After a fire Nov. 13 drove the Baltazar family into the night in their pajamas, destroyed their Rohnert Park home and took with it virtually all their possessions ...
After too many motels turned them away because they no longer had any forms of identification ...
After they finally found a room at the Good Nite Inn on Redwood Drive, where Pablo and Ashley Baltazar slept on the floor while their four children shared two beds ...
After someone let slip to 8-year-old Romeo the news that Copper, the little stray cat he'd cared for since it was a kitten, had died of smoke inhalation ...
After weeks of the parents trying to hold themselves together for their children's peace of mind ...
After all that, a woman approached Ashley Baltazar at McOmber Law, the Santa Rosa firm where Baltazar is a paralegal, and made her cry.
The woman was a client from Minnesota in town for a trial, someone to whom Baltazar had spoken on the telephone but had never met.
"She just came up to me and said, &‘Why don't you stay at my place; you don't have to pay anything,'" Baltazar recalled last week, sitting at the dining room table of the spacious Guerneville home where her family has found an unexpected haven.
For the Baltazars, a holiday season that started with heartache and loss has been leavened with some startling generosity.
On Dec. 7, the family moved into the three-story, riverside vacation home opened to them by the client, who declined to be interviewed and wanted to remain anonymous.
They expect to stay there until at least mid-February — they have insisted on paying the utilities bill — while they look for a new residence and save enough money to make the move. When they depart, they'll also follow the benefactor's wishes and take furniture with them to help get established in their new home.
"We hugged and I just told her, &‘Thank you,'" Baltazar said. "When someone says, &‘You can have my house,' you don't know what to say."
Her husband, a construction worker who was on a job and unavailable for an interview, was disbelieving at first, Baltazar said.
"He just thought, &‘It's too good to be true,'" Baltazar said. Later, she said, once it sank in, "Pablo said, &‘Maybe it's karma.'"
The circumstances put the Baltazars in an unfamiliar position, as the recipients of an outpouring of unstinting aid. Not only from the firm's client, but friends and co-workers, who learned of the situation from her boss.
"We've worked hard to achieve what we have and it feels weird to be on the other side of things," Baltazar said. "Everyone's giving and giving; I haven't felt that before."
There have been other adjustments to make.
"Walk slowly! Watch out for the stairs," Baltazar said as her children — including 3-year-old twins Zenai and Ziranda — slid on hardwood floors near the stairs leading downstairs. Their old four-bedroom mobile home had none of those.
Life lived on three levels can be a little unnerving in other ways, too.
"I don't like it at all," said Romeo, "It's scary. You hear a lot of stories about things falling down on top of things."