Press-Republican

July 25, 2012

Tragedy and happiness part of life

By SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time
Press-Republican

---- — Since the end of June, my emotions have been up and down like a roller coaster.

First, the terrible fires in Colorado Springs; then dear friend John Neveu passed away; followed by the horrific deaths of Moira Historical Society’s Janet Dana, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren; then the terrible carnage in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Personal and national grief, but grief all the same.

In such darkness, there can be little sparks of hope. I know when the Colorado Springs fire was endangering the home of our daughter, Carrie, and her family, it brought me great comfort to receive phone calls from friends and emails from our readers asking if they were OK.

They live on the northeast side of Colorado Springs, and the fires were ravaging the northwest side. That, however, didn’t leave them home free.

Carrie said that on the third day of the fires the wind changed, blowing down from the northwest, filled with ash that covered everything. They couldn’t go outside without wet washcloths on their faces because the ash would clog their breathing. Two teenagers who think they are invincible defied “mom” and played basketball in the driveway. The next day they were complaining of sore throats and coughing. Pays to listen to mom.

Just in case of an evacuation notice, Carrie packed a backpack for each of the nine children; herself; and her husband, Rick; three rat terriers; and a golden retriever. Like moving a small army! The teenagers (who have driver’s licenses) were told to stick close to home because they may have to drive

one of their six cars, and mom wanted everybody to stay together if they had to leave.

Fears ran high, especially at night. From their hillside home, they could see the red glare over the city. The younger kids worried about their favorite things. Carrie told them to pick out their best toy to take and make a list of other large items. She told them that if the house burned, there was insurance money to build a new house and replace their favorite things but that the most important blessing they have is the family being together.

To the 5-year-old, the 9-year-old, the autistic 20-year-old and the 13-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, those words were golden. They had the promise that they would be safe with mom and dad and that the possessions they wrapped their lives around would be replaced.

Thankfully the brave fire personnel eventually brought the devastating flames under control, but not before more than 300 people lost their homes. To us, that is just a number, but how many parents had to explain to their children that they wouldn’t be cuddling with that favorite teddy bear, wearing their favorite dress or sleeping in that special bedroom decorated just for them?

In trying to understand the horrific accident that claimed the Dana family, all I can do is bow my head and pray for those left behind. I met Janet Dana when writing stories for this newspaper. Friends have told me she was one of the most giving people they know, a person who took lunch to her aged neighbor every day.

John Neveu was the type of person who served his community. Among other commitments, he made sure that disadvantaged children had toys and presents at Christmas through the Elks Club. Often I would receive lighthouse coasters and flags in the mail because he knew I love lighthouses. He and Suellen, his wife, just settled into their retirement home in Georgia. He’s been in and out of the hospital since last year, but he still made time to be president of the homeowner’s association. John was a “people person” with a capital “P.”

In the middle of all this sadness, there have been “ups,” too, such as meeting my childhood friend Cheryl Fleury LeBlanc at the history center open house in Westville. We reminisced about tea parties in her playhouse, having “meetings” and using Robert’s Rules of Order (when we were only about 8). At the end of the open house, I got to drive a hot rod and a 1959 Plymouth convertible; frosting on the cake of a fun day.

Our lives are woven with threads of mourning and threads of happiness. The Bible says to mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. While my heart breaks for anyone who has had a loss, I am thankful for times we can all smile and laugh.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at writertobias@gmail.com.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at writertobias@gmail.com.