If evacuated, what would you take?
The black-and-white photos of smiling grandparents, back when they were younger than you are now. The faded quilt, thin as cheesecloth, washed and stained and as comfortable as an afternoon nap.
The embroidered scarf, brought from the old country. The china, collected a piece at a time.
Well-worn tools with hickory handles. Mangy stuffed animals with their fur loved off.
The treasures, irreplaceable and precious.
It’s just stuff, we tell ourselves. Just things — unimportant as long as everybody’s OK. And that’s true, because the health and safety of loved ones are priceless. That’s what matters.
But it’s still painful, the thought of losing a few beloved mementos, the tangible symbols of cherished memories.
As wildfires race around Colorado and Utah, as storms menace, as disasters lurk with unforeseeable threat, people flee their homes with just hours or even minutes to grab what they think they’ll need and maybe what they think they’ll want. And as we watch it on the news, as our hearts break in sympathy, the inevitable thought: What would I do in that situation? What would I take if I had just a few minutes to winnow down a lifetime of things into what will fit in the car?
Vital things first, of course. “My kids and pets,” said Rebecca Stevenson of Grand Junction. She and her husband, Neil, would make sure Brittany, 15, Amberly, 13, and Brennan, 10, and the two dogs were tucked safely into the minivan.
After that, “I would take my folder of important papers and photo albums, because I don’t have all my negatives digitized,” Rebecca Stevenson explained.
Sandi Fairbanks of Grand Junction is similarly practical about what would be vital to her in an emergency: “Honestly, I would grab my purse and my car keys, throw the kids in the car and head out,” she said. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that I cannot replace.
“I used to think I would take my computers (a laptop and a PC with no tower) because I have family history and pictures and that kind of stuff on them, but after thinking about it, I can access family history and other stuff online, other people have copies of the pictures and I can replace birth records and Social Security cards. It would stink, but we could start over as long as the family is safe and intact.”
Once safety is assured, though, a hierarchy of priorities emerges. Titles and deeds, wills, insurance papers, certificates — things that could be replaced, yes, but not without hassle and headache.
Brooke Fairbanks of Grand Junction keeps those papers in a fire safe, easy to grab in a hurry. She and her family also keep their journals in a box, which she would take if there was time.
“I would take my bag with my family’s birth and death records, legal papers, family history, photos and medications that my family takes,” said Julie Landing-Larson of Grand Junction. She also keeps 72-hour kits for each member of her family, bags that contain three days of essentials for survival.
Once the essentials are secured in the car, though, we think about the valuables, the vivid threads that weave through our homes and lives. These are the things we remember beloved hands using or making, the photos of smiles long gone, the artifacts of time well-spent on Earth.
“Other than the things that my family would need, the special things that I would take, if I could, would be family pictures, three paintings that my mother painted, a four place-setting of the china my mother-in-law gave me just before she passed away and a small rocking chair that was given to me when I was 2 and has been used by each of my boys and hopefully will be by my grandchildren someday,” said Natalie Hubbard of Grand Junction. “These are the things that I love.”
And these are the things with the stories and the legacy. Her mother-in-law, Loretto Hubbard, gathered the china in the 1950s, a delicate silver floral pattern on white.
“She only used it for special occasions, but I use it every day,” Hubbard said. “Every time I set it out, I think of her.”
It’s not the thing, so much, as the memory. But having something to see and touch is a tactile connection to a loved one or a special time. When her sons, Shawn, 15, and Joel, 11, each turned 8, she gave them wooden boxes in which to keep their own treasures. Joel’s is filled with tickets to baseball games and random coins — his own tangible history in the box he would grab in an emergency.
Regina Howell of Norwood said she would take paintings that her grandmother did in the 1940s, family photos “and if we have time, stuffed animals and things,” she said. “We would always make our priority the family and our three cats, though.
“We had a fire near Norwood last year. Thank God not a bad one, but still scary, and enough to make you think about what you would take to get out, if you had to.”