Before my boss left for vacation a couple of weeks ago, she left a book on my desk with a note that we should talk about it when she came back. The book was "The Burning House: What Would You Take?" by Foster Huntington (It Books, $16.99), and I've been talking about it ever since.
Huntington explains in the introduction that the idea for the book came during a dinner party when people started talking about wildfires and having to evacuate. The discussion turned to what people would save in those few minutes they had before fleeing the flames.
Swift action required
The concept is certainly a familiar one to Bay Area residents who faced that same daunting task in the Oakland hills fire, and if we were truthful with ourselves, most of us would admit to having at least a fleeting thought about what we would grab should fire or earthquake dare to intrude upon the safety bubble we inhabit.
Huntington collected lists from people of all ages from all over the world and all walks of life, then photographed their assembled treasures.
Some of the items are practical -- computers, smartphones, clothes, sensible shoes. Some are valuable -- money, jewelry, rare books. Many are silly and sentimental -- stuffed animals, a green belt "that goes well with everything," a childhood blanket -- making them, of course, the most valuable and, in the eyes of their owners, quite practical.
We're hoping to expand Huntington's discussion by asking readers to submit their own lists. The premise is deceptively simple: Fire is moving toward your house, and emergency officials have given you 15 minutes to save what you can before evacuating. What would you take?
I've been trying to answer that question ever since I opened the book. Two things are for certain -- my sister (she'll be happy I put her first) and my dog. After that it gets harder.
The personal stuff
I'd probably spend a little time gathering personal documents. My birth certificate and passport are good choices. But there are so many other "things," such as my collection of lighthouses, nesting dolls, thimbles and my embarrassingly large assortment of Martha Stewart paper punches.
Those are all things that could be replaced, and besides, I'd never get them into the car in time.
So instead, along with some clothes and documents, I would take these things: An aubergine leather jacket I purchased in Florence, the dozen or so scrapbooks I've completed, an external hard drive that has all of my photos stored on it, a Civil War widow's pension document that started me on my family tree quest, a kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing Santa my mother gave me, a loving cup my father won before I was even born and an old Associated Press wire machine. A mix of practical and sentimental, and all things that have particular meaning to me.
The rest? Well, I've been meaning to downsize.
Tell us what you'd take. Email me at email@example.com.
Reach Joan Morris at 925-977-8479.