John Bailey: My name is John Bailey and I am a retired Navy Master Chief, originally from Monroe, Louisiana and I’ve traveled around for many years, lived in many, many different cities and finally ended up in Bastrop for 11 years, where my house burned down. It burned down September 4 and I stayed in a motel there for three days and decided well, I wasn’t going to stay in the Bastrop area. I have an affinity for the Northeast up here. So, I got in my car and I drove up to Marshal and Longview and came over and stayed in a motel in Longview and I had been there for a few days, which looking around, I wanted to find myself, you know, I don’t have a lot of time at 74 years old to fool around is what it amounts to. So, I said if I’m going to get set up again, I gotta get set up again, regardless of what further happens or what the government does or anything else, I’ve got to get a place to live. I have never been one to be put down and just set to be put down. I don’t let nature stop me; I don’t let man stop me.
So, I came up, I started looking around and then I had to go back down to Bastrop because they said that FEMA was down there interviewing people for certain reasons and they had disappointed me very badly while I was there and so I got my business done, I collected a little check from the insurance company, they were very nice, my insurance company just paid my house off and paid me off like the instant that I asked them. Then I came back North. Then I went back to that motel.
The next morning after I got back, I started looking around for a piece of land and/or I wanted a manufactured home because I lived in a manufactured home and, as a matter of fact, the one you’re sitting in right now is just a little bit bigger than the one I had. So, as I looked around and looked through Craigslist and so forth and so on for land, I happened to talk to a guy over in Tyler at the Oak Ridge place and he says, well I know a piece of land you might interested in. He said, I don’t know what it is or anything, I guess, but he gave me a listing on it; it’s a real estate agent named Clint Norville over here in <inaudible 4:24> now and he brought me out here.
There was a man had this for sale, it’s two acres and it sold for $4,500 and property around here is going from anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 an acre. There was a lady with me, as a matter of fact, who said if you don’t buy it, I will. So, I snatched it up, I looked around just another day or two, I found the design at Palm Harbor Village, very unique sales lady there; I mean purely Texas girl, you know, and she told her boss there, his name is Joe Pudwell, she said this man lost his house; everything burned, do you understand, everything is gone. She said now we have to help him immediately, so he come in and sit down and immediately started working with me and found me a real good loan on the place and they just bent over backwards.
I picked out the house that I wanted; I redesigned some of it and we ordered it. Then, it was a matter of me staying in a motel for two months and so I stayed in the motel, got this little one down here in Hawkins, which is, I don’t even know how old it is but it’s neat and it’s clean and I stayed there. Meanwhile, I bought things and bought things and I had my trunk full of just about everything you could use in a house, you know, just buying and buying and buying. Then, one night, I decided, well, I had to call FEMA several times to see where, because they kept calling me.
FEMA will immediately call you just to talk to you and ask you about things and it was getting rather annoying, because I was saying well I’ve got this problem, you don’t seem to be helping me because I seem to be doing things on my own and so forth, so why should I keep giving you information and messing with you. This one fellow said well you just got to be patient and worked a little bit with us. So, I was and then I called up one night and I was just ready to tell him, I don’t want to do this anymore and the lady says well, your case is a supervisor’s office being looked to for a grant. She said because, frankly, you need the grant and I said, I do and she says Mr. Bailey, you know, you’ve been telling us what you’ve been doing and she said we like it. She said there is so many people out there that won’t even try to help themselves, but, according to your records here, you’ve already got land, you’ve already got a house going in, you’ve got, she says, and you just need things to just kind of help you push along.
So, the next thing I know there was some money in my bank account, and I loved it. As a result, I got here and it took me three months from the time my house burned down to move in here, set up a three bedroom, two bath house, completely furnish it, completely decorate around, as you see outside, put in big, big drive-thru carport and shed and all that stuff and other things like that and, next thing you know, I was sitting down as comfortable as I was in Bastrop.
KUT News: That’s fantastic. And you still have your dog?
