Billie Miller used to tell her daughter that it’s OK to cry a little when things don’t go your way, but then you pick yourself up by the boot straps and get on with life.
Her mother’s words have echoed in the mind of Blanche Randolph as she and her family pick up the pieces after a fire destroyed their Hemingford home Feb. 15.
Blanche and David Randolph were at home that night with children Nathan and Natasha. With the extreme cold temperatures, they were trying to stay warm while conserving energy, so they turned on a gas fireplace in the Wyoming Avenue home where they’ve lived for nine years. There were some new candles burning on a kitchen table as the family sat watching TV with the lights off.
“I remember thinking, ‘Those candles stink, I’m never buying them again,’” Blanche Randolph said. “I was tired, so I was dozing in and out.”
So, about 8:30, Blanche decided to go to bed. When she did, she blew the candles out before realizing she needed to do a project and couldn’t go to bed quite yet. She recalls thinking more about the smell she thought was coming from the candles. When she turned on the lights, she thought the candles were emitting a lot of smoke after she blew them out.
About an hour later, Blanche heard a crackling noise and realized the smoke was coming from a fire, not the candles. Dave looked outside, and there was smoke coming from under the eave of the house.
“Then everything just happened,” Blanche said. “We got out, got our kids out, got our animals out and called it in.
“The fire department was phenomenal. It was probably one of the most brutal nights that week to fight a fire. So cold.”
As the fire department fought the fire, water froze quickly. The Randolphs went to their daughter, Mikayla’s, house a couple of blocks away.
“Mikayla and I went back over at one point, and we were just standing there watching the fire,” Blanche said, hesitating as she recalled the events of that night. “That’s when we realized this had become a nightmare, not just a little fire that needed to be put out. ... You just watch your world go up.”
The fire was determined to have been caused by something to do with the gas stove.
After the fire, the Randolphs set about the task of looking to see what was left, and were surprised. The kids’ clothes were salvaged and some of their bedroom things were spared.
“My office, the living area, the kitchen, dining and then our bedroom were all completely destroyed,” Blanche said. “A lot of the kitchen things, my pots and pans, they were in the cupboard and they were fine. They were able to be washed up. A lot of the things we thought were salvageable, weren’t because of water and smoke damage. But, incredibly, there were things that were saved.”
Mikayla is engaged to be married in December, and much of what had been purchased for her wedding was in the house.
“I had totes stacked in the basement with things I had been purchasing for my daughter’s wedding,” Blanche said. “All of those were fine. That made my day. My husband promised he will never complain about my obsession with totes ever again because a lot of things that were saved were in totes.”
Fortunately, most of the material things lost in the fire can be replaced.
“The loss of stability and security for our kids,” Blanche said when asked what was lost. “There are a few things. The little rocking chair my grandparents gave me when I was 4 came through. The shadow box that had Dave’s grandpa’s World War II uniforms survived. Dave’s deer mount survived, and our photos survived. A lot of the things that were irreplaceable miraculously survived. Everything that we lost could eventually be replaced.”
Replacing the home office items, which included the bookkeeping and materials for the family’s Dave’s Pharmacy locations in Hemingford and Alliance, will likely be a lengthy process.
Now, the Randolphs are living in a rental home while they wait for demolition and look at the prospect of rebuilding their home.
“We are already talking and planning,” Blanche said. “It’s not an ideal time to rebuild with the price of lumber and all of that. You can’t wait for a good time. You’ve just got to pick up and build and go, and I want my house back.”
That’s where the words of Billie Miller come in.
“My mother always said, ‘You can cry for a little bit, but then you pull your boot straps up and you get going,’” Blanche said. “Those words have resonated in my mind so much this week. It’s not going to solve anything to sit and cry about it, but it’s OK to cry for a little bit. We’re just going to start picking up the pieces and moving on.”
A fund has been established at Hemingford Community Federal Credit Union to help the family, and a fundraiser is planned for March.
“The community support has been phenomenal,” Blanche said. “We are so humbled to be a part of this community. I tried keeping detailed notes for everything, but I have not (been able to keep up). I’ve missed people who have done things along the way, and I just want to express my thanks to everybody who has stepped in and helped or brought things. We have what we need to live. People have thought about our children and have done things to meet their needs and take care of them. There just aren’t enough words to express how grateful we are to this community and to be a part of this community.”