Tuesday, February 01, 2011

After The Fire

Charred times.
Another example of what our energy supplier Pepco calls a “winter storm event” knocked out our power for four days last week. A letter in today’s Washington Post thanks Pepco for adding to its customers’ sense of certainty by ensuring that lengthy power outages have become as much of a sure thing as death and taxes. Another indirect consequence was that our house almost burnt down. Had the fine fire-fighting men of Montgomery County not been quick to jump out of bed at 3am on Saturday, it’s hard to see how the side of our house (see picture) would have avoided  more serious damage.

It seems the neighbours’ tool shed caught fire thanks to an undetected crack in their chimney, through which heat and/or flames must have escaped as they burnt wood to keep warm. The neighbours woke up when the flames reached up to their bedroom window. The Indie-Pop family had abandoned the neighbourhood in search of a warmer, electricity-driven house, so we were summoned by cell phone at 4am to come and enjoy the last stages of the drama. We suffered no internal damage, but became a local tourist attraction for 48 hours as people we’d never met before were flushed out of their houses to come and ask, “What happened?” Maybe we’ll see them again next Halloween.


Despite all my grumbling about suburban sterility, I’ve lived in this house longer than any other, and have become somewhat attached to it. Of course the main thing is, as all have sagely observed, no one was hurt. Once you move past that comforting homily, though, you start to consider what else you could have lost. Aside from the inconvenience of not having a house, an office, or any practical possessions, there would be the issue of Archives. For while the past few years of our lives are safely backed up on remote hard drives and laptops (yes folks, the Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop blog is, thank God, secure from the ravages of nature), the flames that began to lap at the side of our house were just feet away from irreplaceable letters, handwritten diaries, photographs, college essays, and old football and music magazines.

I rarely look at any of them, but that’s not the point – they’re always there in case I want to. There may be a time in 20 years when I’ve nothing better to do than check what my ex-girlfriend was feeling for me (or not) back in 1988. I may feel compelled to show my grandchildren what a long, well-composed composition in ink actually looked like. “Wow, indie-grandpop, that’s amazing!” they’ll say. “Can you untie us and turn that shite music down now, please?”

I could buy some fireproof metal cases and lock the most personally significant items inside for the delight and entertainment of future generations. What worries me, though, is what my kids will have to preserve of their own history. I fear that they’ll outlive their computerised storage devices, and that when they’re old, their FaceBook and Flickr pages will be an obsolete technological phenomenon that took their records down with them when they got wiped out by a bug or a bankruptcy. Future family historians may desperately unearth dead devices and present them to specialist firms, having to pay large amounts of money to see a snapshot of their school trip from 50 years earlier. Or to read a historic instant message exchange with their first boyfriend ("OMG, you are sooooo dumped!").

In the meantime, though, I keep gazing fondly at my storage cupboard and its piles of jaundiced documents. They’re combustible, but precious too, at least for as long as I’m around.

5 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

You keep letters from your ex-girlfriend? Is it because if she shows people your letters you can show people hers? It's like a stand-off with nuclear weapons.

No Good Boyo said...

Date Polish women. They don't write letters, but you remember them from the marks they leave on your woodwork.

Glad to hear you escape with just some charring, Pop. I keep my archive at my parents' house on the grounds that it won't burn down because they're not English incomers.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

GB - the break-up was amicable, so no threats have been issued. More Belgium-Holland than India-Pakistan. Although said ex had an impeccable and impressive writing style, so perhaps I'm secretly hoping she becomes a famous writer and I can sell them to her literary estate. The letters of other relationships were, however, shredded and burned in fits of monstrous self-pity.

Boyo - thanks for the tip, and I don't mean with regard to dating Polish women. I mean that I must ask around and check we don't have any Welsh neighbours.

Anonymous said...

I have a shoe box rammed full of concert ticket stubs..would hate to lose that.

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

For some reason I keep select ticket stubs to concerts and football games in the pockets of whatever jacket or coat I was wearing to the event - so that it becomes a sort of carry-around sartorial museum.