Fire in Carrollwood
by Joan Weaving
My neighbors Ed and Linda are people of faith. He wears a gold cross around his neck, she keeps a Bible by her bed. They believe it was divine intervention that woke Ed at the unaccustomed hour of 5am several Mondays ago with a strong sense of something being askew. With Linda and their dog Rudy still asleep, he put on the ankle brace which he needs due to an old war injury and started walking through the house. In the dining room he saw a haze, and in the kitchen there was smoke. Opening the door to the garage, he saw big, orange flames, so he slammed the door shut, and raced back to get Linda and Rudy out of the house. He didn’t realize until later that his fingers were scorched from handling the doorknob.
Exiting the house, they called 911 and were told that several neighbors had seen smoke and had already called the fire department. They arrived shortly thereafter, along with the sheriff. Ed had grabbed the car keys on his way out and wanted to go back to get the keys to his truck, but when they looked, the kitchen was now engulfed in flames, and the fire was quickly traveling across the roof into the middle of the house. Outside on the street, neighbors were arriving with coffee, blankets, chairs, and prayers. On hearing that Linda’s bedside Bible was not retrieved, one neighbor returned with a brand-new King James Bible for Linda to use. Amidst the panic, pandemonium, and shock, there was the peacefulness of neighbor looking after neighbor. Ed and Linda were not alone.
Ed and Linda spent two nights at a neighbor’s house and are now staying with one of their daughters north of Tampa. The insurance company has come by and declared the house unsalvageable. The restoration contractor who came by even before the fire was extinguished has now been hired to manage the deconstruction of the old and the reconstruction of the new. It will take about a year.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but they believe that mice had gotten into the motor of the old garage door which hadn’t been used in a long while. The mice chewed on the wires which became exposed and caused a spark. Ed had a smoke alarm in the kitchen, but it wasn’t connected to the smoke alarm near his bedroom. That one did not go off because the smoke had not reached the bedroom when Ed awakened.
My husband and I saw Ed a few days ago at the charred remains of his home. The bedroom from which they escaped so easily was mostly unharmed except for soot and water damage. In the closet there was a pair of suede Gucci boots that were in perfect condition despite the thick soot coating the box. Under the bed, Ed’s ammo box shielded photo albums. Throughout the rest of the house, the remains of burnt ceiling and insulation hang down like a canopy. In the family room stands a wooden bookcase with leather-bound books that seemed to defy the mayhem. And on a shelf by the door are three little blue glass bottles that remained standing despite the water pressure which was aimed at them. Outside the house you can see the melted back of Ed’s Jeep, and three gasoline cans that were melted into an unrecognizable shape but never exploded. The shrubbery surrounding the house ends abruptly where they were licked by flame and heat.
Ed’s spirits were remarkable. He is grateful that they are alive, grateful to have a place to stay, grateful for the outpouring of the neighborhood. Divine intervention.
Ode to Sanibel
by Diane Henrikson Russell
When my first husband (I’ll call him Lee) applied for a faculty position at the University of South Florida over forty years ago, his Indiana-born father asked where it was. Hearing that the main campus was in Tampa, he exclaimed, “Sanibel! We’ll all go to Sanibel Island if you get the job.”
My only visit to Florida in 1972 included the Magic Kingdom, Busch Gardens and other theme parks. We also visited Tampa and St. Petersburg because my dad had been stationed at MacDill Air Force Base at the end of WWII. I had never heard of Sanibel and was eager to find out more. It sounded like a beautiful shell-lover’s paradise.
Sure enough, Lee was hired as an assistant professor in the fall of 1981, so his parents and even his grandparents visited us for Christmas that year. We all drove together to Sanibel and back in one day. We briefly experienced that beautiful island for a couple of hours. My parents visited the following April after my mom’s work convention in Fort Lauderdale. This time we stayed overnight in Fort Myers and spent several hours on Sanibel picking up shells. My mom was enthralled watching the sandpipers and driving through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Back at my house, we laughed as we watched her sort through bags of shells to select which shells would fit in her luggage.
