‘When I was 13, my family and I moved into my mother’s ‘dream home.’ Just 8 months later, things would take a drastic turn.’

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“I have nothing from my childhood to pass down to my children. No keepsakes, no old photos, no toys or mementos.

When I was thirteen, my family and I moved into what my mother called her ‘dream home’. We all got our own bedrooms and picked out different paint colors. My dad had his own office and my mother a spacious kitchen to cook in. I had my peaceful backyard where I loved to read my books.

Just eight months later, things would take a drastic turn. One afternoon, my mother kept repeating that she smelled smoke. Frantic, both of my parents started running around, trying to figure out where the smell was coming from. Their eyes scanned every inch of the house. They kept shouting out our names, trying to figure out where me and my siblings were. ‘Justin! Amanda! Ashleigh! Brooke! Where are you?’ they screamed.

All four of us came running down the stairs. By the time we had reached the bottom of the staircase, it had already begun to fill with smoke. Seconds passed. I hadn’t known how quickly the colors of a house could suddenly turn black. I took one breathe and instantly felt burning in my legs. Everything smelled like ashes. It was a scent that lingered in the neighborhood months after.

My dad ran into the garage and my sister followed. It was already up in flames. I grabbed my handicapped sister’s hand and went running into the kitchen. My mother and brother went out the front door. I don’t know why I went into the kitchen, I suppose to follow my father and sister. It was filled with so much smoke that I could not see standing.

My sister and I quickly dropped to the floor and crawled to the front room and out of the front door. I saw my sister and father crawling out from under the garage door. He had no idea she was there with him. At that moment, colossal pieces of garage began to crash onto the floor. There was just enough time to get out before it completely collapsed.

We all met across the street and the fire department was called. In a matter of minutes, the two-story home was completely engulfed by flames. We all knew nothing would be saved. Sadly, that also included our family pets. Their remains were later found by the fire department. None of our four cats made it out alive.

My dad, a marine and cop, always had a family plan for every circumstance. Tornadoes, kidnappings, what to do if someone grabs you. House fires, too. ‘Worry about yourself. Don’t go trying to find each other.’ The one exception was finding my sister Amanda, who is deaf. ‘Run outside and meet at our spot.’ That day, we all followed the plan. I’m so glad we did. No one questioned it. We all knew what it was and no one panicked. It worked for us and we owe our lives to it.

Cop who had plan for his family to escape burning house sits with straight face and uniform on
Courtesy of Ashleigh Beaver

Shock and adrenaline blocked out the pain. Our bodies were in fight or flight mode. It took some time before my sister and father noticed minor burns on their hands.

It was a helpless day. We stood outside of our home knowing there was nothing we could do. We had no choice but to simply let it all go. At the end of the day, we had nothing but the clothes on our back. Both our vehicles were unsalvageable.

The community gathered around us and supplied our basic needs. They didn’t know what to do, but they knew they wanted to do something. They offered us placed to stay and warm meals. The days ahead were filled with fear to close our eyes at night, tears for lost pets, and many interviews. Local news stations bombarded us with questions. ‘How did the fire start? Did you have anything to do with it? How do you feel that your home is gone?’ they asked, as if we knew.

The fire department later discovered the cause. Squirrels had chewed wires in the attic. The fire was in the walls; that’s why the house went so fast. Only a few items could be saved, including a bible that my mom still carries with her today.

Luckily, the house fire is not a trauma that carried into my adult life. I do not fear house fires. Just like my father, I’ve learned to plan ahead. My husband and I are each assigned a baby to grab and run with. My windows are all easily accessible. Our smoke alarms are checked regularly.

Man whose childhood home burned down squats outside of home beside wife and their two kids
Courtesy of Ashleigh Beaver

When my son was born, my husband gifted him his childhood book. I love the look on my husband’s face when he shares his old toys with our son, the look of my son’s face as it lights up with excitement. I always wish I could do the same.

Aerial view of baby looking up smiling as he stands in baby toy
Courtesy of Ashleigh Beaver

When I lost my father in 2008, I had little photos of him. All the gifts he had given me were gone, besides a necklace and pair of earrings from my sixteenth birthday. I wore them on my wedding day in 2016, wishing he could be there.

Groom whose childhood home burned down smiles as she rests his head on his bride
Courtesy of Jamie Lynn Photography

I have learned many important things from the fire. I have learned the importance of planning and discussing situations with my children. I do not instill fear in them but, instead, encourage them to learn and keep themselves safe. I have also learned the importance of making memories and living in the moments. I do not have many pictures or items to remind me of my father, but I remember him.

Don’t get lost in trying to always capture a moment on your phone. By doing so, you’ll often miss making the memories. Instead, be fully in that moment. The memories will forever be with you. I have never forgotten them. Cherish your time with friends and family. Your mind will forever be your best camera.”

Man stands smiling outside with his mom and three sisters
Courtesy of Ashleigh Beaver

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashleigh Beaver of Winston Salem, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our free email newsletter.

Read more from Ashleigh here:

‘Mom kept saying, ‘He’s gone. We lost him.’ When I lost my two babies, I could see my children sitting on my dad’s lap, tears of joy streaming down his face. I closed my eyes. My dad was a grandpa.’

‘I was prepared for surgery. Panic took over. I counted the tiles on the floor to keep from having a major panic attack. All I could think about were my two sweet babies at home. 3. 2. 1…and I was asleep.’

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