This past weekend I visited with my 93 year old mother, Rena Van Buren. (Blog Post: The Luxury Trap) It is always special to see her, and our conversation triggered an important memory from my childhood. I was 14 years old at the time, and it was a lesson that I will never forget…
In 1979, my father was assigned to the Pentagon in Washington DC, so we left the U.S. Army installation in Germany and moved into an apartment complex in Burtonsville, Maryland called Woodlake. One clear summer day in 1981, my brother and I were playing basketball in the neighborhood, and we heard fire engines racing into our development.
The curious group of kids excitedly chased the fire trucks to the destination, but my brother and I were surprised when they turned left onto our street. The youthful excitement immediately turned into anxiety. As we closed in on the property, we saw my parents and sister standing outside of our building, calmly watching it go up in flames. Some guy who lived above us was smoking in bed, and apparently fell asleep. We just stood next to my silent parents, and watched it burn. The fire and water damage dealt us a devastating loss.
What do I remember the most?
How my parents were so unbroken and unfazed by the whole situation. They quietly watched the building burn, and then they calmly told us that everything would work out just fine.
As an adult, I learned that they had very little money saved away for this rainy day, and we lost all of our material possessions that day. But they had been born into poverty, struggled during the Great Depression, and participated in World War II (as a soldier and “Rosie The Riveter”). It was simply a setback, and they had faced hardship before in their lives.
As an adult, I think back to this story, and I feel a deep respect for them. It is one reason why I believe it is so very important to learn your family history, because it fortifies your spirit and provides the foundation to overcome adversity. Blog Post: Capturing Your Family History
My parents’ positive expectations that everything would work out were correct. We were very fortunate that family friends, the Mackels, took us in for six weeks, until we could get back on our feet.
When I ask my mother how they stayed so calm and composed, she answers very simply, “All of our family members got out of the apartment safely, and the rest was just material possessions that could be replaced”.
It was a great lesson on having a balanced and positive perspective, and placing value in what really matters.
On that clear summer day in 1981, although I don’t think my parents were trying to teach us a lesson, they did simply by their actions.