My mother has been shaken, this week, by her flight from the fires in northern California. The 2:00 a.m. call from the managers of her senior living center in Santa Rosa, California, warning of the need to flee and summoning them to be ready to evacuate. The apartment is pitch dark; the electricity has failed. Unable to see, groggy in the night, she misses a handhold getting out of bed and cracks her head on the bureau. It isn’t serious. Blood and a black eye. But it is the kind of moment that seems to foretell the day.
My brother and his family also had to flee in the middle of the night. Neighbors pounding on the door. The smoky air and darkness but for the glow of fire. The long stream of brake lights fleeing their neighborhood.
They went to his office at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He found Mom later that day in the evacuation center at the county fairgrounds and brought her to them at his office. As the disaster grew, my sister-in-law brought Mom and their daughter down to the south bay where her parents lived.
We watched the news. Searched for friends. Wept for those now homeless. Watched disbelieving as pictures came of whole neighborhoods razed to the ground. Tried to comprehend the enormity of it all.
Numbers can’t tell the story, but that’s what we got. Buildings destroyed. Firefighters on the scene. Speed of the winds. People displaced.
My mom has trouble remembering she’s not at home. She thinks of something and goes to reach for it and it’s not there. “Oh,” she says. “Darn it,” slapping her knee, “I keep forgetting.”
I take her to lunch to distract her with something ordinary. We go to Target to buy some basic clothes and makeup. I bring some comfort foods. Somehow the salt and crunch of a potato chip calls us back to the simple pleasure of the moment.
She is safe. Her house may not be, but she is. My brother is allowed home and gets to shower. Another delicious piece of the ordinary. The power comes back on. Simple pleasures. But then the winds shift and he must flee again in the night. Blaring bullhorns and flashing lights, intrusive, demanding. Anxious.
I am at my daughter’s home. It is early morning and I see the sunlight on the next building. I watch a mother escort her child to the school bus. I see the first signs of a new day. There are car horns, and planes overhead, and trees ready to turn for fall. A gentle morning alarm chirps. Stillness turns to footsteps. The pricelessness of the ordinary.