Picture of Stephie & Davie on fire truck (Oceana Fire Department US Navy) taken by Al Meservy Oct 1977

OUT OF THE ASHES By: Frances M. McCrory-Meservy October 1977

Al and I had stayed up late setting up a budget that would have us debt free by August 1978, when his enlistment was up. This would make his choice of getting out of the Navy easier when the time came.

About 1 am on October 8, 1977, we headed up the stairs to bed. We felt we were in control of our destiny.

About 4:30 AM I awoke to a house full of smoke. Al pulled his pants on and ran to David's room. He wrapped David's quilt around him and picked him up. I ran to Stephanie's room to get her before I remembered that she had spent the night with a friend seven doors down from us.

Windy, our dog, was dancing around our feet. We approached the stairs very carefully. We stopped half way down because it felt extremely hot below. Windy started

down the steps ahead of us. We figured she would not go down if it was too dangerous and followed her.

We could see a bright glow in the living room area; the last thing I saw as we turned away from the living room was the black velvet oil painting of a guardian angel hovering over two children as they crossed a rickety old bridge over a deep gorge.

We turned away from the living room, went down the hall and out the front door.

As we went out the door, we heard a loud whoosh behind us and a cold blast of wind hit us in the face. The fire chief told us later that the whoosh was the smoldering area bursting into flames as it received oxygen from the strong wind that was blowing.

He explained that had we gone out the living room door there would have been an explosion instead of a whoosh and we probably would have been killed.

We put David and Windy in the car. We, then, started pounding on the doors in our building warning people to get out because our apartment was on fire.

My best friend, Samantha who lived two doors down from us, called the fire department.

All of us moved our cars to the opposite side of the courtyard to make room for the fire trucks. Oceana fire department arrived three minutes thirty seconds after they were called. Virginia Beach fire department arrived five minutes after they were called.

I went to check on David and Windy and discovered that David had been sleeping in the nude. I told him to keep the quilt around him until we could find him some clothes.

As I was crossing the courtyard, I heard a loud explosion and looked up. Flames were jumping from the lower windows into the upstairs windows. I realized we were going to lose everything and doubled over sobbing.

The lady next door was the only woman I had ever met whom I had trouble getting along with. She and I basically had agreed to disagree. She came over and put her arms around me and held me for a long time. At that moment, I felt like she was an angel.

Someone said the shore patrol was looking for Al or me. I didn't know where Al was (I later found out he and one of our neighbors were behind the apartments with water hoses wetting down several storage sheds). As I headed for the shore patrol truck, the shore patrolman pulled off his jacket and handed it to me. It was then that I realized that I had nothing on except a nightgown.

The shore patrolman just needed basic information: Alís name, rank, serial number and ship he was attached to. We sat in his truck where it was warm and I answered his questions.

The fire departments had the fire out within twenty minutes after they arrived.

I saw the lights go on at Gordon and Ellen's, where Stephanie was staying, and went over to let them know what had happened. They gave me robes for David and myself and had me bring David and Windy into their home.

The Virginia Beach fire chief came over and asked me to keep an eye on our apartment for about three hours until it had cooled off enough for them to go in and see if they could figure out what had caused the fire. They were concerned that a child might go in and get hurt. Ellen loaned me some clothes, shoes and a jacket and I went outside so I could watch the apartment.

Samantha came over and upon learning David had no clothes, took some of her son's clothes over for him to wear.

About 10 am, the fire department came back and started checking for hot spots. When the fireman pulled our books out the door, I started crying again. I had a marvelous collection including a first edition Ivanhoe given to me by my uncle.

Samantha (Sam) said she had coffee made and I was freezing. I told the fire chief where I would be if he needed me and left.

I was numb and felt like all the tears were gone - not so. The fire chief called me over to see if I knew what had been on the refrigerator. When I realized it was the kerosene lamp I had learned to read by, I cried again.

There was a strange blob with a handle upstairs: that was two tape recorders and a hand massager stacked one on top of the other.

All the clothes upstairs looked like frozen raindrops hanging on hangers. Everything upstairs was either charred or melted.

My Timex watch had melted into the top of the clock radio and was still ticking. It rusted solid a few days later.

All papers upstairs were either charred, soaked or ashes. David's little matchbox cars were the only thing salvageable upstairs.

Downstairs was ashes except in the laundry room. The clothes smelled smokey but seemed OK. We sent them to a cleaner that said they could get the smell out. They did exactly that; but the next time I washed them they fell apart. What a waste of money.

We thought the washer and dryer would be OK. After a couple of days they rusted solid and the rubber seals cracked from the intense heat. They were beyond repair.

Most of our pictures were in albums in the downstairs closet. The albums were melted blobs; but, when we cut them open with a knife, the pictures were OK.

Our home movies were in metal containers that had welded themselves shut. When we finally got them open (no easy task), the movies were OK.

The kitchen cabinets were every bright color under the sun. The fire chief stated, "you had a lot of Tupperware: didn't you." Seems Tupperware is the only plastic that retains it color when melted.

