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From Handguns to Hair Salons, After the Carr Fire, Healing Comes in Many Forms

I won’t call this column “Reflections in” anything, because everyone at aNewsCafe.com knows that Doug Mudford is the king of this technique, as he demonstrates supremely in his column, “Reflections in a Mirror While Shaving“.

For proof, read his latest masterpiece, Reflections in a Fire.

This is my second Reflections-esque column I’ve written lately. I wrote the first a few days before the Carr Fire. But when I dusted it off for publication, it sounded so trivial and stupid and meaningless that I removed it from ANC’s queue and put it on ice, where it remains, along with some pieces that other writers asked to be pulled, too, out of respect for the Carr Fire disaster.

I mean, come on, some of my silliness included information about the one dress or skirt color, when worn at night while walking across the Sundial Bridge, will pretty much guarantee a peep show.

I don’t think we’re there yet. Soon, though, soon.

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•  We’re in that Carr Fire purgatory period between saying we want to move on and talk about something else, and still talking about the Carr Fire. In fact, I play a little game with myself: If I overhear a conversation in a restaurant (I can’t help that I am blessed with exceptional hearing), and I don’t hear anyone say the word – “fire” – then I assume they’re just passing through. Someday that won’t be true.

•  For all its destruction, I’m loath to give credit to the Carr Fire anything: Except for three things. 1. It’s united this north state community like nothing I’ve seen in all my years here. I hope we never lose this feeling of connection. I’m just sorry it took trial by fire to make it happen. 2. Gardens are thriving in the ashy, smoky conditions. 3. Those who have backyard chickens report that their girls are producing eggs to beat the band.

• As I type, the latest Carr Fire containment number is 98 percent. I already feel tears welling up at the thought of the 100-percent number, because that will confirm that the Carr Fire is officially behind us, but it means the really hard work is still ahead of us. It’s like we won the war, but we’re still dealing with pain, suffering and massive causalities.

•  One of my favorite Carr Fire stories is from my friend, whose neighborhood was notified on That Thursday Night via CHP bullhorn that the fire would be in her neighborhood in 10 minutes. TEN MINUTES! When the call came, she was house-sitting for her neighbors, which included pet-sitting two elderly dogs, not inclined to move fast, or warm up to anyone but their owners.

Let me just say that my friend is a retired high-ranking 911 professional, the kind of person you want to hang with during an emergency (you should see her back up a trailer with a boat … impressive). Calling upon her career in emergency services, she was holding it together as she scrambled to gather important items, and her geriatric dog and the neighbors’ old dogs. She was doing great, until she heard the catch in the officer’s voice outside over the bullhorn. Fear.

That’s when my friend lost it, accelerated to a dead run, sobbing and praying to Jesus and just throwing stuff in the car. The dogs – canine strangers to one another — they obediently hopped into the back seat and didn’t make a peep: Just another three-dog night. Nothing to see here, folks. They were smart enough to know that this crazy-acting weeping lady, calling out to Jesus, was their best ticket out alive. They were right.

•  No offence to cat-lovers, but story after story confirms that, generally speaking cats are highly uncooperative evacuees.

While most dogs went with the flow and escaped safely with their humans, many cats freaked out and ran away from their owners. Which reminds me, I wonder how our cutest Carr Fire mascot, Small Fry, is doing?

Small Fry. Photo courtesy of Haven Humane Society.

• I commented to a friend (who, although she lost her house in the Carr Fire, did not lose her sense of humor), that the next time I’m evacuated, I want a burly man in my life to help haul out that heavy Hawaiian trunk made heavier with a life-time of photo albums, that I ultimately had to leave behind. Her response was golden.

“You don’t need a man. You need a dolly.”

Word, sister.

•  Which reminds me, there was something about leaving my house during evacuation, and taking one last look at the majority of things I owned that remained behind. In that split second, I made peace with knowing that they could be gone. Since then, I look at my stuff differently, mainly things like photographs. Maybe it’s because I grew up without family photos that I put so much importance on them. But I have many trunks full of photos and “important” papers, but if they’re so important, why has it been so long since I looked at them? It’s sort of expected that I’m hanging onto them until I die. But then what? Will my kids even care about all this sentimental crap I’ve saved? I doubt it.

• I heard a story about one elderly couple, and she was quite the collector. He was working himself into an early grave trying to take care of their property, plus all his wife’s stuff that she couldn’t part with. Moving was out of the question, because the wife couldn’t face going through all her things. The Carr Fire made the decision for them. Everything is gone. They’re moving in town to a smaller place. One of the adult kids said the Carr Fire may have added 10 years to her dad’s life.

• I overheard an epic Carr Fire story at the hardware store yesterday: A woman whose home burned in the Victoria Drive area was finally allowed to return to face the damage. Seeing her home reduced to charred rubble was one thing, but what added insult to injury was evidence that looters had not just been there, but the jerks had collected and bagged up copper wire and other stuff, presumably to retrieve later.

Did the woman call the police, or even call in the National Guard, whose soldiers were surely standing watch over her subdivision? No, she did not.

Instead, the enraged fire survivor drove to her temporary home and retrieved one of the items she’d taken when she evacuated: A loaded gun. She parked her car off to the side, staking out her home for some time, waiting for the looters to return for her belongings. They never showed up, but when she finally left, she took the stuff the thieves had bagged up, not because those items were of any value to her any longer, but because they were hers, and she didn’t want to give the criminals the satisfaction of taking a single thing, after the Carr Fire had taken every thing.

