• Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What would you take if your house caught on fire?
Parade magazine asked readers that question a few weeks ago, in a promotion for photographer Foster Huntington’s new book “The Burning House.” Online were a sampling of answers and photos of the things some people would save. An architecture student in LA chose a vintage suitcase, his dog, and a marionette. For an African bushman, it was a hoe, water bottle, shoes and wooden bracelet. A guy in eastern Europe listed his favorite albums and a special t-shirt.
What would you save? If you said, “Myself,” don’t feel bad. Self-preservation is the strongest instinct we have, and fire is a primal thing. I like to believe I wouldn’t leave without Widdle and our beloved Nicky, but I might jump out a window first and think second. Hard to say.
Let’s say your loved ones are safe and you have five minutes. What is so precious you couldn’t bear to lose it?
The way my mind works, I’d probably grab a corkscrew, my flat-iron (you know, the kind you buy at Target for $15), a reading light from the bedside table, 10 pounds of turkey meatballs, fake pearls that have been in the family for 65 years and a flash drive that contains “101 Delicious Recipes for Tofu.” Like I said, that’s how my mind works.
We have more than 1,200 hardback books shelved throughout our home. No way I could save them all, or even a few dozen.  Maybe I’d try to grab “The Book of Joe,” by the actor Vincent Price. It’s a memoir about the adventures of Price’s dog, Joe, in Beverly Hills. I read it as a child; it was sparkling and hilarious, and transported me to a world beyond our humble home on a dirt road. I finally found a copy in decent shape two years ago, after searching for 20 years, and I still won’t tell Widdle how much I paid for it.
I might snag my tattered first edition of “Black Beauty” or E.E. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young.” I couldn’t grab the family Bible, because T-Bob keeps that at his home in Florida. Maybe I’d snatch a couple of oil paintings off the wall, and the white porcelain platter I bought from a man in Lake Tahoe, who swore it was from Paris.
I’d probably grab an antique-framed, 80-year-old photograph of my mother, in which she is standing solemnly by a garden gate. (People say I have her cautious eyes.) And how could I run without the black and white portraits of my father that I’ve painstakingly restored, framed and showcased in every room?
Widdle, the practical one, would have enough sense to load up the laptops and the checkbooks. I’d still be running in circles toting old scrapbooks and the vintage bunny-on-a-log needlepoint I inherited from mad Aunt Martha.
What I should save is the fireproof metal strongbox containing our wills, deeds, titles and mortgage information, if only we had a fireproof metal strongbox containing our wills, deeds and mortgage information. We keep such things in a leaning file cabinet that’s also stuffed with greeting cards, old birthday balloons, tax returns, receipts, faded car titles and canceled checks. So, no, we are not prepared.
In the end, I’d probably grab things that speak of love and memories. Everything else can burn. Except my flat iron.
Julie R. Smith, who often thinks she smells smoke, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.

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