On May 1, 2012, Jeannie Jessup from Bastrop, Texas spoke with KUT News about her experience during the wildfires for the Wildfires Oral History Project.
Jessup: There’s a mom’s group in Bastrop that I’m a member of and there’s three of us that were hanging out a lot and we were talking. Two of us lived in the – in the burn zone and we had been talking all summer while the kids were playing about the potential of something bad happening. There had been a fire in the area two years previous, nothing on this scale, and you know, just kind of postulating what you might do if – if the worst would happen. And so, it was Labor Day weekend and it was a Sunday, which is a very fortunate thing because husbands were home and people were – people were together and my girlfriend, one of the ones in the group that had been talking about this potential, she called me up and told me that her husband had been outside working and had smelled smoke and he had gone down the road and saw that there really was a fire and she just really wanted me to know.
So, previously that day, I had been on Facebook and for some reason had friended the Bastrop County Emergency Management Page, don’t know why, and they had posted their phone number. So, I saw it and I called them and asked if – if there really was a fire, if this as a big deal or not, and they said that there was a fire and to get out now and then they hung up the phone on me. I took that as a “Holy crap. This is no foolin’” but we were the very, very first – first people to find out about it. We lived, as the crow files, more or less around a mile away from the start of the fire, which just happened to be in another friend of ours’ yard. So, I, being the mom, starting throwing stuff in piles and telling my husband to pack the car and my husband, being the ever optimistic guy, thought that there – there’s no way that it was going to happen because the wind was from the north and we were north of – of where it had started.
What we didn’t know is there was a second fire to the north of us that would later merge and that’s how the complex thing became and we didn’t know that at the time. So, we had about 30 minutes to 45 minutes before they came and told us that we needed to leave. You know, enough time to grab most of the pictures, to grab a few clothes, you know, things that you had put in your mind to grab should the worst ever happen and load up our two cars and one of them is a little tiny hatchback and the other’s a small SUV and the little, tiny hatchback had our two big dogs.
So, it wasn’t like a tremendous amount of stuff, but it was all we could fit. So that’s how we learned about it and then, you know, we hadn’t been outside that day, I mean, not immediately after the fire had started, so we didn’t see the smoke plume until my friend had called. Had she not called, we would have been facing a different situation. We wouldn’t have gotten almost anything out and many people were like that. They just didn’t know about it. The people further, you know, the next couple of days, they had to evacuate, they knew about it already, but we were before any media had – had ever crossed anything. It was brand new.
KUT News: How did your friend happen to see it?
Jessup: Her husband was outside working and smelled the smoke and everyone had been on alert because it was, you know, an exceptionally windy day. I’m from Kansas. I know wind. It was windy and we – we knew if something did get started, it would probably be all over. We were hoping we weren’t right.
KUT News: When they told you to get out, when you called the number, was it – did they just text you that very moment or it had been…
Jessup: No, that was on the phone. They – that’s what they told me on the phone.
KUT News: But, I mean, when you saw their – their phone number. When did you see their phone number, when you first liked them?
Jessup: Yeah, I had liked them like a few weeks before. I don’t even – I don’t even know why. I mean, why do you like people on Facebook or groups? You just – you just do and they had just serendipitously posted that that morning. I don’t know.
KUT News: And when you – when they told you to get out, did you get out that moment…
KUT News: Or did you get out 40 minutes later?
Jessup: We waited until officials came by our door. We, you know, we were not sure that the fire was going to come our way. Again, we were north of the start point and the wind was from the north and it, you know, but when we evacuated, my husband had driven his car down to see how far away it was and the fire was about a quarter mile away, so – and we lived in a little dead end road. There’s one way out. You just, you know…
KUT News: And who told you to leave?
Jessup: I don’t know who it was. Someone drove by. Some, I think it was as an official. I could’ve been anyone. I don’t – I don’t know. Neighbors of ours had come and – and told us the fire was close and that’s when my husband had gone to check it out.
KUT News: When he came back is that when y’all left?