In 1984, my parents, Lee and I again stayed in Fort Myers and visited Sanibel. This time I combined business with pleasure. Now a classification analyst for USF, I audited several positions at the USF radio station in Ft. Myers during our stay. Our family spent many hours on the beach looking for perfect shells.
In 1988, my parents, Lee and I splurged and stayed in an affordable hotel on Sanibel instead of driving from Fort Myers. What a difference it made! We watched stunning sunrises and sunsets on the beach, selected multitudes of shells, and shopped at Bailey’s General Store as well as quaint clothing and shell shops.
Fast forward to 1992. My sister Jan now lived in Tampa. We sisters chose to spend Veteran’s Day at Sanibel. We both were going through divorces and decided to pamper ourselves, so we booked a beach cottage at the Island Inn, Sanibel’s oldest inn. In addition to picking up shells, we sought solace and got it in spades. We were mesmerized by the reassuring sights and sounds of the waves. We watched birds diving into the water and reveled in those spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I especially loved the sea grapes as well as the other tropical foliage. We were so refreshed and relaxed that we returned many times to the same Island Inn cottage for the healing that only Sanibel could provide. On our latest sister trip, we observed a wedding on the beach a few months before my own elopement in Las Vegas.
In 1996, I received my M.A. in Counselor Education from USF. Before the ceremony, we held a glorious celebration on Sanibel at the Island Inn with my parents, sister and her partner. My favorite memories were looking for shells with my mom, swimming in the Island Inn’s pool, watching the sunset and waves, and celebrating my dad’s 75th birthday at Jerry’s Foods.
I introduced my husband Tom to the Island Inn in the early 2000s. On our many visits, we have stayed in the more traditional hotel rooms. Being married to a foodie meant that we have tried out a variety of delicious restaurants, including the Island Cow with its delicious grouper sandwiches. (Sadly, this restaurant burned down in August 2022.) We enjoyed the quirky and colorful ambience of the Bubble Room on Captiva.
In July 2008, we arrived at the Island Inn after sunset. It was so dark that we saw multitudes of stars in the sky as we approached our room. What a wonderful way to celebrate my 56th birthday!
Two more meaningful visits come to mind. My co-workers came together to purchase a gift certificate to the Island Inn after my dad passed away in late 2012. My long weekend on Sanibel went a long way to assuage my grief. The Island Inn was one of my first destinations after retirement from USF. We spent time there just before Christmas in 2014 and loved seeing the island decorated for the holidays.
The most exciting part of any Sanibel Island trip is driving on the Sanibel Island Causeway. Seeing the beautiful blue water and the outline of the island as we approach is breathtaking. We always stop at the Visitor’s Center for the latest brochures of restaurants and shops before heading down the tree-lined Periwinkle Way to Bailey’s General Store and the Island Inn.
I am so heartbroken that the causeway and Sanibel Island were devastated by Hurricane Ian. I hope to return to a restored Sanibel Island before the end of my golden years.
Joan Weaving embarked on a successful business career as the first woman Product Manager for Nabisco, Inc., and a Corporate Vice President for Equitable, before starting her own consulting company in 1988, specializing in leadership development and executive coaching for major corporations. Joan has been an active OLLI participant and has played a key role in the conceptualization and execution of the annual Board of Advisor’s retreat. Joan leads our Exploring Leadership Opportunities class in the fall term.
Diane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI catalog and for OLLI Connects. Diane has been Co-chair of the Volunteer Management Committee since 2019.
3 Replies to “Divine Intervention”
Two of many very impressive women that OLLI is fortunate to have. Hope my health allows me to become more active in all aspects of OLLI. marylou raterman
Thank you ladies – for sharing. My hope in time – the state will buy the lots and return the island in time to nature – to what it was meant to be.
Joan, I had missed your story at the time. I’m impressed by your perfect description of details and your focus on human survival skills and neighborly love.
Keep writing for us!
Diane, I loved your nostalgic descriptions of a place so punished by nature . . . .