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Monitor Board of Contributors: When a tree came through the house, all predictability was gone

John Gfroerer

John Gfroerer

I like things in nice, neat little boxes.

Now, I am not talking Christmas here. I am talking about nice neat little boxes, arranged on shelves, that keep my life in order. A box here for this, a box there for that, everything in its place and predictable.

Predictable. Predictable is good. Just like unpredictable isn’t.

Concord is a good community for neat little boxes. Or at least for people who have needs to fill and arrange them, like me. And it seems that I have spent a good part of a lifetime doing just that.

There is Dick who cuts my hair. There is Gunner who takes care of my car, and Jonas who takes care of my teeth. There is my place to buy a muffin in the morning, my soup at noon and pick up a gallon of milk on the way home at night. Each is a box on my shelf, and I know right were each one is when I need it. Knowing they are there is like always having money in my wallet or friends when I need them.

We were in Hanover a couple of Sundays ago when neighbor Julie called to tell us that a tree had fallen on our house. “This looks bad.” she kept saying, as if looking for some elusive silver lining and not finding it.

“This looks bad” is hard to visualize when it is referencing your house and you are 50 miles away. All perspective is lost, and the worst possible possibility becomes possible. You drive fast and think of your boxes.

As we tried to fly down Interstate 89, we started taking inventory. We called brother Mike. We called contractor Lew. When we got home they were both waiting in front of the house.

The tree was waiting in the back.

Getting right to the point, we were luckier than we were prepared to be. Most of the tree was on the grass. There was damage to the corner of the roof and the bulkhead, but all the windows were intact. The most troubling damage was the 6- to 8-inch hole in the roof with a chunk of tree sticking out.

We all went into the house to have a look. There was no tree coming through the ceiling in the kitchen – good sign. At the end of the upstairs hall we have a small closet where, as you might expect, we store boxes. We opened the door and there was the rest of the tree chunk along with smaller chunks of wood and plaster scattered all over our boxes.

I like neat little boxes, stacked and orderly and easily accessed. Now, one of my inventories was in trouble. And Christmas was coming. And I had projects at work to finish and shopping to do, and later that afternoon my daughter had a soccer game and the dog needed to get out for a walk, and it was defiantly too cold outside to have a hole in the roof.

A box of perspective is always useful in such situations. This was not Hurricane Katrina or Sandy. No one was hurt. We weren’t going to be homeless, not even for the night. We might even be able to make it to the soccer game.

Was it a box that said “Breathe”? I don’t know, but I did. I did breathe. Maybe it was because the worst scenarios we had considered weren’t what we found. Things were going to be all right, even if our boxes needed to be temporarily moved from their place. Disruption is more tolerable if it doesn’t feel permanent.

So I count my blessings. We moved the boxes to another room. The shop vac cleaned up the pieces of plaster and wood. Towels were stuffed in the hole. And when I shut the door to the closet, nothing really looked any different. We made the soccer game on time as if it was no big deal.

The next day Sandy, my insurance agent, came out of her box. There’s a tree on the house? No problem. And though not exactly true, it is true. Things were under control. Like little boxes neatly stacked, arranged and always ready to be opened when needed, order returned.

The roof has for the moment a temporary patch to keep the snow out. The boxes remain in the office room where we stacked them three weeks ago. You might say they are a little bit of a disruption, but with luck the ceiling in the closet will be repaired soon and we can return them their rightful place.

I like predictability. I like knowing my boxes are in place. I like disruption that ends. I like knowing my blessings are always being counted.

It is the gift I can never truly measure but am always thankful for.

(John Gfroerer of Concord owns a video production company based at the Capitol Center for the Arts.)

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