Bailey: I still have Amigo. He’s three and a half and he is one of the best dogs I’ve ever had in my life, little 11 pound combination Chihuahua and Maltese and the friendliest little guy in the world, as you can tell.
KUT News: How long had you been living in Bastrop before this?
Bailey: 11 years. Yeah, I was well established there.
KUT News: What was it like to live through the fire and lose all that?
Bailey: Well, it’s an immediate kind of a shock, like all things are where you reject it. You know, at first, my first inclination was it’s not happening, when it passes my house will still be standing. But, as I told you, I’ve traveled all over the world. I spent 21 years in the Navy, retired from there as a Master Chief. I’ve gone into businesses, I’ve built three businesses and made a lot of money at them, lost a couple of them, you know, and so forth. So, you get used to that type of thing, but the major thing you get out of this loss is I’ll be sitting here at times and it’s annoying more than anything at let’s say I need a pair of pliers. You got no pliers because they all melted and you say I gotta go buy pliers, you know. Or suddenly, you remember pictures.
I’m not a picture person, never have been, you know, I’ve got a little camera I hadn’t taken a picture with, you know, since I’ve been here hardly. But, all the sudden I will remember sometime well I don’t even have a picture of my wife, you know, I was married to her for 20 years, the finest woman that ever walked the face of this earth as far as I’m concerned and I don’t have a picture of her. So, it’s the little things that suddenly you remember, well, I had that, you know. That print over on the wall there of the Indian lady, Sharon and I bought one of those back in 1977, a numbered print and I had it all those years; it burned. So, one of the first things I did was locate that and buy it, because I wanted that in my house. But, that’s what you do, you sit and you just think constantly, you know, well I had one of those and I had a lot of things, I did, I had way too much. As a matter of fact, a cute little story was two weeks before that fire, I was doing something and I started looking around in my house and I said where did all of this stuff come from? I just accumulated, I got to get rid of some of this and I found out how to get rid of it.
KUT News: And what year did you move to Bastrop?
Bailey: I moved to Bastrop in 2001. I was the manager of a technical writing department in a Motorola company called Metro Works and I left there after being there for a short period of time and said well, I’m just going to retire. I’m not going to fool with this anymore and so I retired and put my house in Bastrop and that’s where I lived for 11 years.
KUT News: Were you there when the fire broke out or where you –
Bailey: No, I was in Austin. I’ll say coming back from Austin. I got a phone call from my neighbor that told me that they were being evacuated and stuff and they asked me, because they had a key to my house, they said is Amigo in the house and I said yeah and they said we’ll get him and take him. So, they did that and that’s why I’ve got him.
KUT News: Not many other things you managed to bring with you, I guess, as we heard. You’ve got your car.
Bailey: I had my clothes, my car and my dog, not near enough clothes, right? So, I had to buy immediately, you know, toothbrush, toothpaste, stuff, and I all of a sudden thought, well I had been on a trip in May and I come back, I had gone to Washington, D.C., and I said I put some clothes in the cleaners down here in Bastrop. Then, I said, no they get rid of them after about 30 days because I forgot them. But, I went in there anyway and I told the young lady that, you know, I said I put clothes in here in May and she said probably. And I said, well, it’s been a long time, this is September. She said Mr. Bailey, you’ve done that before, we’ve got your clothes. So, I had four pairs of dress slacks and some long sleeve shirts and that helped out.
KUT News: I’m sure.
Bailey: And the people, when I was at the motel, they were different groups, some from churches, others just that brought clothes over there, nice clothes. Food every afternoon, there was a little church group that would knock on my door at the motel and say would you like a hamburger or a hot dog, you know, and I got wise one day and I said no, I want a steak sandwich and the guy said a steak sandwich and I said that’s right, you know, hamburgers get boring. And he says, you know, I have one, he said I’ll be back in a minute and he brought me a steak sandwich.
