Our family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern, generous food and practical donations, helping hands, temporary sheltering and monetary gifts. We feel very blessed to live on the North Fork where community values are apparent every day.
While people view our home with eyes filling with tears and faces of horror, we view it differently. We have our small family, are healthy and are able-bodied. We are fortunate that this occurred while our oldest daughter, Jyl (24) was visiting us from Costa Rica, where she is completing her master’s in translation. Ironically, she woke up that morning while in Brooklyn with a nightmare that I had phone her that our house was on fire. Little did we know that I would be phoning her with that message. We were en route to pick her and her boyfriend up from the train station when our youngest daughter, Briana (20) phoned us frantically that the living room had erupted into flames. We immediately phoned a friend to pick Jyl up and bring her to our house where the family witnessed our home completely engulfed in flames. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I can find humor in most situations. Gary and I wanted to downsize our possessions to lessen the burden on our children when we retire. So this was just a little sooner than we were planning. It is my feeling that we all enter this world with nothing and when we depart it, our worldly possessions are left behind. We are just renters on this Earth. We are very thankful for family and friends. Two possessions that we lost — which are priceless — are two of our three cats.
At this time, I would like to let everyone know we are extremely grateful and humbled by everyone’s words, actions and assistance. A very special thank you is given to Katie Blasl and Denise Civilletti for immediately assisting us with support. Caitlin Padeletti has been extremely helpful in taking charge in handling communication for me that I haven’t had the time or means of getting delivered. A very special thank you to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter for his immediate assistance. When he heard that my husband and I were choosing to sleep in our garage since our home wasn’t boarded up, he provided us with a police officer to watch over our area and keep us safe. Officer Sean Evans has stopped in numerous times at various times of the day to offer support , which was declined. The Response Team of Riverhead, Jamesport, Mattituck and Flanders Fire Departments, the Riverhead EMTs and the Riverhead Police were professional and demonstrated proficient skills and, later, genuine concern for us. I cannot tell you the number of times over the past few days either a firefighter or police officer has dropped in on their own time with concern for us. I request that everyone consider sending your local volunteer fire department or EMT a donation, even if it is only one dollar. You would be surprised how it will add up and help these volunteers get some new equipment that might help you or your neighbor in need. Also, the Wine Country Party Rentals showed up and offered a large tent to use for storing items for showing our insurance agency, which we weren’t even thinking about.
I would like to share one very special donation that brought me to tears. A Mattituck fireman stopped by inquiring on our needs the day after the fire. I told him we were doing good and thank you for helping out. He handed me a tote bag that was dropped off for us. Inside it were some very considerate toiletries to cheer us up along with a much-needed phone charger since mine was melted. I opened up an envelope, and some gift certificates that were won at a raffle were also included. A young girl working on her Girl Scout Gold Award named Aydan Ackermann wrote us a very thoughtful letter of concern. As a Shoreham Home & Careers teacher, I instruct my students on the importance of community service and random acts of kindness. The value of helping their community is very important to me. This girl took time to think truly about what was needed. She also included a second note with a self-addressed stamped envelope for me to let her know our opinion of the contents and what should be changed. I plan to include the impact of her gift on us as a perfect example of community service in my classroom.
Our home is an original farmhouse that is estimated to be around 130 years old, and we purchased it in 1986 for our third wedding anniversary. It became a labor of love, and it will continue to be one … Our architect was given a budget of $50,000 for our home renovation to extend the kitchen to make a family room and add the addition of our master bedroom. While I was marveling our renovation plans, Gary was listening to the estimate of $150,000, which we couldn’t afford. After looking at new homes, we decided to hire Mike Romeo as our builder. Mike permitted us to reduce our costs by letting us remove the work debris each evening and permitted my handy husband to work with them and perform some of the tasks. Neighbors were guessing what we were doing as sections of the house were being completed over five years. I wouldn’t permit us to use credit as we had a mortgage. Children were put on hold until I finally had a completed kitchen. We lived without a kitchen for two years, and naive me thought the open back stairs that were raw wood were to be my real staircase. Today, young couples expect their new home immediately. As the wife, my high heels were set aside as I scraped the paint off the barns and repainted them since we couldn’t afford to pay someone. Gary wouldn’t hear of my bird-brained ideas that I didn’t want red barns but blue ones. He came home from work one day to discover one barn side hidden from the road painted blue. Surprise! He liked it. So readers, as you can see, we have perseverance and excellent work ethics. This setback will make our family stronger and remind us what is important in life.
In closing, many people are curious where we are staying and what we will do. The generosity of our neighbors has permitted us to stay close to our home. We will be renting a trailer. Our house will be rebuilt as soon as feasible. Our family is looking at the burning of our beautiful home as a blessing, so no more tears needed for us. It has given us the opportunity to develop strong bonds with our lovely neighbors that might not have been fostered. I am known to help out others and balance work with family and provide the attention to our flower gardens. I am far too concerned with keeping a clean house and cooking “home-cooked meals” rather than taking time to “socialize with thy neighbor.” Gary and I have commented on how we should have spent more time with our neighbors rather than a wave and a chat. I recommend that each reader take the time to get to know one of your neighbors. You are living on a street with some truly beautiful people. Our warmest gratitude to all and blessings being sent from the entire Ristau family to each of you reading my probably too-long letter.