I had a cardboard box sitting on the kitchen table full of pictures to be put in albums the next day. There was nothing but ashes where the table had been. I took my foot and moved the ashes and spotted some pictures unharmed. Al and I went on a treasure hunt for pictures in the ashes. The best we could tell when we finished was that none were missing: all were OK.

The chest in the dining area was so charred that when we went to open it the drawer fronts fell off. In the drawers, we found ashes where material had been; but next to the ashes were poems I had written - not even singed.

It was as if God had protected the memories during the fire. We lost everything else.

Al called Allstate and the adjuster came right over. He told us they would put us up in the motel of our choice and pay for our meals until we could find a place to live.

About 10 am Gordon told us he had gotten hold of an officer friend of his at Navy housing and they had issued us another apartment.

Al went with Gordon and I stayed to watch the apartment until the shore patrol could get it boarded up. Al never did come back and I was told he and Gordon were going to get a hid-a-bed sofa for us to use.

About 3 PM the apartment was finally boarded up and I decided to go and get some basics from the store: toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving equipment, instant coffee, sugar, two coffee cups and a pot to boil water in.

About 10 minutes after I entered the store, I started shaking all over because we needed everything in the store plus. I grabbed what I had come for and left as quickly as possible (water was beginning to cover the stones).

As I drove up to the new apartment, I realized I had forgotten the sugar and started crying because I hated coffee without sugar.

As I entered the apartment, a woman, who turned out to be the head of Navy relief, asked me why I was crying. I said, "I forgot the sugar." She put her arms around me and said, "Oh, honey, you have 30 pounds of sugar."

Navy housing had assigned us new housing at 10 am. Trucks filled by individuals all over Virginia Beach started arriving and unloading at 10 am.

Just to give you an idea of what we received: set of china, set of dinner ware, flat ware, glasses, 25 coffee pots, 30 pounds of sugar, 4 feather pillows with a 25 lb. turkey in the middle, 3 living room suits, dinette set, 2 lamps, enough canned vegetables to last two years, a roast, pork chops, bacon, eggs, blankets, beds, dressers, sheets, so many clothes we could not find the sofas or beds and we sent enough truck loads to storage at one church that they furnished two other burned out families that year.

As if that were not enough, Stephanie's Girl Scout troop went door to door and collected $1,000 and brought it over to us.

One man we had never seen before loaned us a TV. He taped his name and address to it and we returned it a few weeks later after we bought one.

Even though we had a home and beds, we could not find the beds and had to stay at a motel that night.

On the way to the motel, David started crying because his teddy bear was dead. I held him and he finally calmed down.

When we arrived at the motel, Al started crying. I told him it was going to be all right because God was taking care of everything. He looked at me and with tears in his eyes, and said, "You don't understand. You always said that if you helped people, when you needed help, God would see you got it. Today He did!" This was the first time that Al acknowledged God's existence.

I don't know how to explain my feelings. On the one hand, I was terribly distraught; but, on the other, I felt extremely blessed.

Stephanie had gone home with Ed and Alice about noon that day. Alice said she heard about the fire on the radio and came over to see if she could help. It really was a help to have her there.

Sunday afternoon, we went to get Stephanie and have dinner with Ed and Alice. As we were going down the freeway, my throat closed up so bad I couldn't swallow and was having a hard time breathing (I was starting to feel like I was drowning). I pointed at the Navy Hospital Clinic exit sign and Al took me to the clinic.

The doctor gave me a shot for my nerves and had me lay still for about half and hour.

When I started to leave, the corpsman would not give me my ID card because it was burned around the edges. I got hysterical because I felt like he was trying to steal my identity. In the military, you can't do anything without that ID card. We still needed underwear and numerous other items that would cost a fortune off base.

The doctor came over, chewed the corpsman out, gave me my ID card and took me back in for another shot. Everything had closed up again. He said he wanted me on nerve pills for a while; but he wanted me to get them under psychiatric supervision. He made an appointment for me for the next day.

Our insurance adjuster showed up on Monday with a check for $2,000 dollars to tide us over until we could complete the inventory. Our claims representative walked through the house with us and because we had pictures of everything, the inventory only took 2 days.

When we got to $35,000 worth of loss, we quit counting. On Friday, they gave us a check for $8,000. We were horribly under-insured.

I saw the psychiatrist for about two visits. He said he saw no reason for me to see him any more because other than bad nerves from a traumatic experience, I was the most emotionally healthy person he had ever met.

A week after the house burned down, David started setting little fires. I took him to the psychiatrist and David saw him for a couple of visits. The doctor told us that David would be OK from now on; but, because we lived across the street from the house that burned, we should get him away from the area for a couple of weeks.

I took David and Stephi's teachers a letter from the psychiatrist and they gave me their homework for the next two weeks so we could get away (I was starting to catch my breath).

Zec. 13:9 I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined, And test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; And each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"

When a silversmith refines the silver, he puts it in the oven. He never takes his eyes off the silver because if it stays in too long it will be ruined. As the impurities come up, he brushes them off the silver. When he can see himself in the silver, he removes it from the oven

Unequally Yoked

I've Seen & Heard of Jesus

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