Jessup: Shortly thereafter, yeah. At that point, I think he realized the gravity of the situation and, you know, every – every partner in a marriage has a role and mine is to prepare and his was to – to finally listen to his wife.
KUT News: And to be the scout.
Jessup: Right because, you know, we had to take care of our daughter, too.
KUT News: And your dogs.
Jessup: And our dogs and our cat who we couldn’t catch. She ended up staying and suffering burns through the fire.
KUT News: How old is your daughter?
Jessup: My daughter will be four in May. She was three and a half at the time and she was watching the door the entire time we were getting ready to leave. So, she knew something was going on, but Dora was on TV, so it was okay.
KUT News: So then what happened?
Jessup: So then we followed the evacuation line. By that point, the police were out on 1441 and there was only one way out. The fire, again, was going to the south, so we had to go to the north on 1441 and there was a long line of cars. It – it looked like something you see in the movies where entire communities evacuate or something like Katrina where, you know, it’s just bumper-to-bumper slow and cars were loaded because no one knew what was going on. This was still within the first hour.
KUT News: Really? There were that many people on the road within the first hour, wow.
Jessup: I’m pretty sure, yeah. Yeah, so we went and then drove into Bastrop and stopped at the Radio Shack because my husband thought he could an emergency radio, but of course, those had been long since sold out and tried to figure out what we were going to do and another girlfriend of mine who lived 15 miles away offered to let us evacuate there. So, we went there and turned out that friend of ours where the fire started, she had also evacuated there, but we didn’t know – we didn’t know anything about the origin of the fire at that point and that’s when we learned about. We were probably some of the first people to know about the cause of the fire.
KUT News: Because a girlfriend told you?
Jessup: Because the girlfriend was there where the first started. She – she had evacuated with us to this other friend’s house.
KUT News: How did she know where it started?
Jessup: Because she saw it start in the backyard.
KUT News: She saw it start?
Jessup: Yeah, but, you know, that’s her story to tell, so…
KUT News: Okay so you don’t want to tell me that story?
Jessup: Yeah, I don’t want to step on her toes.
KUT News: Okay. Well, I hope she’ll come.
Jessup: Probably not.
KUT News: Okay. So then you stayed at this friend’s house for…
Jessup: We stayed there for a few hours and then – she lived down south on County Road 304 and there were fires popping up everywhere. Whether or not those were naturally caused – I know there’s a lot of arson fires happening. I don’t know when those started. I think a day later or so, but they – there was a lot of smoke down by her, too. So we finally decided that since there was the potential of her being – needing to evacuate also, that it was maybe better for us to move on to some place else a little further away and with the dogs, it was really hard. So we went to my sister-in-law’s house in north San Antonio and stayed there.
KUT News: For how long?
Jessup: Little over a week and a half. The hard part about that is my husband works in College Station and, you know, he’s a professor and was teaching that semester and so he still had to teach. I mean, he couldn’t give the kids a two week walk, as much as I’m sure they would be excited about that. And so, he would have to drive back and forth a couple times a week. I think it was like a three hour drive and I would stay there and then the days that he wasn’t working, which was a lot of them, we would go back to Bastrop and deal with insurance and try to get information at the emergency center in the – what’s the Convention Center now. So there were lots of trips, lots of back and forth trying to figure out what the status was and what we needed to do because it was all new for us. We, fortunately, had never been through anything like this before, so…
KUT News: When did you find out about your house?
Jessup: We found out on Tuesday, not through any official means. One of our neighbors, she had – her and her husband had snuck back into the neighborhood and the police were trying to keep people out because it wasn’t safe, but once you were there, you couldn’t force you to leave because, you know, it was your property. So, they managed to get back in and they took pictures with their cell phone and emailed them to us and then another friend also got back into the neighborhood and he also took different pictures and so our – our close neighbor called us up on a Tuesday morning and I was actually at the doctor’s office and that’s when we found out. The good thing about that is that my daughter wasn’t right there with us.
KUT News: But you were with your husband?