KUT News: I guess you deserved it after going through all that. You mentioned that you were frustrated with FEMA, at least initially.
Bailey: When you first talk to FEMA, there is just so many of them and you talk to someone, you know, for instance, I had been told that there were going to be certain types of grants or loans or something. So, when I first went down from Longview to Bastrop, I drove down there five hours, and went in and met the people and I waited for about an hour to get to talk to a representative and I sat down and they started interviewing me and I said look, I’m not going to be kidding you. I said, I’m a very pragmatic person. And I said, we’re all here for one thing and that’s to see what kind of help you’re going to give us. He looked at me in shock, like, what are you talking about. I says mister, if you wouldn’t going to give out things, you wouldn’t be here and he acted like he had no knowledge of that.
So, then as he looked at my situation, he said well I don’t think we can help you because you had insurance and this and that, so I don’t think we’re going to do any good at all. I walked out from him to a place that, as I later found out was run by the state, where they were giving some money for gasoline and stuff like that and they said no we can’t help and I said then what did I drive all the way down here for. I had given them all my information, including my phone and what have you and then I got back to Longview and two days later, my phone rang and this later introduces herself and said she was from FEMA. I said, well why are you calling? She says well we want to know some more about your situation and so forth.
Then, the next night, I think it was a man called me and the problem with FEMA and I’ve told them this and they know it, you never talk to the same person twice. So, you wonder what do they know, you know, and do I have to repeat all this 30 times. Over the period of the next month, month and a half, I bet you I talked to those people at least 18 times, just different ones. And it did, it got annoying because I kept saying well, they already told me that there was nothing here to help, now I’ve got better things to think about. I can’t be worried about this and that’s why I was tending to get upset with them and, like I said, finally, they did, they gave me a grant, which was nice.
I called them back two days after seeing that in my bank account, the lady got on the phone and I said, now I want you to listen very carefully to me. I said because I want you to put in your computer record the only thing I have to say to FEMA and she says what’s that? I said, thank you. She said what? I said thank you. She said I can’t recall anybody ever saying that. And she said that’s all you have to say? I said ma’am, that’s the only thing I know that will cover it and I hung up.
KUT News: That’s a great story. And you also said that someone mentioned that you moved on all this faster than anyone they had ever seen either.
Bailey: FEMA, yeah, there was one fellow in FEMA that called me. He said, I’m looking through this and we’re keeping records of people and how they are starting over. He said, let me tell you, he said most people don’t do anything. He said they just sit around and it’s kind of like waiting, is somebody going to do it for me. He said, but I understand you’ve already bought a piece of land, that you’ve already started putting a house there and I said the house is there. When I talked to him, I said I’m in it right now and he says how did you do it so fast? I says I’m a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and the one thing we were known for is getting things done and I said so I get things done.
I always had a reputation for that and I’m proud of it and I was taught, the lady at Palm Harbor told me later, she says we have never put up a house so fast and had someone move it; she said Mr. Bailey, you’re a relentless man. She said you will not take no for an answer on anything. So, I got in here fast; as a matter of fact, those people were at Palm Harbor were so nice to me. You see this very unique dining set here? I saw this in one of the houses and I wanted to buy it and he said he would check and see if they could sell it to me at a reasonable rate and all like this and he come back later and he says, John, he says, I talked to the manager, the big wigs up here at Palm Harbor and stuff and we decided you been through so much and so forth, that’s our gift to you. You know, it’s very unique this wagon wheel design and everything and I love it.
KUT News: I like it a lot, yeah, nice dark wood.
Bailey: That stuff is so heavy, you almost have to have two people pick it up. So, uh, but that’s how nice they were and any and every other thing that I’ve had any kind of problem or anything, they’ve tried to help. You know, just like I did when I bought my house from Blue Bonnet many years ago, I’ve become very good friends with the general manager, I’ve become very good friends with Joe Pudwell and Jill McBride, the lady there, since then; just stopped by the other day to see them, as a matter of fact.
