Sheila Travers said it's taken her a while, but she has finally reconciled with God and was able to give him thanks yesterday for her health and the well-being of her two children.
The day after Thanksgiving last year, she insisted God was pitiless and brutal -- allowing sinners to prosper while striking down five of her dearest loved ones in a single disastrous evening.
The 30-year-old mother of five had spent a pleasant holiday at her mother's house in West Baltimore.
And just after she had gotten the leftovers put away and the kids to sleep, a fire tore through the upstairs bedrooms and smothered the life out of her mother, youngest sister and three of her children.
"There were times that I was mad at God," said Ms. Travers, who lives in the 200 block of Aisquith Street. "I thought it was cruel that my mother and children had to pass, and the drug dealers are out here every day doing what they want."
Fire officials said last year's murderous blaze started in the wires of a malfunctioning television set in a back bedroom of the modest row house in the 1700 block of Presbury Street.
As smoke and flames blocked the stairwell, Ms. Travers screamed out the second-floor windows for help. But her panicked children refused to jump into neighbors' arms.
Ms. Travers' sister, Michelle "Patsy" Travers, 27, attempted to douse the fire with water from the bathtub but was overcome by smoke. She collapsed and died.
Others killed were Ms. Travers' daughter Teresa, 14; her daughter Angela, 10; her son Christopher, 11; and her mother, Dorothy Travers, 56.
"I just loved them," Ms. Travers said about her lost relatives, an intensely close-knit clan who spent almost every weekend together. "I loved them and cared about them. And if they ever had a problem, I wanted to help them."
Since the tragic fire, Ms. Travers said she has tried to fill her days byvolunteering at the elementary school in her neighborhood.
She works six to seven hours each day keeping order in the cafeteria during lunch or copying documents in the school office.
Sitting at home can be miserable because the ruckus of five children has been dramatically reduced, and reminders of her dead relatives -- toy stuffed animals and photos -- fill the living room.
"My mother and I loved stuffed animals, and she really loved the California Raisins," said Ms. Travers, proudly showing two of her mother's dolls that she had taken out of the fire-ravaged house. "Sometimes Ithink I should move -- maybe it would be easier to live somewhere else."
But getting through Thanksgiving would be Ms. Travers' toughest endurance test.
She heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes at the thought of trying to fake smiles as she spent the day with other relatives.
She knew her mind would keep wandering back to the Thanksgivings when she and her children would sit around her mother's dining room table, laden with a feast of turkey, ham, collard greens and sweet potatoes.
They wouldn't do much of anything -- just sit around gossiping, watching wrestling matches and enjoying each other's company.
"We were thankful just to be together," she said, tears filling her eyes. "And it's going to be tough to celebrate Thanksgiving, but now I'm thankful that they are at peace and at rest."