Arts Devo

A poem for Paradise Krystalynn Martin and her husband, Steven, moved to Auburn, Wash., with their two young children three months ago. Before that, they lived in Santa Rosa, where the school she worked at was destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs Fire. Before that, she lived in Paradise, where she grew up, and where her parents, brother and other family members all have lost their homes (four total) to the Camp Fire. Her family is safe, but as her poem below so heartbreakingly illustrates, the losses for survivors are many:

I’m sorry—please excuse the smoke.

It’s just the dreams and hopes of 27-thousand yesterdays. It’s just the minuscule evidence of that one baby picture, that painting of the sea captain by my brother, and those family portraits of the past 40 years. It’s just the piano from my grandmother who passed away years ago that my brother just brought back from Iowa.

Excuse the hazardous air quality.

It’s just the thousands of saved kid’s drawings and crafts, books, children’s toys from years gone by that had been unpacked for grandchildren, wedding certificates, diaries, the favorite pillows, that favorite teddy bear from baby years, the 1960s records and the VHS tapes of birthday parties and graduations. It’s just the houses of my childhood friends where we would play in the late summer evenings and spend nights dreaming of what our grown-up years would bring; not knowing that our futures would all hold this moment in time as our collective yesterdays ascend to the sky.

Please excuse the falling ash.

It’s just the church I grew up attending, with all the children’s songs, VBS programs and the baptismal where I chose to dedicate my life to God. It’s just the aisle where I stood and looked at the man on the day that I said, “I Do.”

The falling ash—it’s just Paradise.

A little non-destination town that’s not on the way to anything important. It’s just that end-of-the-road town where people settle and know each other and roots run deep. It’s just a place where the biggest news was that Taco Bell came to town 20 years ago—until Starbucks finally made it four months ago.

Paradise—it’s just the place where everyone is your neighbor, as backyards are shared and simple icons are known and loved. Icons that are now ashes falling around you (sorry about that).

Icons like Fosters Freeze, Gold Nugget Days, Honey Run Covered Bridge, that one antique store, just to name a few.

Icons like Kalico Kitchen, where my dad and I had breakfast on the day of my wedding, just the two of us.

Icons like Darlene’s Frozen Yogurt and Round Table Pizza, where many birthday parties growing up took place, not to mention the take-home pizzas to mom and dad on weekends we would visit.

Personal icons like the Lucas’ house, where many days and nights were spent as we grew up from toddlers, to grade school, to junior high, taking care of animals, watching movies, going trick-or-treating, and discovering our first crushes together.

Icons like the Muth house, where we made brownies and talked about boys and got ready for banquets and wrote songs, and led out in different high school student leadership opportunities.

Icons like the youth room at the church, where we discovered so many amazing things together and planned mission trips and prayer conferences and learned what it meant to be used by God right here and right now.

Icons like Rankin Way house, where we would watch different phases of our family’s life every year as we gathered for potlucks, game nights or just hear some good music.

Or Country Club, where huge gatherings would take place like the Fourth of July party for the neighborhood, or just coming together for brunch, or talking about religion and politics.

Or Peterson’s house, where we would eat the most delicious Swedish treats and have a visit from Santa.

Or all the houses around town that we lived in since age 2 (that are now all gone), finally settling on what would become home: Boquest Blvd. Boquest, where breakfast was late, like nights, and eras of my life passed within those four walls—from pre-teen, to high school, and as the walls of my room changed their decor as they held my changing eras like a quiet, constant friend. The early mornings getting ready for school, the late nights studying or dreaming of tomorrows that are now todays. The Christmas Eves and mornings where my brother would wake me up to go open our stockings. The night I spent in that room with my sister before the day of my wedding, our conversations waning into the early morning. The years and eras fleeting now in hindsight, as most recently these four walls had been a refuge for my aging parents. And not knowing that one month ago would be my final farewell to my constant silent friend—my room—where I spent a few nights with my infant son as we cherished time with family.

Icons like Bille Park, where I would go on hikes with my friends as a pre-teen and teen, and then later take my hubby as we dreamt of the future, and then most recently would take my own two children to play and romp and just be … in Paradise.

… And not to mention all the lives that were lost: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, beloved pets …

But please, once again, excuse our smoke.

It’s just what’s left of what was one of the most unique little settlements in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains: what was Paradise.

—Krystalynn Martin

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