Jessup: Yeah. Yeah. So it was kind of a public finding out. It was, yeah, not something you generally want to go through in view of everyone.
KUT News: So she called you and then also sent you pictures?
Jessup: Emailed, but we didn’t see those until later.
KUT News: Good.
Jessup: Yeah. We just knew that the house was gone. We had no idea the definition of gone at that point.
KUT News: So that was on Tuesday.
Jessup: It was Tuesday.
KUT News: And that was Sunday when it happened.
Jessup: It started Sunday, yeah.
KUT News: And then Tuesday – and then when were you able to get – for you all to get back?
Jessup: The authorities obviously had to wait to let everyone back in until it was deemed safe and that, for our neighborhood, since we were the first neighborhood involved in the fire, we were allowed re-entry on that first Monday. So, it was a little over a week after the start of the fire and that was an involved process. You had to go the Sheriff’s Office, show your ID, get a pass and then wait in a line that was stretched miles to go back and see, but we managed to take our insurance adjuster with us and start the process that day. So, he was with us when we first saw the house in person. So…
KUT News: Did you find your cat then?
Jessup: My neighbors, the ones that called us at first, they had found her and had treated her as best they could, but again, they couldn’t get out because then they couldn’t get back in. But they had called their veterinarian and – an done what they could for her and then once re-entry day happened, then they took her to the vet and then she was in the – in the vet’s office for a number of weeks and her burns healed, but she was an old kitty and had smoke inhalation and got an upper respiratory infection and subsequently didn’t – didn’t make it.
KUT News: Did you get to have your cat home after those two weeks?
Jessup: It was longer than two weeks. Yeah, she was – she was home for a little while but then she – her breathing was just so horrific that I had to take her in and – and have her put down. And the veterinarian had said that he saw fewer animals from the fire than he anticipated, but the reason wasn’t that they weren’t hurt, it was just that they didn’t survive long enough to get to them. So…
KUT News: I’m so sorry.
Jessup: It was part of the – part of the fall.
KUT News: They’re always kitties even when they’re old…
KUT News: Old cats. They’re still kitties.
KUT News: So you were there and you – that next Monday, right?
KUT News: And then – do you wish to continue the story? So what did you do?
Jessup: After we saw it…
KUT News: At that point.
Jessup: When we saw it, we – I walked around taking pictures which are on my blog because we have a lot of friends and family from out of state that we were watching this on the news and, heck, some friends and family in different countries and it’s just easier to post it on a public space where I didn’t have to thing about emailing it.
KUT News: Do you want us – I can – I can pull them up.
KUT News: When did you start blogging? At that – probably not at that moment.
Jessup: No, not at that moment. I don’t even know. It probably took a few weeks to get some pictures up.
KUT News: Alright, this first one with the Schlotzky’s sign.
Jessup: That was the – an hour after the fire started. That was when we had just first evacuated before we had gone to anyone’s house. It’s just the smoke could to me was phenomenal. Of course, that’s not the worst of them, but – and then that next shot is a picture of our – what’s left of our house. There are more green trees in that picture than there are now. You know, in normal house fires, you have walls left standing and, you know, roofs that didn’t’ burn completely and this was a different kind of fire. It reduced everything down to about a foot thick.
KUT News: And what – these trees were…
Jessup: They were burned but they – they weren’t burned to a cinder during the actual fire. The base of the trunks are blackened and over the subsequent months, they didn’t make it.
KUT News: Are they down now? Have you cut?
Jessup: We’ve cut them down, yeah. Yeah, and that’s our garden. We had used cedar tree stumps that we had thinned out of our property because cedar trees are not a Texan’s friend and had edged the garden to make a raised bed garden, but apparently the firefighters didn’t like them there and had moved them as they caught on fire. Not all plastic burns despite of what you think. It melts frequently. The dog bowl melted.
KUT News: It’s surprising it’s still there.
Jessup: Yeah. The tricycle burned to a crisp, but the basketball – plastic basketball goal didn’t. And that’s our silverware.
KUT News: It could have completely melted, right.