KUT News: That’s fantastic. Do you still have friends in Bastrop? You know, people you are staying in touch with?
Bailey: No, the only friend I had in Bastrop at the time that was a close friend and so forth has since, he was a divorced man and he remarried a lady and he lives in Katy, Texas now. Matter of fact, he was the one that was the general manager of Blue Bonnet Homes sitting there. He’s in the fence business now. He lost his house. He lost everything.
KUT News: So, do you ever find any call to go back there; any interest in going back or is it just –
Bailey: Not really. That’s behind me, you know, I showed you my motto and it’s behind me. You know, it‘s like, I guess you develop that when you’re in the military. That when you leave one place and go to another, you know, they always say the best base I have served at was the one I just left and the one I’m going to. You know, so you leave one base and leave all these friends that you’ve made for three or four years, acquaintances and all of this type thing; you pretty well <inaudible 21:01> boy I’m not going to lose those friends and stuff, but you do. You get away from them, you know, I’ve got, as a retired guy right now, I’ve got about five, out of 21 years of service, I’ve got five close friends I call every now and then and so, it’s just something I have that you get into, you don’t look back all that time. You don’t have time for that. I look forward. I’ve taken, since I moved in here, I’ve taken three major trips, I guess you might call them, went back to Tennessee and Smoky Mountains, Washington D.C., that area and went on a cruise, so I’ve been busy.
KUT News: That’s fantastic. How does it feel to be here? I mean, a sense of accomplishment looking out your window –
Bailey: Oh, I love it. I love this place. It’s out here where, you know, my grandson Copper, when he got here the first night he says, look at the sky, he said all the stars you can see, you know, he was just amazed here and he said the air is so fresh and clean, you know. As a matter of fact, he has trouble sleeping at home and he told me, he says, he’s 14 and he said that he wakes up a lot at home in the middle of the night and stuff. I said, well you’ll rest nice here and he said nah, you’ll hear me wondering around. He was in bed for ten and a half hours sound asleep. When he woke up, the first thing he said was Grandpa, you’ve got the best pillows in the world. But, this is, no, this is great living right here; great living, just out here in the woods, I’ve got a boat now, a pickup truck to pull it and all these lakes around me and a lot of fish and friends, I’ve got a lot of friends here. The people here are just super, they are easy to make friends with. But, yeah, I like this very much and I got a lady across the street, a 96 year old black lady by the name Ms. McKella. She is the niece of the famous Aunt Jemima of the pancake world. As a matter of fact, we just put up a Texas memorial to her a couple weekends ago. But, she is a real sweetheart of a lady; we have a community meeting here, you passed a little community house coming here. We have a community meeting there every third Thursday; we’ve got a great community right here.
KUT News: Maybe I’ll ask you to repeat what you said before about living, about being close to the woods again, because, yeah, I guess that’s what drew you to Bastrop, as well, was the proximity to –
Bailey: Yeah, yeah, as a matter of fact, when I made up my mind I was going to retired, one weekend, I said well I’m going to go up to Northeast Texas; didn’t want to live in Louisiana because they’ve got a lot of, you know, Texas has a lot of political problems, over there they’ve got more taxes, they’ve got this and that and I don’t like it. But, I like this part of Texas. I had lived in Longview for a year back in 1983. So, I said I’m going to go up to Longview and see what I can find up there or Marshal or, you know, the area. So I started out and I drove through Elgin and I said wait a minute, now I’ve never seen Elgin. I said, really I’ve gone in and out of it some, so I drove around for about a half hour and I said well I don’t really like this and as I drove out I saw a sign that said Bastrop and I said now I hadn’t really looked at Bastrop either and I got to looking at the trees, at the Lob Lolly Pines and so forth.
