The phone rang on Wednesday afternoon. It was the daughter of a long-time friend.
Have you talked to Dad recently?
Last weekend, why?
Well, if you try to call him now, he won’t be answering.
Uh oh. Why?
Because his home burned down.
And so it was.
At 4 a.m. on Monday, Roger woke up to his smoke alarm shrieking. He looked down the hallway to see smoke and flames.
He got out in his pants, socks and a shirt.
He lost everything else.
I don’t know how many fire stories I’ve reported or edited in my news career. And depending on the nature and circumstances of each one, I’ve given varying degrees of thought as to how the people involved could be feeling and coping.
But as with most traumatic events, it doesn’t hit as hard as when it occurs personally or involves someone very close.
Then, the immensity of the calamity crashes down.
I’ve known Roger since my high school days. Five years older than me, we have been close friends for more than three and a half decades.
We met here in Abbotsford, through my girlfriend at the time, who had family connections.
He’s the penultimate outdoorsman – a mentor in my early days of fishing, hunting, 4x4ing, and general poking about in the outback.
Twenty-some years ago, he and the family moved to the Interior, where he found work in a mill. It was decent money for a man who no longer wanted the stress and tension of his former job.
It made even better sense given that the great outdoors was moments away from his front door.
Although it meant hours of driving for me, together we explored vast expanses of that back country at least a couple of times a year – every year.
And when we were weary of the tent and the elements, we returned to his cosy mobile home next to the Shuswap River.
Like Roger, it wasn’t fancy. But it was solid, and comfortable. We made countless good meals in the kitchen, and drank countless beers on the back deck.
We watched the birds fill themselves on the berries and grapes that grew outside the window.
To me, it was a like a second home.
And now it’s gone.
Charred cinders are all that remains of the living room where we talked and napped under the game mounts, and the photo montage of past hunts and fishing expeditions.
Gone are his favourite old rifle, and collection of outdoor magazines and cookbooks. Lost forever is his mother’s gardening diary, held together with twine. So many such things are now just memories.
No more shall we sit at the kitchen table he built himself, and plot the next adventure.
Roger didn’t have a lot of stuff, because he didn’t want much. But much of what he had bore his signature – solid and dependable.
I struggle to imagine what it is like to be suddenly stripped of all of one’s familiar possessions, and irreplaceable keepsakes, and to be so terribly displaced from a home that served so well for so many years.
The workshop survived, fortunately. It’s the place where we tinkered and toyed. There was little we couldn’t fix or build.
On this day, I feel utterly helpless.
Still, I’m immeasurably thankful the man is still here. We’ll just have to get busy building more memories.