Jessup: That was stainless steel. Stainless steel seemed to have stuck around longer. Aluminum either melted or evaporated. That is part of my daughter’s bedroom, I believe. Yeah.
KUT News: When did you move to Bastrop?
Jessup: We moved here three years ago. And the playground, for some reason, survived. Everything else around it burned, but the playground made out of cedar posts and a plastic slide wasn’t touched and we can’t explain it. The hummingbird feeder right next to our house, like 10 feet away, the plastic melted, the glass didn’t break, but that tree died too. And my husband’s truck burned, of course. Had he – he told me later, had he actually thought the fire was going to come, he would have gone back to get the truck. Oh well. Those are not pictures that I took.
KUT News: Okay, but you were…
Jessup: Oh, that one I did. I took that one.
KUT News: So when was this taken?
Jessup: That was the day of the fire.
KUT News: Like right after you got out?
Jessup: Yeah. Yeah.
KUT News: There’s the Schlotzky’s? Is that…
Jessup: Yeah that’s looking east toward the fire and then that’s it. It goes back to regular blog, which is interesting, but…
KUT News: And when did you start blogging?
Jessup: I blogged off and on for years. This one started as a way to get my clothespin sales up and to talk about my antique cookbook of my great grandmother’s and the series stopped half way through. I was going through – my Great Gram was born in 1894, and when she got married, apparently they got blank cookbooks and had neighbors fill in recipes for the bride to be in her new role and my mother had recently given that to me and the recipes were old and my great-great-grandmother had written a recipe in there and so I started posting the very vintage recipes on there and then talking about different ingredients and different techniques because things are a lot different now that then. So, I have the cookbook still.
KUT News: I was about to ask you.
KUT News: I was afraid to ask you.
Jessup: Yeah, that was one of the things in my head that, you know, should things ever happen that that was something I would grab. So, I still have it.
KUT News: When did you start blogging about the fire?
Jessup: I don’t know. You have to look at the post dates.
KUT News: And why did you – did you want to…
Jessup: I just wanted my – my family to be able to see it. It wasn’t…
KUT News: To see how you were doing, to see what happened.
Jessup: Just to see pictures instead of having to email it to 30 million people. Just to – just to let people who wanted to look and if they didn’t, they didn’t have to.
KUT News: That was a good idea.
Jessup: It was a lot easier.
KUT News: So you moved to your sister-in-law’s house in San Antonio?
Jessup: Temporarily, yep.
KUT News: And then where did you go?
Jessup: In the week and a half we were there, we were trying, you know, trying to figure what to do. Again, with the dogs, it’s kind of an issue and our insurance was, fortunately, pretty good and they agreed to pay – we had a rider on there for a temporary housing allowance and so they – they gave us a cash sum to buy an RV with. So we bought an RV and another mom friend of mine let us park the RV in her yard. She knew us and our dogs and the kids got along well and so we stayed in her yard for a month and a half while my husband – mainly my husband cleared up the property. We had had to have people come in and cut down the obviously dead trees and clear the ash out. A family friend of ours used to work construction, so he was able to – to run the dozer and the back hoe and take out the foundation and do all that clean up work that is really expensive otherwise.
KUT News: Was this a new house?
Jessup: No it was old and – and we didn’t realize how lousy it was until after it burned.
KUT News: And you decided to rebuild.
Jessup: We were on the fence for a long time because it’s expensive and just numerous other complicating factors and we just, you know, what you think immediately post-disaster is not usually what you’re going to thing forever. You’re – it’s just – it’s just different. People swore they were going to rebuild and then changed their mind and then there were those of us who were iffy or just swearing we weren’t going to do it that later did. I was still against the whole rebuilding idea, but even – even before the fire, we had been trying to get pregnant a second time and the reason I was at the doctor the day we found out about the fire is because I had to go to get my next round of Chlomid and we had been trying so we had the fire stress and then infertility stress all combined together which is, you know, always great fun. People that have gone through infertility know how hard that is alone, but then you combine it and then December, two days before Christmas, we found out that the Chlomid finally worked. So I am now five and a half months pregnant and the baby is due shortly before the anniversary of the fire. There’s nothing like combining a whole bunch of life-changing events in one year.
