinets and such, while talking about everything you see.

    For me, aside from the obvious—dog, medicine, important papers, computer stuff—I’d take my fave clothes, any projects I only have handwritten notes on, photo albums, a couple one-of-a-kind paintings I love, and as many of my parents’ and grandparents’ things as I can grab. But also a reminder that stuff is just stuff.

    Stay safe out there, peeps!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. My brother’s family lost their home to the fires in California in the fall of 2017, so fire season hits very close to home these days.

    Yes, it is all stuff, but it is still hard to lose.

    They just barely had time to get some clothes on and leave, grabbing important papers. Yes, some of the stuff they lost is hard – things that hold memories. And you do need time to mourn those things. And it is okay. It’s all just stuff, but it can mean something.

    They biggest thing they said they wish they had time to grab was clothes. Familiar comfortable clothes. They only had the clothes on their back (my uncle and aunt came over, having bought them some new clothes, so they weren’t without new clothes for very long), but it was still the one thing they talked about wanting most. Not something that would have been on the top of my list, but it makes sense.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. That’s so scary, Leslie. The only things I would really care about saving are the cats, important documents, my laptop, and photos. I don’t have anything that’s worth much, and I’m not very sentimental when it comes to material things. That said though, the thought of being that close to losing everything makes me ill. Like Mark said, I’d probably miss the little things I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to save, like familiar clothes. Stay safe!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Leslie, I choked up reading this and looking at the pictures. Being in SoCal, where we also get dangerous fires, I have a “P” list on my fridge of the necessities – passports, pills, etc. But I also keep three boxes by the front door to grab instantly. They include Eliza’s baby book and photos from her first year of life, as well as an album of special college photos for me; valuable documents; and a box of my handmade needlepoint ornaments. I’d also take as much of my kid’s artwork as I can.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I really feel for you and Robin that you had to go through this.

    I’m not really organized about prioritizing my stuff, but I’d definitely grab important docs, health stuff, and tech devices. Beyond that, I’d snag my writing journal for sure, some sentimental artwork, and definitely a pair of sturdy shoes.

    The fires really put things into perspective. I have really close friends up in Oregon. It’s just so hard.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Leslie, my eyes filled with tears reading this. That photo of 5 y.o. you with the stuffed horse, sniff! So glad you and Robin and your moms and Ziggy are safe. I’ve been thinking about this same question, watching the fires from afar on TV. The animals would be first, of course, but the kitty runs and hides if she senses anything amiss. The docs, my dad’s army duffel with all his mementos, old family and baby photos, electronics, swiss army knife, camping lantern, batteries, saucepot, and Nancy Drew flashlight. The case of water I keep in the basement, white soap & RON kit, every bagged snack I could find, first aid kit and a sleeping bag. The family silver to melt down for currency haha. And a huge 1907 bisque baby doll named Claude that my grandmother adored and the rest of the family is scared of. I’d better start packing.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Poor Claude is tied to my great-grandmother’s horsehair rocker, bc when my dog was a puppy he was fascinated with him. That really freaks my son-in-law out. He asked if the doll needed to be…restrained, lol. Maybe a Halloween blog post?

        Liked by 1 person

  13. We live in the Midwest so not much fire action but today my sister and I were talking about what we would take. Photos and important papers; I suggested additional clothes. She did not even think of that. Books but which ones. Happy for you and happy we don’t have to make those choices. Hope you stay safe

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Leslie, I love that you packed your grandmother’s recipe cards —and your knives! BTW, I think those Beatles dolls should be in a vault!
    I’m ridiculously sentimental, but also disorganized. So getting stuff together would be insane. I’d probably be like the cucumber lady and grab the last ripe banana on my way out. Gathering belongings to evacuate for a fire had to be such a scary and emotional ordeal. So glad to hear you and Robin and your moms are safe!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It wasn’t that horrible, because we hadn’t been ordered to evacuate; I was just afraid we might, so packed the car just in case (so I had all day to think about what I wanted).

      Yes, I do love those Beatles dolls! They sit proudly on a shelf in my kitchen (when not packed up in the car).


  15. Oh Leslie! What a frightening experience. I’m sending every hug and thought of safety to you, Robin, your moms, and all experiencing these fires’ effects.

    As you know, I’m in Oregon, so this is all too close to my heart and mind. I would take photos and that’s probably it.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. So terrifying! Glad that you all are okay. Sending love. My heart goes out to everyone affected by fires. Devastating!!

    We have had some terrible fires burning in Colorado this year. The smoke and ash was horrible for days on end. (For the first time ever, the weather app didn’t say sunny or cloudy; it said: smoke.)


  17. So glad you didn’t have to evacuate! I have smelled I have smelled smoke for days- so terrible, losing a home is way worse. Just packing up a Prius to move with no particular destination. Priorities

    I do hope the worst is over for you.

    Renne Proulx (no relation)

    On Mon, Sep 14, 2020, 5:03 AM Chicks on the Case wrote:

    > Leslie Karst posted: ” I’m one of the lucky ones. Several of my friends > lost their homes to the CZU Lightning Complex fire north of Santa Cruz (so > called because it was started by a dry lightning storm) which began in the > early hours of Sunday, August 16—and is still burnin” >


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