There was US

Dear Larry:

There were three parts to us.  There was you.  There was me and then there was US.  We were an entity.  We were a force.  Together we took on some formidable challenges that many people thought were impossible.  But as long as we were together, we were invincible. 

I remember the night that our telephone rang, and we were informed that our warehouse and offices were on fire. Our business.  We started the business with our only $200.00 we had.  We worked years to save and scrap together in order to afford to build this new plant…our dream come true.   As we turned onto the interstate highway that night after the call, we could already see the red glow in the sky from 8 miles away.  We held hands during the entire drive and did not speak a word.   With the brightness from the glow of the fire, we knew we were heading toward a major change in our lives. 

When we reached the street where our building was located, we saw rivers of water pouring down the street.  There were already eight fire trucks with hoses pouring water full blast on this raging fire.   The building was engulfed.  We knew immediately that this would be a total loss and that this was our moment of unanticipated life change.

I had closed the office that night and, for some odd reason, I looked at my watch as I locked the door.  It was 6:25 PM.   Here we were back at the building.  It is 7:15 and there is no possibility of saving the building.  Fire has begun the process of melting our building. Would it do the same to our business?  What about our lives?

Our concerns that night were so varied.  Of course, there were the obvious ones.  Would we be able to keep our employees working?  How would we rebuild?  How badly would the insurance company treat us?  Can we financially survive this?  How did this fire start and did someone set it?  Where do we start?

As usual, I cried.  As usual, you did not.   Actually, you talked with the people who gathered…supporters, friends, competitors and just plain gawkers…and you joked around.  Gallows humor you called it.  Lightened the mood in times of crisis, you said.  You learned that in the Army and here is was again except this time it was our lives and our business and our future going up in flames.  Quite literally.

The fire chief came over to speak with us.  What in the world did we have in that warehouse?  This was the hottest fire they had ever had to fight.  Did we think that it was sabotage?  Did we have any idea how it started?  Every fire truck available in the area was there to fight this fire and it was not close to under control.  The back walls had already melted.  This would be a total loss and fighting it would take all night.

In fact, it took all night and the next several days to extinguish all of the fire.  Structural steel had melted.  Our warehouse cat, Smokey, was dead.  Three fire fighters were injured, treated and released.  Thank you, God, for protecting these men.  We lost it all.  We lost everything we had worked 25 years to build.  In one evening, it was gone.  We stood on the driveway looking at the burned-out shell of our building, burned forklifts, charred inventory, melted equipment and held hands.  Oh my God.  How do we come back from this?  Where do we begin?  If we knew step 1 then we could figure out step 2 as we went along, but where do we find step 1?  We have insurance.  You took care in advance to protect us in case this unexpected occurred.   This was certainly unexpected.

The next morning our employees began to show up for work.  Most had not seen the news and had no idea that their livelihood had just burned down.  They asked if we were working that day.  Well, some of us have to, that is for sure, but we do not know how to begin.

You, of course, took charge.  We established a new ground zero on our office manager’s kitchen table.  We took orders on the hood of your car.  We had no idea how we would fill them, but we would worry about this tomorrow.  We called the insurance company.  We clung to each other.  We functioned as US. 

As I look out of my office door today, 14 years later, I look back in awe of US and that we were able to pull it off!  We found a new warehouse.  We ordered new equipment.  We bought forklifts and machines and pencils and printers.  We worked 16 hours a day and went back the next day for more.  We found out very quickly who was our friend and who was not.  You shifted into Larry mode and did your thing and we survived!  We did not miss one day delivering our products to our customers. 

In our very private moments after we were finished discussing the pragmatic issues, we took a moment to pour each a glass of wine and celebrate US.  We did it.  You and me.  Us.  We burned to the ground, picked ourselves us and rebuilt from the ashes.  We both knew that we could not had done it alone, but as a team called US, we were invincible!  I miss my business partner.  I miss my husband. 

Your wife,