Story and photos by T.L. Petersen of The Observer
Cove The entire Severson family agrees. It was just a very average morning.
In their Hill Street home, on the edge of Cove, Rick and Cheri Severson spent the morning getting their seven children up, dressed and fed breakfast. No one remembers it being different from a thousand other mornings.
Kenzi, a third-grader, does recall that Kimi, 4, didn't like the cereal she'd been given and wanted something toasted.
Then it was time to go, to get the children to the babysitters and to school, and to get to work.
Nobody noticed that the Disney toaster had never sounded off with its normal pop-up bit of song.
"And then the house just went pooosh!" Kenzi says with a bounce on the couch.
"She's telling it," Rick shrugs.
Just an average Wednesday morning. Except on that day, Sept. 21, a fire started in the kitchen toaster and within minutes the Severson home was engulfed in flames. The 1979 double-wide mobile home was completely destroyed, as was everything in it.
Rick and Cheri, called from their work as soon as flames were spotted, watched their home of a year burn.
A week later, the family is living in the parsonage at the Cove Episcopal Camp. They have the house for a month, a donation from the camp.
By early October, the Seversons have made plans to order a new home, and hope to be in it by Thanksgiving, if all goes well.
"You miss things everyday," Rick explains, "but you don't use everything every day, anyway."
And, he says, the family has been blessed.
"We've gotten everything we've needed," including the cash that was given to Cheri and him the day of the fire; a computer so they can restore their business, Blue Mountain Security, to operational status; beds, clothes and even groceries.
The largest tragedy, the adults agree, is that their three foster children, Kylee, Dyan and Devon, had to move in with another foster family until they left to live with a family member at the beginning of October.
Ask the four Severson children what they worried most about the morning of the fire.
The answer is unanimous Patch and Hersey, the family's two Labrador retrievers.
Turns out Patch, who is elderly, tried to guard the burning home from firefighters as they arrived. He was quickly lured off the porch and deposited in the back of a nearby pickup.
Cheri, at work at Cove School, got a call from a neighbor just before 9 a.m. saying her house was on fire.
She called Rick, who was doing a plumbing job at his mother-in-law's home.
Cheri recalls her first reaction was, "What?"
"I said thank you,' hung up the phone, and called Rick," Cheri recalls. "I was shaking bad enough to ask someone for a ride home."
Rick, on a property further up the Cove hillside, remembers hearing the sirens and wondering what it was all about. He remembers even seeing smoke.
"It was very fast," Cheri says.
Rick and Cheri waited about an hour before telling their children, only to discover that they already knew of the fire.
The oldest, eighth-grader Eric, had seen the fire between classes. Kylee, a 7-year-old foster child, had been in the nurse's office.
Eric's teacher, after the kids saw the smoke, tried to tell Eric it wasn't his house. But Eric says he knew.
"All my classmates thought I was too calm," Eric says. He was just worried about the dogs.
Listening to the family talk about the fire that day, it seems almost as if it happened to someone else. They are calm, laughing with each other, dealing with children getting too rambunctious, all the little things.
Rick tries to explain.
"Other than our house being on fire and that's not a good thing it was just stuff," he explains.
The two adults looks at each other. They knew where all the children were that morning. They knew the dogs were safe. They had each other. And, Rick adds, he knew they had homeowner's insurance.
And not much else.
Cheri had left her purse in the house, and Rick's wallet was left sitting in the kitchen.
No cash, no checks, no ID, no driver's license. No anything.
"We kept (the children) in school that day," he says, to assure them that life would go on as normal while he and Cheri tried to take stock of what to do next.
Kenzi tosses in that she tried not to cry, but "I did a little." Her greatest loss? An illustrated Bible she'd spent the summer reading with Kylee.
Jake, who probably felt the loss of their home the most, doesn't show much, his parents say. He worried about Patch and Hersey, he says, but "I knew we'd get things to replace (what was lost)."
As the Seversons talk, it's what isn't always said that speaks most.
A trip to their storage shed includes a walk past a photo album, mostly charred but with some photos intact. A bookshelf that was outside the home, now charred and empty. Cheri's quiet walk past the trailer's undercarriage, where the remains of her "new" vacuum sit on the ground, barely recognizable.
Both treasure what did survive plaster molds of the children's hands folded in prayer, and Kimi's six-month-old fingers gripping her father's fingers. All are blackened by smoke and soot, but all are otherwise in perfect condition, unburied by Rick the day after the fire.
Cheri tears up at the kindness that has been shown to her a group of elementary students stopped her to say they were collecting donations from friends; the gift of homemade quilts she could never have afforded that now cover her children as they sleep.
Each day, she says, there's a comment made or something given to her that makes her amazed at the grace of those in her hometown.
Rick thinks about the good things for his children:
Nobody had any nightmares.
Nobody had to flee the house in PJs during the night. No one was hurt.
"They just went to school and when they came home, we didn't have a home, so they got to spend three nights at Grandma's."