As the Grinch discovered, Christmastime is more than what you get from a store. I reminded myself of that several times this weekend – like when I left all the family presents at home, three hours away from our destination, or when I was bemoaning the fact that I’d left out an ice cream bucket of leftover mashed potatoes all night. And then I sat down at my computer and started scrolling through Facebook, something I hadn’t done all weekend.

And I cried over one story.

My friend and former co-worker, Heather, and her family lost everything on Christmas morning in a fire at their home. Thankfully, the family wasn’t home at the time.

Heather and her family left the house at midnight Christmas morning to make the drive to the airport. Her in-law’s had paid for a family cruise because they wanted to do something extraordinary.

Around 4 a.m., a neighbor woke and saw the flames and smoke pouring out of the house and called 911. By the time the Cairo Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the house was gone.

Cairo is a small mid-Nebraska community of less than 800 people. Everyone knows everyone. That means the volunteers on the fire department knew the family, and many had kids the same age.

With three vehicles parked in the driveway and no one outside the home after a fast-moving middle-of-the-night fire, everyone feared the worse.

At 4:18 a.m., the 911 Center contacted Heather’s mom.

“Are you related to the family? Was anyone home?”

Heather’s mother replied that the family had left only hours prior and the 911 responder stated “Thank God because their house is gone and no one was outside.”

The family was contacted, just as they prepared to board their flight. Heather wanted her kids to go on with the cruise so they could see cousins and not think about their loss, as well as her husband (so one parent was with them), and she wanted to return home. However, the family convinced her otherwise.

Go on with the cruise. There is nothing to return to and nothing you can do anyhow.

The family knows that they are lucky. Everyone is alive. Even the luggage that was lost by the airlines was found before the cruise ship left port.

But their home is gone. Heather would drive by the old farm house every day and dream of owning it. They finally saved enough and it came up on the market. Several years ago, after much scrimping and saving, they were able to renovate the house. She’d left her wedding ring home so she wouldn’t risk losing it on the cruise. There were letters from her grandfather to her grandmother that he wrote during World War II.

All gone.

Small miracles appeared, too. There were totes found in the basement/cellar area that weren’t damaged. There were some home-canned goods that were salvageable – charred, but salvageable. Those represented hours of gardening and canning. There was also a cardboard box, undamaged by fire or water, that held many family photos.

Heather’s sister, Shalee, is coordinating donations and things back home.

“People have been overwhelming with their outpouring of support. They just want to help so bad. It’s indescribable,” Shalee stated.

People have offered places for the family to stay. The family has several large furniture items among them, and others have been offered. More want to help with food, clothing, and monetary donations.

Shalee stated “Heather is such a Type A personality. She felt guilty because Dad and my brother moved a freezer from the building to their house since the building’s electricity stemmed from the home. She’s about to be incredibly shocked by the donations, and she’s going to have to let go of that control and accept help. People in this area are going to give it to her. They care about the family.”

There has been an account set up at the Pathway Bank in Cairo for monetary donations (Address: P.O. Box 428, Cairo, NE 68824). Gift cards can also be used. Shalee reminds us “the kids are all teenagers, after all, and prefer to do their own shopping.”

Below is a list of the kids’ ages and sizes. All of the kids are into sports so they will need practice clothes (t-shirts, shorts, sweatshirts, and sweatpants) and athletic shoes. The boys enjoy anything outdoorsy. They like to hunt, fish and ride dirtbikes. Their daughter loves to bake, especially cupcakes. She also likes things like makeup and nail polish. 

College freshman (male): Large shirts, XL athletic pants, size 12 shoes, 34/34 jeans/pants

High school junior (male): Large shirts, Large athletic pants, size 12 shoes, 32 waist/36 length jeans/pants

8th grader (female): Medium shirts, Women’s large athletic pants, size 12 shoes, size 8 tall/long jeans/pants

6th grader (male): 12/14 (youth large) shirts, 12/14 (youth large) pants, size 9 shoes, 12/14 (youth large) jeans/pants

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Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

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