On January 28, 2015 the historic Star Hotel building on Main Street in Fortuna, Calif. was destroyed by fire. Our business, North Coast Music, was one of the five businesses lost in the flames. This is our story about this devastating event. -Allisen
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Well, my prediction that 2015 will be a big year for our family is off to a pretty radical start.
This morning while making our morning coffee, Aaron got the kind of text message that everyone hopes they will never get. “Allisen” he said, waking me up at 6 am “I’m getting in the shower and going down to work. The building is on fire, but it’s on the side where the pharmacy is. It doesn’t sound like it’s that bad. I’m just going to go down and get my guitar, I’ll be right back. Don’t drink all the coffee, I’m coming back for my last cup.”
By the time my well-intentioned hubby returned home, that coffee was ice cold. Turns out the fire was a lot worse than he had anticipated.
When he was not home an hour later I called to check in on how he was doing. When he answered the phone I could hear the adrenaline driven fervor in his voice. “They can’t get it out. They’re going to douse the whole thing. I got the guitars out, and I told them to get the computer. It’s really bad down here. I’ll try and get home soon as I can.”
In that moment it was clear in my mind that we were going to lose everything. This was a self-employed, small business owner’s nightmare. My poor husband was downtown standing on a sidewalk watching much of what he has worked for disappearing in a literal cloud of smoke. I felt strangely divided within myself; between a calm peace where I knew that things would be fine and a deep and delicate stress where any variable might destroy me. I decided that keeping things as normal as possible would be best for the kids and I. I prayed that God would give Aaron and I strength to get through the day, and then I started in on making breakfast.
The morning was a blur of phone calls, text messages, and Aaron in and out for toast and eggs. The kids sensed that something was up, so right before lunch we decided to pack them in the car and take them down to say goodbye to Daddy’s studio.
It was pretty surreal to watch the fire crews working and knowing that it was our place they were trying to save. When we explained what was happening to our daughter Norah, she burst into tears. I don’t think our son Elliot got it at all. When he finally realizes what all the “helper guys” were doing he will be devastated.
I had a serious debate over whether to take the kids down to see the building. Aaron and I both finally agreed that it would make more sense to the kids to see why they can’t go to Dad’s studio anymore. They love to go there and have special time with daddy; playing, dancing and making music.
When we were back at the car and buckling the kids in to go home, Norah said “Mom, I feel really sad.” Looking at her despondent little face made my heart wilt in my chest.
“I feel really sad too, Norah.” I said, “But you know what? I also feel OK because I know that The Lord will provide for us and Daddy will get a new place to make a new “Daddy’s work.” This is an unexpected adventure. Something new is coming, but we don’t know what.”
It took saying those words out loud to actualize in my mind what my heart already fully believed. “I know it’s going to be ok … The Lord will provide for us.”
As we pulled into our garage Norah suddenly shouted from the back seat “Daddy! I have a plan! I’m going to make you a new Daddy’s work! You can work at home in my bedroom. I have a big chair!” The second she was in the house she went straight to work setting up a space for Dad. She also decided to color a picture for our “neighbor” Dakota who also lost so much in the fire.
I was deeply touched as I watched my little person freely outpouring love to someone she knew needed comfort. She knew it because she desperately needed it herself. In her own way, my three year old now has a real understanding of heartbreak and the needs of others in difficult times.
By the end of the afternoon they had the fire out. Save four guitars, a computer, and a handful of cymbals, there is nothing left of North Coast Music. Between fire, smoke and water, we lost it all.
We have an insurance policy, but it will not give us back everything, and certainly we can never recover the countless hours and precious energy that we have poured into this space.
However, in the ashes of this chapter of our lives I see beautiful things, and those beautiful things are the people. Just as my sweet daughter poured out her heart with her crayons at our kitchen table, our incredible community has come forward with abundant support and love for our family as we navigate this catastrophe. We immediately had an offer for a temporary teaching space from a neighboring business owner. Our friends have brought us dinner, office supplies and loaner music gear. Countless people are praying for us. And even more beautiful to me still is seeing that Aaron Souza is North Coast Music. He is the heart and pulse of our business. Wherever he goes, his love for teaching and fond affections for his students will be there. He is NCM, not a building or the instruments we put in it. I am so proud of him for being so positive and moving forward with his students without hesitation or looking back.
Rebuilding what we had will be a process, and our next steps are uncertain. But I do know and believe, with all my heart, that what lies ahead will be just as incredible as what lies behind.
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[Ed. Note: Allisen Souza lives in Fortuna and writes about motherhood, recipes and her various projects here. -A. Goff]