The woman who told this story said she had no doubt her friend would have pulled the trigger had the looters returned, which confirms for me one of the by-products I’ve noticed since the Carr Fire: We are so raw that we have zero tolerance for nonsense. Just ask the Big Lots clerk who started to give me a ration of corporate excuses on July 28 about why she couldn’t accept the defective item I’d returned, with a receipt.

I can only assume that my simmering look, and my level question, “Do you really want to do this today?” convinced her she was in the presence of a barely hinged person. Guess what? All was well, the return was processed, and I was on my way.

There’s a psychological term for these reactions: anger displacement. To those innocent people just passing through, don’t mess with anyone who’s lived here during the Carr Fire. Trust me on this one. Let it go.

•  Why oh why didn’t I sell my kayak in June, when it first occurred to me? Smart out-of-town shoppers will watch for hot prices on all kinds of things that may not be wanted for a while, such as boats of any kind.

•  Insurance companies have never been as compared and scrutinized as they are now, as people listen to stories about the best and worst companies in terms of how they’re responding to customers’ needs after the Carr Fire. People who’ve not been burned-out are considering jumping ship from the most-complained about companies, and signing up with those with the best reviews.

• Something’s been on my mind since July 23, when the Carr Fire started: The Carr family, one of the nicest groups of people ever. I’ll tell you a secret: I even had a crush on one of the Carr brothers in high school. Just think, had things gone differently with my high-school-boyfriend situation, maybe I would have married a Carr, and here I would be, wincing every time someone said Carr Fire and twitching every time I wrote Carr Fire. I don’t know if anyone’s told them lately, but dearest Carr family, your good name is still intact. Nobody blames you.

(… Not to say that if I were in the market to marry a Carr guy — or any guy — that I wouldn’t just retain my birth name. That’s a good policy anyway, says she who knows. I started with my perfectly fine birth name, took a married name until that marriage ended, then used a hyphenated name during divorce No. 1 until I could take back my birth name, but wonder of wonders — oops – it happened again — I got married again, and assumed that second husband’s name, only to ditch it during my divorce from No. 2, which eventually became yet another hyphenated name, and finally,  back to my birth name again. If you think it’s tedious to read, you should have lived it. You heard it here: If I ever marry again  — a VERY long shot — I will keep my birth name for the rest of my life.)

• Dear City of Redding and Shasta County permit centers and building departments: You have a rare and wonderful opportunity before you. Use Santa Rosa as a bad example, not something to emulate, and show the rest of California — the country, the world! –how rebuilding after a fire can be done well. Please bend over backward – and then bend a little more – to make things as easy and painless as possible for burned-out citizens to rebuild, to the best of your ability, as much as the law will allow. Whether it’s dealing with homeowners and licensed contractors, to architects and draftsmen, for the love of Pete, cut the red tape, go the extra mile and pull out the stops to deliver green lights all the way.

• Dear Lowe’s: I hate that you’re closing OSH, a store I happen to love and miss already. But most of all, your timing sucks. Ask Jaime, one of the Redding OSH employees who, with her colleagues, lost her job. What she and three other Redding OSH employees have in common is they also lost their homes to the Carr Fire. A couple of weeks later, they learned that Lowe’s, the company that owns OSH, dumped all its OSH stores.

“Losing my job is just the icing on the cake,” Jamie said sadly. Even with the puny 10 percent “liquidation” discounts, I can hardly go into OSH any more. It feels like a retail wake. I’ve seen customers and employees in tears. The pain and sadness are nearly palpable.

That’s why I’m not feeling much motivation to shop at Lowe’s now. I guess I’m nursing a grudge. It may take me a while to get over this. Please don’t lecture me about how my boycotting Lowe’s will hurt the Redding store. I don’t want to hear it right now.

• Speaking of shopping, there was a lively Facebook debate last week that started with a hairstylist, Pamela Jarvis, who wanted to know where small businesses like hers could get help after the Carr Fire, not because they were burned out — because they weren’t – but because customers were cancelling left and right, which was leaving these small businesses running on fumes and on the brink of collapse.

For clients, understandably, the Carr Fire took precedence over personal-care luxuries like hair, massages, manicures, pedicures, shopping and on and on. As life slowly returns to normal, if you’re a customer, and you’ve cancelled appointments or stopped shopping because of the Carr Fire, if you can afford it, make the sacrifice and spend some money locally, especially at small businesses. Better still, purchase gift cards for people who’ve lost everything in the Carr Fire. They could use a little pampering.

That’s all I’ve got, aside from the Reflections-esque column that’s waiting in the wings until the Carr Fire smoke has cleared enough that it’s appropriate to thaw it out and it’s OK to make ridiculous observations about things other than the Carr Fire.

However, I will tell you, since I know you’ll want to know … about that color of dress or skirt that will make the person wearing it look pretty much nekked … perhaps you already guessed. If not — drum roll — the dress or skirt color to avoid while crossing the Sundial Bridge at night is white.

Feel free to try it out and report back.

If we laugh, then maybe we’ll start thawing out those other columns, a little at a time. Baby steps.

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Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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