The Fire

house on fire

On March 16, 2017, there was a massive fire in downtown Raleigh.  An entire city block was incinerated, as well as great damage to 9 other neighboring buildings.  Many people were displaced from their homes.  Fortunately, only one person was injured, and not seriously.

All this takes me back to May 1, 1957.  I was 10 years old, my brother was 7.  My mother was out of town at a conference and my dad was at work, when the fire alarm rang.  Dad, being a volunteer fireman, responded to find that the fire was at our house.  Burning tires on the railroad tracks below our house had ignited the roof of the house outside my bedroom window.  By the time the fire was out, my bedroom, as well as most of the back of the house, was completely destroyed.  I was in school and did not see the fire, only the aftermath.


My family was homeless for more than a week.  We stayed with grandparents, cousins, and friends, but not together.  I had lost everything, all my toys, clothes, and books, including 6 library books (which the library forgave).  Also lost was the family piano. I practiced at friends’ houses. My teacher at school held a drive in the classroom, and many classmates donated clothes, toys, and books for me.

We eventually found a place to call home while our house was rebuilt.  We were all together again and stayed there until Columbus Day, October 12.  Then we moved back into the upstairs portion of the house, with a makeshift kitchen on the back porch.  We had no heat.  We moved into the downstairs portion of the house on December 24, and celebrated by putting up the Charismas tree.  How my parents managed to maintain such normalcy is beyond me.  I finished 5th grade and started 6th grade in the midst of all this.

lady and tramp

One special act of kindness from that time has stayed with me to this day.  A few days before the fire, Mom and I had gone to a department store with our best friends.  While the moms shopped, my friend Linda and I discovered stuffed Lady dogs from Lady and the Tramp and fell in love with them.  Our moms bought them for us.  Mine was lost in the fire.  One morning, while staying with Linda, while we were homeless, she presented me with her beloved Lady dog.  I told her to keep it, but I remember that kindness to this day.

Carol Gosselin – OLLI Member

Some Recommended Reading to Start Your New Year!

Are you seeking great nonfiction books to start out 2019? I have some interesting suggestions for you.

boys in cave

“The Boys in the Cave: Deep Inside the Impossible Rescue in Thailand,” by Matt Gutman. For two weeks in June 2016, the world watched while scores of people tried to rescue 13 soccer boys and their coach stranded in a cave filling quickly with water. Gutman, an ABC news correspondent, covered this harrowing story and was asked to write a book about the rescue. He interviewed all the major players to unfold the politics, egos, dangers, and finally the triumphs of this perilous cave-dive rescue. Even though I knew the rescue was successful, Gutman’s writing of the details kept me on the edge of my seat. I could not put this book down, and I bet you won’t either.


“Priceless,” a memoir by Robert Wittman, the only undercover FBI agent assigned to recover stolen art nationally and internationally. It was through a tragedy early in his FBI career that Wittman took up a hobby of collecting unique baseball cards and selling them at a profit when he moved into Civil War memorabilia. Wittman took an art course that not only advanced his work at the FBI but led him to his career in recovering stolen art. It’s a personal journey, a multi-layered lesson in history, art history, and the reasons behind the people stealing art, and how he honed his skills to play to the egos of the thieves allowing him to get into their circle. It’s compelling, well-written, draws you in and keeps you there.

library book

“The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean. She writes compellingly about the Los Angeles Library fire in April 1986. Most of us never heard about this as the fire happened the same day as the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant meltdown. This old and glorious building, loaded with safety violations, was in the last stage of being approved for remodeling and brought up to date and code when the fire alarm went off. Staff and patrons, used to many false alarms, figured the firemen would give the all-clear to go back inside soon. Instead, they discovered their beloved library was engulfed in a fire that would burn for over seven hours requiring nearly all of Los Angeles’ fire equipment and firemen, reached sustained temperatures of 2000 degrees, and that the tinder of millions of books and the oxygen surrounding their literary treasures was stoking the ghostly, light-blue fire. You want to savor every word she writes about the fire and the logistics of the firemen who fought it, the librarians, the books lost, the thousands of volunteers who went in after the fire to salvage the water-soaked and smoke damaged books. Orlean writes a beautifully woven story that introduces you to an array of characters—library staff, L.A. Library directors over the years, patrons and how all have impacted the library as well as being impacted by the library, that a library more than a repository for books, that it is as necessary as food and oxygen for people. This extremely well-researched book is worth the journey.

Nancy Huber, OLLI Member