By Patrick Stark, CFP®
I grew up in Paradise. Yes, that Paradise – the small town in Northern California that was devastated by a horrific wildfire on November 8th. The photo above is what remains of my childhood home.
My mom passed away in 2017 but my dad and a brother still lived there. A neighbor knocked on their door that fateful morning and alerted them as to the severity of the fire. They didn’t have much time to pack the car but were able to grab a few essentials before evacuating. There were fires burning all around them as they joined the epic traffic jams trying to get out of town. Thankfully, they were able to evacuate safely along with other friends and families who I’ve known for decades.
Some family members recently visited the property. The devastation is overwhelming; every home on our street was destroyed. There are ash piles a foot deep, burned out shells of appliances, mangled tools from my dad’s workshop, charred patio chairs, random pieces of cookware, items so disfigured that it’s impossible to tell what they were. A few items such as the birdbath in the backyard were salvaged as mementos.
At the entrance to the home there used to be a metal plaque with the following engraving: “House of Stark, established December 1st 1956”. That was the date my parents were married and began their family that eventually numbered six children and 12 grandkids. That plaque was the one item that everyone was hoping would eventually be found, but sadly never was.
In my 20s and 30s I would come up to Paradise several times a year. The visits were fewer when I got married and began my own family, but I still tried to visit at least once a year. My son Garrett loved Paradise and enjoyed reliving my childhood memories. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Paradise had a unique, pine-fresh smell. Even now, when we’re in a cool, crisp forest-like setting, Garrett will say “This smells just like Paradise!”.
I have great memories of Paradise: family holidays with non-stop laughter, my old paper route on Pentz Road, kicking our shoes off the swings at my parochial elementary school, hiking down to the stream across the street from my home, Paradise High School, Christmas midnight Mass at St. Thomas More Church, jumping from the pillars of the Highway 70 bridge spanning Lake Oroville, La Comida restaurant on Skyway, Mountain Mike’s pizza on Clark Road, staying at the Ponderosa Gardens motel during visits, driving up to snowy Inskip during the winter. I loved the relaxed way of life in Paradise that was so different from the frenetic pace of southern California.
Even in the face of such a tragedy there are still reasons to be thankful. Losing my mom in 2017 was heartbreaking, but I’m comforted that she didn’t have to experience this. I’m thankful that my dad and brother were able to get out safely. I’m thankful that other friends and their families were able to evacuate. I’m thankful that my dad has adequate insurance. I’m thankful for family members who were immediately able to provide him housing. I’m thankful for the outpouring of support from around the country. I’m thankful for growing up in such a unique place. I’m thankful that my son and I visited Paradise just a few months before the fire. I’m thankful for the memories of Paradise that will never go away.
Paradise, you’ll remain in my heart forever.