Her apartment went up in flames two weeks ago, but the one item salvaged has helped renew Soncilrae Johnson's faith.
By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published September 6, 2003
[Times photo: Lara Cerri]
Consoled by her friend Bari Williams, Soncilrae Johnson clutches the wedding album rescued from a fire at her home.
You always hear people on the news saying, "I never thought it would happen to me." And that's what I thought, too. But then it happened.
I was driving home from work around 6 p.m. on Aug. 21. I had this terrible toothache and wanted to get some medicine for it. Then I saw all these firetrucks and I thought, "Oh my God, it must be my next-door neighbor's apartment." She has a newborn baby and that's the first thing I thought about.
But another neighbor stopped me and said it was my apartment that was on fire. And I just lost it. The fire was out when I got there, but the place was filled with smoke and everything was gone. I was like, "Oh no, all my things, my wedding dress, my wedding photo album."
My husband, Kelvin, was still at work so I knew he was safe. But all I could think about was my wedding album. We had some pictures in it of my my husband's grandmother. She was like a grandmother to me, too. She was an inspiration. She died soon after our wedding in 1998 and I couldn't bear the thought of losing those photos.
The firemen tried to calm me down, but I was crying, "My wedding album!" So all of a sudden, this one fireman got his flashlight and he went inside my apartment, even though you couldn't see anything with all the smoke. But somehow, he stumbled over the wedding album on the floor.
He brought it back outside to me and my godbrother, Bari Williams. I just couldn't believe it. I felt like my husband's grandmother was watching over us. Because I work two jobs - at Danka during the day and at Wal-Mart at night. If I hadn't gone home for the medicine, I'd have gone straight to my other job. And I think that album would have been ruined or lost forever by the time I would've got there.
I've had some tough times before. I had ovarian cancer six years ago, and I'm okay now. But this fire has done something to me. It's made me feel a understanding of what the people went through on Sept. 11. It's made me feel thankful to be alive and that nobody was hurt.
And it's been a learning process to get me closer to the Lord. From now on, I just never want to take anything for granted, because you never know what the next day will bring.
So many people have been good to me and my husband - the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, our church. This last weekend, we went to a cookout and some friends gave my husband some clothes and a $200 gift certificate.
I never really got to thank the fireman who went in and found my wedding album. He was a blessing. So whoever you are, thank you so, so much. You gave us something back that we could never replace.