After the Fire
Mother fights to keep her children’s lives normal
by Clay Neely
When Jennifer Caldwell prayed for a fresh start, she got more than she’d bargained for.
After separating from her husband of eight years, Caldwell had been struggling to make ends meet for her two sons, Tyler, 11, and Jack, 8. As a native of South Carolina, she had many of her friends suggest that moving back would be her best decision, but Caldwell disagreed.
“We had built a life for our boys in the Senoia area – they have roots here,” Caldwell said. “They play baseball here and this is their home. Their father is here and he isn't an every other weekend father. He's an everyday father who loves his boys more than life itself.”
The thought of moving the boys four hours away from such an involved father would have shattered the entire family.
“I am a fatherless daughter, so I know the importance of keeping that relationship,” Caldwell said. “I moved around a lot as a child, so I know what it's like being the new kid.”
Following a string of bad luck with a rental home that was damaged by ice in February, Caldwell had been struggling to keep the family together as the boys finished school.
Soon, after placing an ad online, Caldwell met Jennifer Ososky, who offered her a place to stay at her home in the Senoia area while she regrouped.
“I came across Jennifer's ad on a Monday and she emailed me the next morning. We talked on the phone several times before we went to meet her,” Caldwell said. “Me and the boys moved in that Saturday. It was Memorial Day weekend. I just knew it was going to be a fresh start for me and the boys – and for two-and-a-half weeks it was amazing.”
It appeared things were looking up for Caldwell, that is until the afternoon of June 11, when a fire broke out at the home of Ososky while she was at work.
“Her two children were inside taking a nap while I was doing laundry,” recalled Caldwell. “Tyler and Jack were watching TV. Suddenly, I heard the most blood curdling scream I had ever heard in my life.”
Her youngest son, Jack, came running from the garage, alerting his mom to the fire he had discovered. Tyler went to the bedroom to wake up Ososky’s two children, who were still napping.
Jennifer attempted to extinguish the fire using a garden hose from outside but found it insufficient.
“It seemed like a lifetime but the fire department finally showed up,” she said. “I know it probably wasn’t that long but when you are watching a fire consume a house, it feels like every second is magnified.”
According to Caldwell, it was her son Tyler who shined in the face of peril. As the children were placed in the backseat of a neighbor’s van, all were in tears except for him.
“You could tell he really wanted to cry, too. But he wanted to console the other children,” Caldwell said. “He kept telling them that it was all going to be alright and that they all had strong mothers."
“I almost cried right there.”
With all the children safe, including their basset hound, Fred, firefighters were able to put the fire under control within 15 minutes, but the garage and two vehicles were a total loss and the home suffered extensive damage.
Once again, Jennifer and her two sons found themselves without a place to stay.
“The fire took everything we had,” Caldwell said. “And when you don’t have much to begin with, you really notice what’s missing.”
The weekend following the fire, both Tyler and Jack had baseball tournaments scheduled, and Caldwell was determined to ensure that nothing could ruin an event that her sons had been so excited about.
“After the fire, all their baseball gear had been destroyed,” she recalled.
While their father bought them new gear, it was the act of the opposing team that was truly remarkable – Tyler was presented with a new hat, sunglasses and a glove. Following the game, Tyler personally thanked each player.
Ultimately, Jennifer and the boys moved to her mother’s home in Meansville to regroup temporarily. However, Caldwell soon found out her mother was planning on moving back to her hometown of Simpsonville, South Carolina.
Caldwell’s family and friends in South Carolina begged her to move back home.
“They said there were better employment opportunities and I would have a bigger support system,” Caldwell said. “I was an absolute mess trying to decide what to do.”
Luckily, Caldwell had emailed her resume to her mother prior to the fire, which had also consumed her computer. She’s struggling to find a job in the Senoia area, a goal made that more difficult to attain without a car.
Caldwell created a GoFundMe account in an attempt to kickstart the rebuilding process.
“Some people live their lives day to day – we are kind of living ours hour to hour,” Caldwell said.
However, Caldwell sticks by her decision to rebuild her life and ensure her boys continue to have a steady father figure in their lives.
“Many people have asked me if I took this fire as a sign to move back home to South Carolina, but what would that show my boys? That I'm scared? That it's OK to run away when the devil is knocking at your door?” Caldwell said. “No way. I have God on my side.”
Caldwell laughed that when she asked God for a fresh start, this wasn’t what she had in mind. Undeterred, she is determined to give her boys the life that she feels they deserve.
“We will continue to have faith and keep fighting to stay in Georgia,” Caldwell said. “This is where we call home.”
Visit http://www.gofundme.com/a97r34 to donate to Caldwell’s GoFundMe account.