For Eve Rendon, the memories linger of a first date in San Francisco and of a teenager riding with her future husband on a summer’s night in a red ’57 Chevy pickup.
But the truck, which her husband, Gustavo, has owned for nearly four decades, now sits torched on its axles, the tarnished exterior resembling some poor cousin to Mater, the tow truck character in the Disney film “Cars.” Somewhere amid the remains of the Rendons’ three-bedroom Coffey Park home lie the ashes of their son’s autographed San Francisco Giants jerseys. Their daughter’s collection of greeting cards and notes from parents that expressed how much they love her have vaporized.
Even as the family deals with the loss of physical items both great and small, the Rendons are trying to make sense of what it means to be survivors of a historic wildfire that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in their northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood.
For Eve Rendon, the jumble of memories and daily demands reminds her of things that filled her mind after losing a parent.
“It’s more like a grieving process,” the 52-year-old mother of two said as she sought shade next to the burned trunk of a tree that once spread leafy branches high over the family’s Pine Meadow Drive property.
For Doug and Sherinne Wilson, one sign of their unsettled life comes nearly every day as they start to drive to their new apartment south of the Coddingtown shopping center and instead mistakenly head back toward their destroyed house on Pine Meadow Place.
“You can’t even find your way home anymore,” Sherinne Wilson said. “You’re lost in so many ways.”
Fire veterans whose homes went up in flames in earlier disasters said they shared similar experiences while trying to put their houses and lives back together. They encouraged the 6,800 households who lost homes in this month’s wildfires in Sonoma County to prepare for a season of uncertainty.
“The degree to which the fire will be disorienting to them will be astonishing,” said Kenneth Klein, who lost his Scripps Ranch home in San Diego’s 2003 Cedar fire.
Klein, who teaches disaster law at California Western School of Law, said our homes are both physical and emotional landmarks, and their removal takes away much that is familiar and routine in our lives.
Klein’s wife, Lisa Black, wrote in an email that the disorientation also comes about because of all the pressures and anxieties faced by those with destroyed homes. These residents are dealing with a past where much has been lost, a present with untold demands and a tenuous future.
“You are unstuck in time,” she said, taking a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five.”
Neighbors around Coffey Park can relate.
“We’re just feeling so displaced right now,” said resident Traci Lattie. She and her 26-year-old daughter, McKenzie Hoyt, moved in January into the Rita Place home of Lattie’s partner, Wayne Hovey.
Last week, Lattie and her daughter were fighting discouragement after finding so little among the remains of Hovey’s home. So the two women borrowed a spray paint can from a nearby utility worker and wrote on the driveway before the home, “From the ashes we will rise.”
Lattie emphasized that Hovey is still investigating whether it makes sense to rebuild his house. For her, the statement on the concrete was primarily a rejection of defeat.
“It just felt right for us to do this because we were feeling broken-hearted,” she said.
Beside his ’57 Chevy, Gustavo Rendon joked that after meeting Eve’s parents and taking her to a restaurant in western San Francisco, it took a while before he got her to go out with him again. She was 18. He was 23.
Eve Rendon, 52, recalled how for their first two years of dating while she attended San Francisco State University, she kept a calendar with a record each day of their dates, meetings and phone calls.
“I knew he was the one,” she said.
That calendar also was destroyed by the fire.
Gustavo Rendon, now 58 and a PG&E utility worker, noted how confident some neighbors are about their plans to rebuild. Eve and he are still trying to understand their options, he said, but none of the alternatives offer much certainty.
“We don’t know what we’re getting into,” he said.
Doug Wilson, a mechanic for the city of Santa Rosa’s firetrucks, noted his burned home and surroundings will never be quite the same. The six redwoods at his back fence are little more than blackened skeletons, with a long twisted strip of garage door siding hanging in one branch more than 50 feet off the ground.
Even so, he is still drawn back to the property.
“I’m more comfortable here than at the apartment,” he said.
Sherinne Wilson, a city recreation and parks supervisor, explained, “We still feel that this is our home. This land is our land. This is where we live.”
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @rdigit.