Priceless Possessions

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

What would you bring?

About 40,000 Florida residents - forced by wildfires to abandon their homes - are now returning. Only an estimated 200 houses were lost. But many had some anxious moments last week when the evacuation order came. Some folks had hours. Others simply got a knock on the door and a few frantic moments to decide what earthly possessions to take and what to reluctantly leave as tinder.

Vonnie Brown Evanoff took jewelry. Insurance papers. Photo albums. Her husband's gun collection. A cedar chest. "I had to have that cedar chest. It has my mother and father's name inscribed on the inside," the Ormond Beach, Fla. resident told the Atlanta Constitution and Journal.

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What do you hold dear?

As three fires converged on Flagler County last Friday, authorities temporarily re-opened Interstate 95 to allow residents to flee south. Like a frontier wagon train loaded to cross the Rockies, a caravan of sport utility vehicles and pickups inch-wormed down the bitumen. Each stuffed with people, pets, and precious cargo. Antique rockers. TVs. Ducks. Snakes. Fish. "I got this and my son got his sneakers and football cards," said Ann Anderson, cradling a porcelain china doll.

Stand-up comic George Carlin jokes that Americans are an acquisition-oriented people and a house is merely a container for our mountains of purchases. The purpose of a larger house? More space for our stuff. Because, Carlin says, he who has the most stuff, wins. His insight. But in a situation like this, quantity doesn't count.

What stuff do you cherish?

I asked my family members, under the same desperate circumstances, what would they grab with minutes to spare.

"My bunnies, the cats, Bear [the dog], and us," my nine-year-old earnestly replies. "The living things are most important." Pause. "If there was room, I'd bring Shatsy [a stuffed bear]." Pause. "And my cleanest beanie babies."

My teenage daughter, after a nanosecond of deep reflection, blurts out: "My clothes!"

"Well," she sheeplishly explains, "I've invested a lot in them."

My wife: financial records, savings bonds, our wedding album, jewelry.

My mom-in-law: her dog, photos, and a book of poetry written by her mother.

We each went through our list and realized that in a household with an attic and closets filled with boxes of untrashable "treasures," there was little that came to mind we couldn't replace or do without.

What we cherished most were touchstones of the past, objects that evoked warm memories.

What can't money replace?

Since my wife has already retrieved the critical documents, that leaves me free to be selfishly sentimental.

I'd carry out some video tapes of the kids, a wooden lizard (a gift from my wife), and a box of artwork by our daughters.

What would you bring?

* We're home. Let us know how we're doing . Write to the Homefront Editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com.

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