KUT News: And I’m sure you’re reeling. Congratulations.
Jessup: Thank you.
KUT News: Still reeling from it all, my goodness.
Jessup: It comes and goes, yeah.
KUT News: It’s a huge processing.
Jessup: It is – just a lot to take in. It’s – I think the hard part is, you know, I used – I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve lived where people have nothing. I lived where I had nothing. That’s not the problem. The problem was having the rug pulled out from under you and then having to – to help your three year old daughter who, you know, she doesn’t understand that Elmo’s not real, no less understand what’s going on with the disaster that affects her and it’s just a lot to take in. I worked Red Cross as a volunteer during Katrina/Rita and processed evacuees from that. It’s one thing to be on the helping out side. It’s a totally different ballgame being on the needing help side and I think that’s where – where for me the difficulty lay. I grew up in a very rural farm setting. My dad was a farmer and we were always taught, you know, it’s better to give than to receive. And then to suddenly be on the other side of the coin where you have to take, it’s hard to deal with. It’s not like something we’re used to doing. I mean it’s one thing to have someone open the door for you. It’s another thing for someone to let you stay in their yard for a month and a half or build a house for you or – just the thousands of things that people have done for us that we can never repay. That’s the hard part and it’s been a – it’s been a learning lesson in that, not a lesson I really ever wished to have to learn.
KUT News: I think I would feel like, “Okay, if somebody gives to me, I need to give back, keep it even-Steven,” you know what I mean? You know, you feel that way or somebody’s been really kind and you want to be kind back and it’s – what do you do with all that kindness.
Jessup: You cry a lot because there’s no way to ever repay this. The rest of the story about the housing thing is that after we found out that we were pregnant, then staying in the RV long term became less of a desirable situation and we had moved – since moved back to our property a month and a half afterwards because my husband and I are a bit of a hermit and we just kind of – we needed our own space, as much as we love our friends, but, yeah. We needed to be home and we had heard about Mennonites coming to town. A lady we had run into in Bastrop had said that they had built her a house and they were looking for families and so we went and we talked to them and we will be moving into our new house nearly completed, but completed enough to move into, this weekend.
KUT News: This weekend?
Jessup: This weekend, hopefully, so long as the subcontractors get done what they need to do.
KUT News: Wow.
Jessup: But the receiving part, I was talking to one of the Mennonites who had been down there for like a month or more and told him how hard it was for us and he told me that it was really our job to allow them to help us. I never thought of it that way before. You know, if you grew up hearing it’s better than to give, well who do you give to if no one will take it? So that was – that’s an interesting concept that I just had never – had never crossed my mind. Not to say I’m happy about it because I’m grateful beyond comprehension, but will never forget it. I will always – we will always work to pay it forward.
KUT News: You said the Mennonites came to town. Where did they come from?
Jessup: They are from all over North America. It’s with the Christian Aid Ministries and Mennonite and Amish and they go to disaster areas around the country, around the world, I think and they build people houses. It’s not like these are free houses. We pay materials. We pay the subs regular rates, but they do most of the construction labor. So we’re getting the house for about half the cost of a traditional similar house being built and – which is – which is nice because they wanted people that, I think, if I misquote them, I do apologize, but they didn’t want people that didn’t have any money and they didn’t want people that could afford to do it all on their own. So it was those of us who get left out frequently, the middle people, that they were helping which was nice. It’s still a lot that they’re doing, but then we’re very invested in the project too and we did a lot of the labor. My husband has done a tremendous amount from putting the foundation in to insulation, to electrical. I mean, trying to lessen their load of what they have to do for us.
KUT News: How many Mennonites were working with you?
Jessup: I have no idea. They came and they went. They started, I think in February, and they finished this week – finished what they were doing. We still have to put doorknobs in and finish painting and stuff that we can do, though. So, again, it’s not 100% done, but it’s move-in-able.