As I drove over the 17 miles to Bastrop, I said this is pretty, this is nice. I looked at a certain area, I drove around a little more and I ended up at Blue Bonnet Homes and that’s where I met Robert Stevenson and another guy named Robert Clark. We talked some and Stevenson told me about where he lived and he said they’ve got property for sale out there. So, he told me where it was at and I drove out there and I drove by and I spied this one little place that looked like a half acre for sale or something and I got information on it and found out that they were trying to get some money because the lady that owned it was in a nursing home and her family needed money. So, I bought that half acre of land and that’s how I ended up there, because it looked like this, you know. The only difference I see here, where I live here as opposed to down there is it’s cooler here. By that, I mean, not necessarily the temperature, but the intensity of the sun. I’m very susceptible at my age to being out in the sun and just, you know, my body retaining heat and stuff. I don’t have as much problem here as I did down there.
KUT News: Do you think that area could ever recover?
Bailey: Sure. I imagine it has re-seeded itself already. They are re-seeding it, Robert keeps me, and oh thank God, I sold him my piece of land for just a song; I didn’t, you know, get any money out of it; enough to pay the taxes on it is what it amount to. And he’s already resold it and some women, three women I guess it is, have already moved in and put a place on it and he said they are going to build a 12-foot fence around it for some reason. I said the association won’t let them do that. It’s been there for, who knows how long those trees have been there and if you’re like me, if you watched a few years now, I had a fire on my property right before I moved in. Some people were doing some very ridiculous things and a young man started a fire and walked off. So, I got a call and I went out there and the Bastrop volunteers were already out there and they put that fire out really quick, but it had burned all the undergrowth around my piece of property, which really, you know, was kind of nice. But I watched and within two years I began to see all kinds of little Pine seedlings growing.
I mean, so many I had to pull up a bunch of them in my yard because I said I can’t let that many grow and I watched them over the years grow from nothing in the ground to 20-feet high and that’s what will happen after this fire. But, as I understand, the government’s out there and the other people are planting things. I guess the only bad thing that I saw happen down there that really made me mad and it has to do with the government, of course, you know, I mean we’ve got way too much government in this world, was when it came time to pay property taxes and I said wait a minute, there’s nothing there, you want me to pay the same property tax as when I had a house and a shop and so forth on there. And they said, well we estimate the values and so at the first of the year and that’s what it holds to and that’s the way it is. And I said, but, it was a woman, I said but ma’am, the house burned down. Nobody can live there. Now, myself, I’m not hurt real bad by it, I had some money in the bank, I got the insurance and so forth, but there’s a lot of people out there, like my neighbors were, that were living paycheck to paycheck and a low paycheck at that. And now they are telling them we want you to pay property taxes on a certain evaluation when now it’s not worth anything. And I think that’s a crying shame. I don’t believe in that.
KUT News: Before, you showed me your little motto there after the fire.
Bailey: That’s a little clock, actually, that I saw in Palm Harbor that the sales lady Jill McBride had. You can program it for the day, date and messages and after the fire, I heard this little saying and I said that applies to a lot of things that has happened in the past. So I programmed it to say “shit happens, live with it.” I believe very strongly in that, just live with it and go on with your life. If you do that, you’ll be a happy person. I have it sitting here all the time and everybody that comes in gets the biggest, they will sit here some time for 15 to 20 and all of the sudden they’ll look and say you see what that clock says. I get a kick out of it, I really do. But, yeah, I like it.
KUT News: Did you lose any of your mementos from your years of service in the Navy?
Bailey: Lost all of them, lost all of them, yeah. I had a few ribbons and so forth from Vietnam and had medals and lost all those. I guess the biggest thing, I was an air crew member for many, many, many years and I had gold air wings, the old gold, actual gold air wings and I lost those and that hurts your feelings, you know. You don’t think that those things are going to make you think that much about it, but I did. So, like I said, you sit here and all the sudden you’ll think, like, I was a pool player, I don’t anymore, I’ve got a little too old, I was the oldest pool player in the American Pool Players Association in the Bastrop area and I had a very nice pool stick that I loved; it’s gone. Just ask me, it’s gone. And so, at times, you think, oh man, I liked that. Things of that nature and, like I said, in my shop I had tools, tool and more, I had tools going back to 1960 and they all melted, you know.
