On October 25th, 2017 ABC7 News published a list of all that had burned. Under Glen Ellen was written, “House on ridge burned.”
I remember waking up, October 9th, 2017 and reading the messages from my family in our Google Hangouts. “It’s gone. Aunt Betsy and Uncle AG’s house. It’s gone.”
Throughout my life my only tangible connection to my father’s side of the family has been his sister, Aunt Betsy and her family.
Around Christmas time we would always pack up in our car and drive to visit them in their house on a hill in Glen Ellen.
My dad and Uncle AG would get to drinking some of AG’s wine from his vineyards. My Aunt would gush over my art. My cousins would ask how school was going.
We’d exchange Christmas gifts, and have dinner.
Eventually Dad and AG would get drunk, and my Dad would start telling everyone he loves them and eventually start crying about the thought of our dogs dying eventually.
To which AG would always respond that we could always bury them in the pet cemetary on his hill. The cycle would repeat year after year, but always the same.
From that hill you could see much of Glen Ellen, and from Glen Ellen you could see the tall flagpole proudly waving the US flag that’s been there and maintained for decades.
Whenever we drove to visit them, it was the first thing I saw, and the last thing I saw.
The first thing they did when they got back to their property was duct tape the largest flag they had to the melted stump of the pole.
While it was not my home, it was an integral part of my life.
All of our family heirlooms - the cradle passed down through generations, the family silver, photos, documents, and so much more - were there.
My parents were married on that hill, in that house overlooking Glen Ellen. I met my dad’s side of the family on that hill, in that house overlooking Glen Ellen.
My aunt and uncle fled from that hill, from that house overlooking Glen Ellen.
Monday, MLK day, I went to visit my aunt and uncle for the first time since then and see the designs for the new house.
They had managed to rent a home in the crowded Sonoma housing market, and were slowly getting everything set up. The house was sparse, but cozy.
My aunt told me of how they had used a cardboard box as a table for weeks and she felt bad when they finally got a table because she had gotten attached to the box.
She told stories of random strangers coming up to hug her, cooking stores giving out boxes of cooking utensils and supplies,
and of how the eye doctor didn’t charge her for her contacts when she came in to get a new prescription because her old one had burned up.
My aunt and uncle are not wanting monetarily, and they even gave money to help the others who were also burned out.
However, their own home is still sparsely furnished, as they find it hard to make decisions about what to put in it.
Where do you start when you need to buy everything? My aunt couldn’t sleep or focus long enough to read for weeks after the fires.
In talking to my uncle, he said, “Everyone always tells you, ‘At least you’re safe.’ Of course I’m safe, you’re talking to me. That doesn’t change the fact that everything is gone.
But of course, no one knows what to say, really.”
In November, my aunt and uncle opened their Sonoma newspaper, and to their surprise saw a photo of a flag flying proudly over a heap of ashes… their heap of ashes, and their flag.