It was more than forty years ago that my in-laws, just after giving birth to their seventh child (my husband) purchased an acre of land. An escape, they said, from the L.A. life they found themselves living. Bud worked the assembly line at General Motors in Van Nuys, and Patricia worked in a medical office. An escape from the city was just what they needed. And so, sight unseen from a brochure, they bought an acre of paradise just outside of Redding, California.
I can’t adequately describe the years of family time on that little acre in the woods. For those parents, their seven children, the grandchildren and even great grandchildren to follow, it was where life found joy, kids found innocence and adults found their youth again. For the Riley family, it was where life began…and even ended.
When Bud passed away his ashes were placed in a memorial rock on the site. Those who knew him had no doubt that is exactly as he would want it to be, and so it was. Photos were placed on the spot, memories recited, and grandchildren who didn’t know the man learned of his life through stories and tales swapped over the campfire. For the family, it was a place where siblings, not always close, could get together for a weekend and emerge reunited, as if time had never passed and life had never eaten at the bond.
And last week, in a wildfire sparked in the hot summer California sun, it burned.
Communities were evacuated, homes were lost, families devastated by the loss of all they owned. The land around the property scorched unrecognizable. An old camper left nothing but remnants, a grandchild’s red wagon a blackened shard of metal. The fire pit where family remembers 40 years of marshmallows and laughter is left unusable.
And not twenty feet away, a circle of life remains. A memorial to a man who worked nights on the assembly line for thirty years and raised seven excellent kids. A man who’s smile will carry on in his sons and whose love for chocolate milk in his daughters, who wasn’t perfect but was perfectly okay with that and a man who’s love for his family shown through his gruff toughness and devotion. That circle surrounding where his ashes lay to rest, remained untouched.
As if the fire knew he was not to be trifled with.
And so the family will clean, will rebuild, will still gather. They will grow from that small circle of green grass and standing trees, drawing on the memory of the man who once stood strong on that spot, forty years ago with his children at his side and said, “This is my land.”