Bailey: Did you ever see them? Did you ever go back and see the damage firsthand?
KUT News: The funny part, no, when I stopped by there, the one day I stopped by, I had someone with me and I walked up to where my house was and there was a pile of ashes about two, two and a half foot deep that framed the same footprint as the house and it was a manufactured home so it had steel under it and that was all melted down like slag, now you could see that. I found a part of one ceiling fan, a half of a ceiling fan motor and I just looked, I turned around and I said okay, let’s go and she says, this is a lady I had known for 53 years from over in Monroe and she had come over to try to give me moral support and help. I said let’s go and she said well aren’t you going to look for anything? And I said why it’s all gone. There is no time to sit here and cry about anything. I said let’s go back to Longview and that’s what I did and I’ve never seen it since. I’m not going to cry about losing anything either, you know, I’ve lost things before like that so you have to start over.
You just have to sit and start yourself and then you have to put it in your mind that I’m going to get this done and I’m going to be comfortable again and I’m going to live a good life again. Well, I’ve gotten comfortable and I’m here, I’ve got my grandson here right now, this is the only time in his life and my life that we’ve been together; this is the first time, he’s been here three weeks. We’re having a great time together, just doing all kinds of things, so my life is good.
KUT News: How do you go about, when you lost everything in the fire, how do you go about, like, choosing what to fill your house with. You moved up here and you set up the land, you set up the house and you had this space you had to fill up and didn’t have anything to put in it.
Bailey: Well, I sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper and I said what do I need in the house, my needs. You know, I used to teach junior achievement and my big thing in teaching junior achievement was teaching kids in the eighth grade there is a difference between needs and wants. So, the first thing I did was say what are my needs? You know, I have to have a fork, knife, pots, pans and so forth. And I listed all that stuff and I just started listing and it grew and it grew and then I categorized everything and then I started going out to, you know, Target, Sears, all the big stores and things and just buying these things, you know. As far as furniture, I was lucky, I went into Longview and a small furniture shop there run by a young man and a young woman who were really nice and everything that you see here they had in the way of furniture in that place. I spotted those reclining sofa things and I like those. I sat down in them and I said I want two of them, you know, one for me and one for guests. You know, different things like that and I wanted that desk, you know, like that. But they had it all and the bedroom set, everything, it was real easy for that. But I just sat down and wrote down what do I need? What do I want?
KUT News: Do you think other people have, have you been able to, I don’t know, help other people out who were trying to rebuild or do you think other people had more trouble then you because I’ve talked to other people and it seems like they haven’t had the same ability to -
Bailey: I have had several people call me for advice on certain things and so forth because I have, also, a law background and I graduated law school in San Diego, California 30 years ago, 40 years ago, excuse me. So, they know me and I am very proud to say they respect my judgment on certain things so some of the people who were my neighbors have called me up and asked me about certain things, you know, that were bothering them and wanting to know what direction to go in and so forth. So, I tried to there but, obviously, I live five hours from where they’re at so I can’t be too much.
KUT News: What do you tell them?
Bailey: Well, one young man called me and he and his wife, for instance, were having a particular problem after losing this, the trauma had got to them and I got them both on extension because their primary problem was they had allowed the loss of physical things to overcome the love in their marriage, just simply. It was bothering them, well I don’t have this and I, you know, and that’s wrong. You’ve got the most important thing because I happen to know the two are crazy about each other and they’ve got children together. So, you know, my major advice to them, and that’s all it was, just talk, but was go get a room to live in. It doesn’t make any difference. Get in the trucking business, live in the back of a truck or something. Just be together, that’s it and I did get another phone call from them about a month later and they said, you know, things are much better and that made me very proud and very happy. So, yeah it’s little things like that.