For days, my husband and I followed the news of the wild fires in Northern California.
It was our home for many years before a job change landed us in Las Vegas. And it’s still home to many of our family and friends, including our children and grandchildren.
Despite heroic battles by hundreds of firefighters, thousands of families were being forced from their homes.
We knew all that, but tried not to worry. Then the phone rang.
My husband said “Hello,” and fell silent, listening. But the look on his face spoke clearly.
His son Joe was calling to tell us Sonoma was being evacuated. He and his wife and their two children and all the family pets were packing up to leave.
The call was short, Joe had to go. But hours later, he phoned again with an update: His wife and their little ones were in a hotel a safe distance from the fires; their pets were being sheltered by family nearby; but he was staying in Sonoma, to help other families get out.
My husband made him promise to be careful, wear a mask and keep us posted.
Sometimes promises and prayers are all we can do. So we prayed, kept in touch, and were ever so thankful a few days later when Joe called to say they’d been told it was safe to return to their home. Their neighborhood had been spared from the fire, but the air was still heavy with smoke, and they feared it might harm their children. Joe needed to stay in town to work. So his wife and the kids flew to Vegas to stay with us a few days while waiting for the smoke to clear.
Usually, when they visit, it’s in summer, and we spend a lot of time in the pool. This time, with cooler weather, we did other things: Read books. Drew pictures. Baked cookies. And watched a lot of kid movies.
We ate tacos, spaghetti and pizza. Papa Mark took 6-year-old Charlotte to the park. I played “Pin-the-Nose-on-the-Nana” with 8-month-old Archer. And we marveled at our daughter-in-law’s beautiful grace to be able, all at once, to nurse her baby, cuddle her daughter, and speak with great compassion about her neighbors in Northern California, who have lost so much in the fires.
One day, Charlotte and I had a tea party on the lawn (with cookies she’d made with Papa Mark, and run-off from the sprinklers soaking the seats of our pants.) Charlotte talked for a bit about how scared her cat had been about the fires.
I told her, when I get scared, I like to think of people who love me and want me to be safe — including my grandmothers who watch over me from heaven.
Charlotte said, “I have a grandma who loves me so much she’d do most anything for me.”
“Grandma Viv?” I said. She nodded, smiling, as if thinking of someone who makes her feel safe and happy and loved.
Later that day, I emailed my husband’s ex-wife to tell her what Charlotte said about her. Grandmas ought to know how much they mean to a child.
The last night of their visit, Charlotte ran into my room shouting, “It’s raining!”
Indeed, it was, a welcome desert rain that smelled just as lovely as it sounded.
“We need rain so it’s not so dry,” Charlotte chirped, like Julia Child explaining a recipe. “I hope it rains at my house.”
“It will,” I promised her. “If not tonight, soon.”
Every moment we spend with those we love is a gift, no matter what may bring us together.
After four nights at our place, Charlotte and Archer and their mom flew back to California, to their dad, their pets and the best place on Earth — home — where, hallelujah, it was raining.
Californians are facing a great tragedy. But great tragedies are overcome by great love.
In the wise words proclaimed lately on T-shirts and message boards and fire-threatened homes: “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.”