My Burning House Moment: Going Back for the Memories and the Memoir

All 26 notebooks (I'm fond of marble composition books...and plaid ducktape)

I live on the coast of Pennsylvania.  This means that if New Jersey someday sinks into the abyss of the Atlantic Ocean, I would have beach front real estate (not that I wanted them to get washed away in the hurricane!  I’m not heartless!).  So for all of you hearing about New Jersey being a disaster zone, don’t forget about the little corner of the keystone state that was hit pretty hard too.  There are a lot of people who still haven’t gotten their power back and had to dump the rotten contents of their refrigerator.  My house was lucky in that we only got flooded and lost our phone/cable/internet for the past 3.5 days (hence why I did not update the blog properly, I’m sure you understand).

But one thing we did have that was rather unusual and terrifying was a Tornado Warning.  This is much more serious than a Tornado Watch.  Though some of you out in the middle states are probably laughing at me for getting so spooked because places like Kansas actually deal with real tornadoes (does Kansas get tornadoes?  Or is this a stereotype I picked up from Wizard of Oz?) my mom forced my sister and I into the basement to “wait it out.”

I admit it.  I was legitimately scared.  It was exactly like that time when I was a freshman in the dorms and there was a fire drill except I thought it was a real fire so I grabbed my teddy bear, my scrapbook, and my computer, shoved them in a gym bag and ran.  False alarm, but still.  It’s interesting to examine what’s important to you based on that panic-driven grab and flee process. On Saturday night, Mom said I had five minutes to drag all my blankets and pillows to the basement.  I spent most of those five minutes trying to decide, a la The Burning House, what I needed to save.  Well, actually, it only took me 30 seconds to decide what was the one thing I could not live the rest of my life without; the thing that I needed to protect from all forms of natural disaster: my memories.

I threw 30+ diaries (dating from 5th grade until present), my middle school and high school year books (these made the cut mostly because they were on the same shelf as all the diaries or else I wouldn’t have thought of them), and my external hard drive in a plastic packing case and, lifting the 50 pound crate with fear-inspired Herculean strength, managed to get it to the basement without pausing or setting it down once.  My scrapbook collection lives in the basement already, so those were already safe. [Edited and added:  forgot to mention that I was practical and also packed my glasses, so I wouldn’t be blind should my flimsy contacts fail me.  You’ve got to think ahead!]

The crate, my diaries and yearbooks, hiding in my tornado-free basement

Once, I misplaced one of my diaries.  It wasn’t even a diary that I had been writing in at the time, it was a few months old.  But I threw a fit, accusing my parents of stealing it to read (something they would never do), and I spiraled into a pit of despair.  I completely blacked out and couldn’t remember what had happened in my life during the few months that the missing diary chronicled. I felt like a huge chunk of me was missing and that I would never get it back.  I’m sure psychologists would have a few things to say about that, but I digress.

What I realized from my grab-and-go was that there is nothing more precious than our memories.  Sounds a little corny worded like that, but whatever.  I just want to encourage a little round of applause for writers who write memoirs, creative non-fiction, plain old non-fiction, autobiography, whatever you want to call it.  You’re preserving one of the most important treasures, in my opinion.

What would you grab-and-go with?


Published by hannahkarena

author & book publishing person.

3 thoughts on “My Burning House Moment: Going Back for the Memories and the Memoir

    1. Haha, yes. Later that week. For some reason it was in the depths of my closet? I flipped through the notebook and was miraculously able to remember the details of everything again.


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