ALEX CHADWICK, host:
The latest wildfires in Southern California are now contained, after more lost of life and property. And following the news from Washington, D.C., this week, NPR staffer Ashley Grashaw. She has family here in Southern California. In one of those fire stories that she read is the shock of recognition, two family members carrying paintings through a smoky neighborhood. Here's Ashley.
ASHLEY GRASHAW: I felt helpless. The news that a wildfire was raging in the hills behind my family's house in my hometown of Porter Ranch, California, reached me 3,000 miles away in D.C. My heart sank when I realized what this fire meant to me and my mom and brother. Flames threatened to destroy the only tangible reminders we have of my dad. We haven't moved any of my dad's personal things since his death a year and a half ago. His clothes are still hanging in his closet. His stethoscope sits on the bathroom sink. His books on quantum physics and philosophy lie on his desk with a pen in the middle, marking where he left off.
So, when my brother called to say, I'm loading up the car, hurry, what do you want me to save? I said, save as much of Dad's stuff as you can. That's the only thing that matters. The threat of losing your home and all your possessions in a fire is bad enough, but for us, it would be like losing my Dad all over again. We made rushed mental calculations. We didn't save computers, clothes or china dishes. For us, it was my dad's wedding ring, the random scraps of paper with his handwriting on them, an old Home Depot receipt with a list of words he scribbled on the back that inspired him - family, faith, wisdom, humor, perseverance - a napkin with notes scrawled in odd patterns about turning suffering into triumph.
For me, it was a figurine with a picture of Prague on it that turned out to be the last gift he gave me or intended to give me. It was waiting for me on my bed when I flew home for his funeral. He wanted me to see the world. And then there were those two paintings. In a move of reconnaissance genius, my aunt and uncle staged a covert operation on foot past police barricades through a blanket of hot smoke in order to retrieve them from our house. These aren't paintings you would sell at an art show. They're rookie, almost humorous renditions of Disney characters that my dad painted for my brother and me during his easel phase. But those are the things we chose to save in the fire, because to us they're him.
We have yet to put up his headstone. And my mom wouldn't leave until flames approached the backyard, because to her leaving meant abandoning my dad. This fire has forced us to deal with the loss of my dad in a way we haven't been willing to until now. In selecting these personal mementos, we've moved one step in the grieving process. My mom, my brother and I made a pact. If our house makes it, we will finally sort through all his stuff and relocate it to flame-retardant, weather-proof storage.
CHADWICK: Ashley Grashaw, she's an editorial assistant for NPR's Talk of the Nation.
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