By Ellis Harms
I often sit alone in the “courtyard” here in this place and say to myself, “What am I doing here?” “How did I get here in the middle of Sacramento?” I guess I have to remember my former life in Paradise, to answer these questions. Our house was burned to the ground – only ashes left – hard as it is to forget, I have to relive it to tell this story!! Arlene, my faithful wife of 67 years and I had lived in our beloved town of Paradise, built our own home, had lived in Paradise for 58 years – raised 3 wonderful kids, where shall I begin? My life is a series of miracles – one of which is how we moved from Lancaster Circle on Bille Road to our little 2 room cabin at 7125 Clark Rd and lived in it for 2 ½ years with 3 kids. We had moved from Southern California in 1960 when I got the job as Principal of the large Elementary School. I was the only new person on the staff (another story). Gale was 7 years old, Neil 5, and Dawn 1 year old.
I look around the courtyard, about one half the length of a football field, I sit by the huge oak tree around which is the cement pathway, the courtyard is well-groomed. I admire the tall grass and flowers and often see busy little squirrels under the huge oak...
We got the evacuation call on the land line phone at 8:30 a.m. in Paradise. I often wonder who called us. It so happened that Gale, our oldest, was at our house when we got the call. She was organizing her mother’s medication and making arrangements for her continued care when we got the evacuation call, 8:30 a.m. November 8, 2018, Gale’s 65th birthday. Arlene had just gotten out of rehab the day before after months with a rare chemical imbalance. I didn’t take the evacuation call too seriously. I thought I’d be back, after all thousands of people had been evacuated from their homes a few months earlier when there was trouble with the Spillway at Oroville Dam. All the evacuees were eventually returned home and living “safe and sound”.
Arlene and I had purchased the cabin and 1/7 acres on Clark Road in 1961 and moved into it with our 3 kids. It seemed like pioneering; the kids didn’t want to move when it was time to transfer to the addition we’d built on the back of the cabin. It was so cozy. We had been told the cabin was too good to tear down. It would be too hard to move it so to build on seemed the best solution to expanding. We contracted a draftsman to draw plans of a new house to be built on the back of the cabin. He drew up the plans but only went to dining room and living room. Since we’d asked for a sunken living room it seemed too much for him. I took over and sketched plans for bookshelves around a massive stone fireplace and windows in living room. We had a very creative builder who barely looked at plans for building. The beamed ceiling ended up being 18 feet high. We built out of Pecky Cedar, a far low-quality lumber but we loved it. It was difficult to find long boards without holes. I let the builder pick out boards for kitchen but thought he made it too pecky, so I chose all boards for living room. We brought in all rocks for fireplace from nearby Sawmill Peak. We used slate for entrance that was found by creek up in Feather Canyon – we only polished the slate entrance once – it always seemed polished on its own.
I questioned how much window space to include as the cabin had small old-fashioned windows and always seemed dark.
As usual, I see the problem in writing this “Blog” is not what to include but what to leave out. And I haven’t even mentioned my garden which of course was burned up too! I almost hated to lose my garden as much as the house! All those plants were my friends. I always watered by hand as I wanted to “talk” to each plant.
I have so many little stories related to building – shall I tell story of Arlene and me staying up all night, putting white stain over entire living room walls which we’d found depressing as painters left it.
Shall I tell story of bringing all rocks in pickup truck for fireplace. We had 2 flats on one trip.
Shall I tell story of glass man putting huge slabs of glass windows I’d designed. He called it Belgian Glass. Arlene and I were always impressed they never broke as whole wall wobbled when door was closed heavily.
Shall I tell story of big box in which sliding glass door came in. I put it on top of debris going to dump in pickup. I put 9-year-old son Neil on top. The wind tipped the huge piece of cardboard and boy on ground. Neil consequently lost front teeth – We spent much time in hospital and orthodontist office.
Shall I tell story of stained-glass window by front door and sea life we’d gathered from ocean dump. We found a man who specialized in installing stained glass windows. He helped!
Shall I tell story of little tin lantern that hung by front door we’d bought at Mexican Border as Mexicans tried to sell to each car.
On and on – endless –
Will close this saying we had several nice compliments on finished product. One person said coming into our living room was a sanctuary. Another skilled architect said it was “most intelligent use of wood he’d witnessed.”
Oh yeah – there’s the story of having the whole place carpeted and not liking the color. The saleslady found the swatch we’d chosen from had become faded and dirty. She replaced the whole house full of carpet! Free!
Shall I tell story of large coffee table I went down to lumber company and ordered several pieces cut. It served as coffee table for years.
Shall I tell about world map hanging over dining table – an idea brought from superintendent’s home in Moorpark where I first taught!