This is what remains of my mother-in-law’s house in Raleigh.
Thirty minutes before the start of Caro’s sister’s wedding, in the midst of a massive thunderstorm (there were 1200 lightning strikes in an hour across the city), lightning struck a tree next to her mother’s house.
Caro and I were on the second floor, in the bedroom getting ready for the wedding, when the bolt struck. It was defeaning, and I felt jolted by the crash. Of course, the power went out immediately. We ran downstairs to check on her mother, who had unplugged the cable from the television. She asked me to go upstairs and unplug the computer, which was in the guest bedroom across from ours.
After I got upstairs, I smelled a burning smell, not electrical, but wood. Thinking that the bolt had struck a tree outside (believe it or not, the chimney was hit last year and part of it was knocked off onto the back deck), I glanced outside the window, but in the downpour I could see nothing.
I walked across the hallway to our bedroom, and was stunned to see thick black smoke emanating from the air conditioning vents and pouring in black curls across the ceiling.
I ran downstairs, and we all calmly left the house, and I called 911 from the neighbor’s home. By this time, as best I can recall, there were other neighbors starting to realize that something was amiss. I went out to the road with an umbrella, and waited for the emergency vehicles to arrive. Minutes literally seemed like hours. It took the fire engines at least 15 minutes to arrive; at the time I was thinking that they couldn’t find her street, but the fire marshall later told me (as the news article confirmed) that there were lightning-induced fires across the city and they were all requiring emergency response.
By the time they arrived, the roof was fully ablaze, and we and the other stunned neighbors looked on as the fire department went about dousing the blaze.
In the mayhem, we accidentally locked the keys in her mother’s car, where the wedding party flowers were, so we had to have a separate operation to get those out (which was successful).
It is a testament to how awesome my wife and her mother are, that they knew that not only did the wedding have to go on, but that the most important thing to do was to make sure that the accident, although dramatic and life-altering, didn’t overshadow Ashley’s wedding.
And so we piled into Caro’s uncle’s car, pulled ourselves together, and got to the church an hour and 15 minutes late. Since we had planned on being there an hour early, we only started the ceremony fifteen minutes late. So with poise and aplomb, Caro and her mother, and the rest of the gathered friends and family, the wedding went off without a hitch. It was a beautiful day for Caro’s sister, and the whole experience was a testament to the power of friendship, love and a tenacious drive to make sure that life goes on in spite of those things that are beyond our control.
Everyone was safe, the fire department did an amazing job, the neighbors threw all of their support behind Pat, and her friends are some of the most amazing women I have ever met. Hats off to everyone in Raleigh who rallied!
Oh, and at the wedding reception, Pat still managed to pull of a moonwalk while dancing to Michael Jackson. Talk about setting the house on fire!