KUT News: And so you got to design exactly what you wanted?
Jessup: No. They gave us floor plans to pick from, either the three bedroom floor plan or the four bedroom.
KUT News: This is what they knew how to do.
Jessup: Right and, you know, you could adjust it to – a little bit and I did. I’m pretty sure a man designed this floor plan because there weren’t enough closets. It’s still, you know, it’s not my dream house, but it’s better than anything I’ve ever had before. It’s new. The Mennonites do excellent work. It’s – it’s lovely.
KUT News: So will they be there for like a ceremony? Have they moved on?
Jessup: They – they are out of town. They are going back to their regular lives. I have heard they may be back in the area in the fall and hopefully we will be able to help out a little bit more with other builds, but that might, I don’t know…
KUT News: Were you able to say good-bye to them? How does that work?
Jessup: There’s one guy who runs the whole operation down here and he’s, I think, still here, but then the guys that are like team leaders, I don’t know if that’s what they call them, they’re here for at least a month at a time, so I got to know a couple of those guys a little bit and then everyone else is here for a week at a time and they come and they do what they know how to do. Like if they’re good at framing then they frame. If they’re good at putting in cabinets, they put in kitchen cabinets and then they leave. So, it’s a really good – it’s a good thing. There’s a lot of people doing instead of seeing.
KUT News: So how many homes have they rebuilt would you say?
Jessup: Fourteen or fifteen right now and they’re coming back this fall.
KUT News: Do you have acreage?
Jessup: We have three acres. We live on the front one and a half.
KUT News: How’d your trees do on your acreage?
Jessup: Out of the – I don’t know. The front acre and a half, we took out 140-150 trees. I think we have six pine trees left. The oaks did better. They were much more adaptive to the intensity of the fire. We had two cottonwoods that didn’t have a mark on them and they’re dead. Don’t know why. Some of the pine trees, though, with a little bit of luck, they seem to be okay for now, but summer’s coming and, you know, we don’t know. We have pine bark beetle and that was present before the fire and it’s going to be even more so subsequent to the fire and it just adds another stress to already stressed trees.
KUT News: Well, don’t you think the beetle got burned to a crisp or not?
Jessup: Oh, I’m sure the trees that burned, the beetles happily went up with them, but there’s a lot of areas still outside the burn zone where the beetles still are and they have happy feeding grounds.
KUT News: Because they will. They will go to stressed trees.
Jessup: Yeah, they do.
KUT News: So what else would you like to tell us about your experience, your personal account.
Jessup: I’d like to tell you about how I told my daughter.
KUT News: Thank you.
Jessup: Because there – I think it was the plumber asked me about when she found out about it and I never realized how – how hard that was to tell her until I started crying with the plumber. You know, she’s only three and she knew there was something a-typical about staying at her aunt’s house. She had been having a really hard time going to sleep when we had first evacuated there and my husband was sleeping on the couch and my daughter and I would sleep on the futon on the guest room. I say sleep, because I only slept maybe an hour or two a night for those first weeks, but getting her to go down was just really, really hard. She kept – she cried for a long time and she hadn’t cried going to sleep for, I don’t know, a year. She knew something was different because, you know, we had the dogs and Mama and Papa were upset and there was this obvious stress in the house and she kept asking to go home and I kept telling her, you know, “We can’t go home. We’ll go home later.”
And that worked for a while and then she started asking why we couldn’t go home and I would tell her that the house had an owie and we had to wait and see and she’s like, “Well, Papa can fix it with a hammer,” and you know, by that point, we had learned that the house was gone and, you know, “Papa can’t fix this owie.” Like Friday or Saturday morning, she wasn’t having anymore of the owie-house story and was just – she woke up and she was just very upset about it. She wanted to go home. She wanted to go home now and I – I tried the owie thing again and it didn’t work and by that point we had pictures of the house on the computer and so I took her over to the computer and I showed her pictures of the house as it – as it was now and I told her that the house was all gone, that the fire burned it and she had known what fire was because we had done campfires and roasted hotdogs and marshmallows before, so she knew what – that fire burned things, but she, of course, didn’t understand this fire. No one understands this fire.
