Sunday, October 15, 2017

Day Fifteen: Some Things
Just Aren't There any More

As wildfires tore through the landscape in the northern California wine country this past week, I received several concerned phone calls. "Are you alright?" was the question, though the fires in Sonoma County are over one hundred miles removed from my home. Some people don't comprehend the enormity of a state this size, and it takes a phone call to put it all in perspective for well-meaning friends and family.

Though our family is far removed from harm's way, in a different way, the fires still touch my life. It wasn't even two years ago when I wrote about a break in my schedule for a few days' getaway to Santa Rosa, county seat of the same Sonoma County which, this past week, has been so devastated. That historic round barn I wrote about in that post from November 18, 2015? Gone. Completely.

It's not just the historic landmarks—not to mention the many beloved favorite places—that have been lost, but, for me, a more personal connection, as well. Santa Rosa was the childhood home of my first husband, the one whose story I shared four years ago, starting with this post. Today would have been his sister's birthday, but—along with her brother and both her parents—she is no longer with us to even see all the devastation hitting her hometown.

It's sobering to see the before-and-after photo recap of some of the losses, such as the one offered in Santa Rosa's local newspaper, The Press Democrat. In linking to those photos, I've cued the sequence to begin with the photo of the round barn as it once stood; clicking through to the next photo shows you what is now left, after last Monday's fire.

With devastation like this, it's not just the tangible that has been lost; it's as if the soul has lost something, as well.

While so many people were scrambling for their lives only one hundred miles away this past week, I was going through my file cabinets, trying to find and extricate myself from all the "stuff" that bogs us down—the clutter we can most certainly live without. With each file I review, however, it seems my resolve to divest myself of my holdings has gradually weakened. There is so much to remember.

As I worked on that Ambrose file, then followed along both the alphabet and my mother-in-law's family's migratory pathway, the papers I saved reminded me of what I had found in research efforts nearly twenty years ago. The end of the trail, going backwards in time from Ohio, through Pennsylvania, then closer to the Atlantic seaport where the immigrant founder families surely stepped off their tiny sailing vessel in the early 1700s, was likely near the place where they first settled in Frederick County, Maryland.

The only problem has been that the place I saw named was a place I could never find: Monocacy, Maryland. I always satisfied myself, in the face of that puzzle, with calling it simply "Frederick County," and leaving off any designation of a town.

Curiosity finally got the best of me, and this week I googled it. Entering "Monocacy" in the search box didn't seem to produce any helpful results, though. I found information on the river, the Civil War Battle, and the National Park commemorating the site. But no town by that name.

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon it, but I finally found out why I couldn't find the place called Monocacy—the place where my mother-in-law's ancestors once lived. The reason? The village, probably founded sometime between 1725 and 1730, is no longer in existence. Even as recently as the end of the next century, people were no longer sure of its original location.

That's a haunting thought: could people forget something as heart-important as someone's hometown as soon as the close of the next century? What about those blackened hundreds of homes and businesses all across Santa Rosa? Will all that turmoil—and the people whose lives have been upended—be forgotten as soon as 2187?

Above: Remembering the Fountaingrove Round Barn of northern Santa Rosa, as it stood in 2015; photograph courtesy Chris Stevens.   


  1. Those are so sad photos, such devastation. So many people displaced. I figured you were safe as I looked you up on the map one day. I sure hope the fires are under control soon.
    You are making progress on your cabinet.

    1. Yes, they are sad to see. There is another one, making the rounds on Facebook, which shows even more close-up footage on the destruction. While I know so many have lost so much in this fire, it still broke my heart to learn that the round barn was gone.


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