January 03, 2007
The New House That Love Built
Almost a year after a Valentine's Day explosion in Greenport left their home destroyed, Lorraine Kreahling and Ronald K. Fried have embarked upon a new beginning.
Ground has been broken and work has begun on the couple's new home, built in the same location at 157 Central Avenue where their former house stood until a gas explosion last February left the structure leveled.
In the weeks after the explosion, said Kreahling, the couple received many phone calls, e-mails and notes from people in the community, some strangers or only distant friends, offering a place to stay and help in time of crisis.
Now, as Dennis McMahon supervises rebuilding, Kreahling said the couple feels lucky. "The talent of this incredible community is coming together to make something new and beautiful. And that the house is rising from the community's collective energy and talent makes it even more special."
Fried agreed. "I've been joking that the reaction of Greenporters to the destruction of our home has made It's A Wonderful Life look like an Antonioni-like meditation on the alienation and despair of modern life."
With their new home framed and sheathed, the couple hopes to move in sometime between Easter and Memorial Day.
But the road hasn't always been smooth. There have been moments when what was lost loomed large. This Christmas, said Kreahling, "I had my first real near-tearful pang, remembering how each Christmas season since we'd bought the house 10 years ago, I'd made a wreath for the red wooden front door from evergreens and the clippings from the holly bushes in the front yard."
Kreahling also mourned a needlepoint Noel banner made by her mother who died in 2001, lost in the blaze. Also gone were antique Christmas ornaments, tools, baking equipment and her grandmother's silver, all imbued with sentimental value. "It's the things that have soul, which can't be purchased, that you miss."
That sentiment, she said, was true of the house, as well. Having stood in the same spot since before the Civil War, the home was steeped in history. "That the floorboards we walked on were from trees that were more than 100 years old, and had been in place for nearly 200 years, and that the foundation was made from ship's ballast, likely from Europe — these things can't be replaced."
The emotional journey has taught lasting lessons. "You really learn what is important is love," said Kreahling. The human love of objects and possessions pales in the light of realization, she said. "One minute I was standing in my dining room. The next second, the floor had exploded up from under me and all the walls were gone. And I called Ron's name, and he answered. You realize everything you love can be taken away from you in the snap of fingers, and then you realize it hasn't been, and you return to that sense of gratefulness again and again, when things get really tough."
Another lucky survivor of the fire, said Kreahling, was a "much beloved" cat, Speckles, who belongs to her neighbors, the Allens and "was visiting at the time."
In designing their new home, the couple is working with architect and neighbor Frank Uellendahl; from the outside, their new home will look almost exactly like the original. One of the original sidelights with blown glass was thrown free of the wreckage and was rescued; it has been incorporated into the architect's plans.
On the inside, said Fried, there will be differences. "We didn't want to feel like the movie makers who made a fetish out of re-creating the Titanic. We wanted to move things around on the inside. Otherwise it might have felt like living in Disneyland re-creation of our past: We did not want the kitsch version of our former home."
As each day brings the pair closer to returning to their Greenport abode, Kreahling reflects on how a community transformed tragedy into triumph: "Things are never as bad as they seem if you have friends. Hope often seems elusive, but hang on. Love finds a way."
To those who opened their hearts, Fried said, "Our message is simple: Thank you. We could not ask for better neighbors."