She still wasn’t happy about it and we – we cried a lot and her sleeping didn’t – didn’t really get much better until we – I don’t even know when it got better, but we – she did not go with us on re-entry day. That was – that was a lot to take in for adults and there was no way, at that point, but she would ask to see pictures and then we would talk about it. I showed her her tricycle that was burned and she still thought we could fix it which, I guess, we kind of have now, but then we were talking about, you know, alternative housing other than staying with my fabulous family and we starting looking at RV pictures and I started hyping up how the how exciting it was because we found and RV that was two bedroom and she had her own little room with bunk beds in it and a little table and so we started getting excited about – about her new room and her new stuff and we made – tried to make it as happy and fun as – as possible, but she misses things. Like she has a very long list of things she knew she couldn’t have in the RV that she wanted to have in the giant house, an indoor kitchen, play kitchen, was one of them which someone graciously has donated already, a stick horse, her little rocking chair, you know, stuff that’s important to a three-year-old.
KUT News: Do you remember what she – what exactly you said when you told her and what she said?
Jessup: I know she asked a lot of questions about why and, you know, I had to compare it to the campfires that we had had and I told her things just happen. This isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s just a thing and you try to explain that to an adult and most people don’t get it and then trying to explain it to her. She cried. I cried. I think my sister-in-law was watching. I’m pretty sure she cried, too. It’s just not something that you want to tell a kid that your house is gone, but yet it happens to other families all the time. It’s just, you know, you kind of hope that they’re too young to remember or old enough to understand and she was in that unfortunate age of not getting it. Some of my first memories were when I was her age and I – it really upset me to think that the first things that she’s likely to remember are this. It’s not what I had planned.
KUT News: Is she excited about the…
Jessup: She’s very excited about the giant house.
KUT News: This weekend?
Jessup: She kind of knows it’s this weekend, but we call it the giant house because after they started construction, I told her we were getting a bigger house and she told me, “Mama, no. That’s not a big house. This is a big house,” the RV. I was like, “Well, the RV’s really small.” She’s like, “No, tiny house is the dollhouse.” Someone had given her a little wooden dollhouse in her RV bedroom. “That’s a tiny house. This is the big house. The new house is a giant house.” So a little bit of perspective from a three-year-old mind and it is, it’s giant. I mean, it’s more than enough for a family of soon to be four. Yeah, but she’s really excited about her room. It’s of course, pink, and she already has toys in there that she wants to go play with even though it’s not live-in-able yet and she is excited to be able to jump up and down on the floor without making the house shake because when you jump in the RV, it moves.
KUT News: What will you do with the RV?
Jessup: Sell it. Make it go away. It was a good temporary situation, but it’s difficult being pregnant in it. It’s just, you know, there’s not any privacy. The bathroom is three feet from the dining room table and five feet from the kitchen. It’s – it’s definitely workable. I’m in no way complaining about it because again I have lived where that was a luxury item on the grand scale, but it’s going to be nice to spread out and get my sewing machine out again and get settled in in time for the next major life change.
KUT News: That will be so wonderful.
Jessup: It’s going to be something. We’re – we’re very excited about the baby, but…
KUT News: Talk about new growth.
Jessup: Talk about a whole lot of change in one year. It’s – it’s just a lot. I’m kind of fearful. My due date is August 29, which is five days before the fire anniversary. I’m probably having a C-section, a repeat C, so it will be earlier than that, but still those post-partum hormones make – make you a little crazy on a good day and then having that anniversary so soon after – after having a baby, I’m kind of scared of how hard that’s going to be, but I’ll get through it. It’s all just part of the year.
KUT News: So how’s your husband doing?
