When I was just three years old, with an 18-month-old sister, my parents fell asleep while smoking. A cigarette fell between the cushions in their bedroom and started a very smoky fire.
In the early morning hours of late summer, a gentleman was driving his daughter to her summer job when he saw the smoke billowing around the house. He stopped to see if anyone needed help and heard a child screaming. With no thought for his own safety, he broke into the house and battled the thick smoke – three times – before he was able to reach me and bring me out safely. He tried one more time to get to my younger sister, but the smoke was too much for him. Thankfully, the firemen arrived in time to get her out as well. Sadly, our parents did not survive.
Fast forward to 12 years ago, after my grandfather passed away, I found a file filled with newspaper clippings from the event and the weeks afterwards. The story of the fire, plus follow-ups including the source of the blaze and a story on the man who saved us. This story included a photo of him and his daughter who would have been about 17 years old at the time.
Through the articles, I learned that he had taught in a neighbouring school district, so I asked teacher friends if they knew him – or knew of him. But of course, more than 30 years had passed and nobody I spoke with knew who he was. Every a year or two, I would try something else to see if I could find him, without any luck.
After I joined Facebook, I also started following a group for people who had grown up in my city. The page shared lots of photos and memories of what our suburb looked like over the years as development increased. There were often informative and interesting conversations going on about the history and many of the people who grew up in the area. I noticed how many people would use this page to connect with long-lost friends from their school days and realized that this page could possibly help me find someone who had known this man, or possibly his daughter, since they either lived nearby, or she worked in the area back then.
So I scanned and posted the newspaper articles and asked the question: “Does anyone know or remember this father and daughter in these stories and articles?”
And I held my breath and waited.
But not nearly as long as I thought I would.
Not even 2 minutes later, the first response came: “That’s me.” And then right afterwards, she posted again, “Are you the little girl?” The response was from the daughter!
We took our conversation to private messages and I found out that her father had passed several years ago and that they had often spoken of that day and wondered about my sister and me – how we were, and what had happened to us. She no longer lived in the area, but was still connected – in particular thanks to social media.
But that wasn’t all. Throughout the morning, others were posting: people who remembered the story, former neighbours, who had really liked my parents and remembered how friendly and welcoming they were, people who had lived in the same place before and after us and recognized the house, firefighters who attended the scene – one who even quit the job after this event because the house’s floorplan was exactly the same as his and it hit too close to home for him – even the police officer who was at that time new on the job and had the unenviable task of making the sad notification to my grandparents, who now had lost both of their children to tragic circumstances.
When I first decided to post the articles, I had hoped to possibly find someone who had gone to school with the daughter, or perhaps worked with her. I never expected to find her so quickly and find some of the pieces to fill in my own history. And I certainly never believed there would be such a flood of responses and people sharing memories.
It’s access to people and stories like these that make me thankful for social media and the quick connections it can make.