When Christmas comes to the Havstad family, it means matriarch Debbie Havstad’s breakfast of monkey bread and quiche (she serves fresh fruit, too, but no one eats that). It means family gifts of pajamas on Christmas Eve, with everyone expected to wear them while opening presents. It means the Havstads’ tree, bedecked with ornaments passed down through generations and collected from her own Christmas celebrations over the years.
But this year, things will be different for three generations of Havstads so used to their holiday traditions. On Oct. 9, Debbie, 66, and her husband Eric Havstad, 67, lost their Mark West Springs home of 38 years, and their 22 bins of Christmas decorations — reduced to ash and melted plastic when the Tubbs fire tore through their home on Michele Way.
So the family decided to do something it doesn’t usually do — send out Christmas cards. The setting for the family photo? Where else, but the rubble-filled lot that used to be the family home, stockings hung by the chimney with care.
“I saw it as funny, but I also saw it as us making the best out of a bad situation and hopefully giving some light and some goodness, some looking forward for other people,” said Debbie Havstad.
The idea came from daughter Erin Havstad, 32, a Rohnert Park teacher who also lived in the home with her 13-year-old daughter Chloe.
“We were saying we hadn’t done a Christmas card in forever, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we went to where the house used to be?’” Erin Havstad said. “We had more fun taking those pictures than we’ve ever had taking a family Christmas photo. We were just laughing the whole time. ... To just get up there and have so much fun with it — we’ve dug through it and through it and through it, and it’s gotten to the point where it was like what else are you going to do?”
The photographs, taken by family friend and photographer Park Weston, who offered his services at no cost to the family, show seven smiling Havstads wearing Christmas sweaters in various poses, in some photographs wearing respirator masks, amid the ruins of their former home. Behind them hang stockings, crocheted by family friend Crickett Green, to match the ones Debbie Havstad’s mother had made for the family — all lost in the fire when the family fled their home about 12:15 a.m. Oct. 9.
Like so many others, they had just minutes to pack. Erin Havstad and her daughter drove off with their two dogs through thick smoke and raining ash, but the fire’s glow wasn’t visible. When Debbie Havstad left just a few minutes later, the fire had already reached their street. Debbie Havstad looked at the blaze, called 911 and drove into the night.
This year, the Havstads will recreate their Christmas, more or less, with a new tree that Debbie Havstad described as “more of a department store look,” inside their Cloverdale rental home.
“I loved my old Christmas tree, with all my memorable ornaments, but this is beautiful, too,” she said.
There will still be the Christmas poppers — filled with their paper crowns and silly riddles.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here