Jessup: He’s really stressed out, but he has a lot on his plate at work and then he’s trying to take care of us and then I’ve had some very minor, but – issues with the pregnancy to where I’m just – I’m really anemic and I’m really tired, so I haven’t been able to help out like with painting as much as I would like and did with our – when I was pregnant with Rosie, I painted the entire house that I lived in and I haven’t been able to do that this time. That’s all getting better and hopefully his – his work load is lessening. At least the semester is almost over and so he’ll get a break from the kids for a month, which is good. Give us some time to catch our breath.
KUT News: How about your neighbors? Are they…
Jessup: The neighbor that stayed and then found the cat, they had some damage on one side of their house that they’ve since had fixed. Our one next door neighbor, she was renting it out to friends of hers and that house is completely destroyed and I think she’s still not sure what she’s going to do. She didn’t live there so I don’t – I don’t know what – I don’t know. And then the other neighbors at the very end of the dead in road, they had not cleared any trees, shrubs, anything flammable away from their house. We had. We had tried to prepare for the worst case. They hadn’t done anything and they lost a couple outbuildings, but their house survived. So, that house is still there, but they’ve also lost a lot of trees, but we’re on the very northern edge of the burn zone. It’s on the northwest. I mean, it goes further north, but as far as, you know, another half mile further north and they’re okay.
So we have more trees surviving then like a mile or further in. Down where the fire started, it – there are very few trees left alive. You know, I think a lot of people had – I know I had – had come into spring hoping that things would green up and it wouldn’t look quite as bad as it had all winter and to a certain degree in some areas, that’s true. I other areas, it looks just as bad as before and now it’s worse because, you know, there’s nothing coming back. So…
KUT News: How you lived in the county for a long time? You had only moved to this land three years ago.
Jessup: Three years ago, yeah. We had lived in Alabama for a couple of years where my daughter was born and before that we lived in College Station where we went to grad school. So we came back for my husband’s job at the University and wanted to live where there are trees. We liked the trees in Alabama, so this is – this was the tree area and now we have a few left.
KUT News: And you decided to stay.
Jessup: You know, had the Mennonites not come, I – I don’t know what we would have done. We were facing a decision, but we didn’t – we didn’t have any notion of what it might be at that point. We didn’t want to get sucked back into another mortgage and now we’re mortgage-free so that’s a little silver lining out of all of this. I don’t have any idea what we would have done. We wouldn’t have stayed in the RV for – for very much longer because again with the baby and it’s just not a long term housing option for a family of four. So, I don’t know. I did get stuff out and I feel fortunate and, you know, we know people that weren’t even home over that weekend and lost everything.
We know people that had moment’s notice to escape. I’ve heard of people having to be rescued. We were lucky out of everything and we’re trying to take this as a – it’s a bad thing, but you can turn any bad thing into a good – somewhat good experience and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re mortgage-free, we are – we have gotten rid of all of our extra junk and so we’re not planning on restocking the house full of stuff that we don’t need. It’s kind of like the chance to start over. Not the way I would suggest it to anyone else, but, you know, it works.
KUT News: Is there anything else you’d like to add, Jeannie?
Jessup: Just that we’re grateful to everyone that contributed, to the people that cared, even if they couldn’t do anything. It’s – people have little – little disasters all the time, houses burning down and small tornados and I grew up in the land of the tornado. I always thought it was going to be a tornado that got me and not a wildfire, but it’s a different situation being in the – in a disaster that’s talked about on the news in Japan and a little bit humbling – okay, a whole lot humbling. It’s just weird. It’s just really weird to know – to talk to people you don’t know and they know about your life-changing moment. It’s just bizarre and I think – my husband was asking me like why I was wanting to do this interview and my Great Gram’s cookbook, you know, my Great Gram and I were very close before she died when I was 16 and that cookbook kind of connects me to her life before I knew her. She – that cookbook was put together right before the Spanish Influenza. You know, it was written in 1917. Influenza was in 1981 (sic). It’s kind of a little snapshot into that time and I – maybe someday my great grandkids will get to listen to this.
KUT News: Well, Jeannie, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your story.
Jessup: Thank you.