For 82-year-old Mamie Parker, the old, wood-frame farmhouse held nearly a century's worth of memories. But a raging fire destroyed it all in less than an hour.
All that's left now is a charred shell of the eight-room house in Queenstown. Its contents -- furniture, clothing, dishes, appliances -- have been reduced to a black, mangled heap scattered across the first floor. The second floor is gone.
"It's awful," said Mrs. Parker, sitting on a bench outside, surveying the damage of last month's fire. "I tried to get back in to get some things, but couldn't. Everything was destroyed."
Many of Mrs. Parker's belongings can never be replaced -- her wedding photos, the family's antiques and china that belonged to her deceased husband's mother.
But two local men, who work with Mrs. Parker's daughter at the Glen Burnie Post Office, hope to replace what they can and rebuild some sort of home for the octogenarian before winter sets in.
"The first priority is to get a roof over her head," said Richard Thompson, who has worked with Mrs. Parker's daughter, Lavinia Smith, for more than 12 years. "Then we'll contact furniture companies, appliance companies -- we'll take whatever we can get."
Mrs. Parker, who lived with her 15-year-old grandson in the house, gets by on social security benefits and had no fire insurance. Fire officials estimated damage to the house and its contents at about $75,000, but family members think the loss is even greater.
"She had a lot of antiques and loads and loads of books," said Mrs. Smith, who lives nearby in Queenstown. "Some of them were real old. They're irreplaceable."
Mr. Thompson and some post office co-workers initially tried to raise money for the family. But when the effort wasn't as successful as they had hoped, Mr. Thompson decided to make rebuilding Mrs. Parker's home a personal mission.
"Things are tight. People couldn't afford much," he said. "So I thought, what about doing a modern-day barn raising? People used to do things like this all the time."
After establishing a trust fund for cash donations last week, Mr. Thompson has started contacting local businesses to see what they can donate in materials or labor. A Vietnam veteran, Mr. Thompson also contacted officials at nearby Fort Meade to see if they can help with razing what's left of the old house and clearing away the debris.
He has been joined in his efforts by colleague Joe Sutherland, who has worked with Mrs. Smith for 21 years.
"We just want to do what we can to help another human being," he said. "Your home is your castle. And to the elderly, it's their life."
The fire started when one of Mrs. Parker's grandsons stopped by the morning of June 24. He started a fire in an old wood-burning stove on the front porch to take the chill off the house, then went around back to collect more firewood.
When he returned, the front porch was consumed in flames. Mrs. Parker and her 15-year-old grandson, who were sleeping inside, escaped without injury but were unable to save any personal possessions.
The fire department arrived quickly, Mrs. Smith said, but the fire had already spread throughout the house. "It went up very quickly," she said.
Three-quarters of the house was ablaze when firefighters arrived, fire department spokesman Capt. Gary Sheckells said.
Mrs. Parker and her grandson have lived with relatives since the fire. But Mrs. Parker hopes for nothing more than to return to her own home on the 4 1/2 acres she loves to walk several times a day.
"I hope every day that I can come home. I have nowhere to stroll now," she said. "I'm living all cooped up."
Mr. Thompson said his plans for rebuilding the Parker home, which had been in the family since 1901, are modest.
"It could be a small rancher, with two bedrooms for her and her grandson," he said. "It doesn't have to be fancy. We just want to get something up.
"You know, you read a lot of bad stuff about people in the newspapers, about the bad things people do," he said. "But I believe most people are basically good people with big hearts. I have confidence in my fellow man that when someone's in
trouble, they will help out."
Donations can be made to: Mrs. Mamie Parker, c/o The Bank of Glen Burnie, P.O. Box 70, Glen Burnie, Md. 21060. Individuals interested in donating building materials, furniture and housewares, or their time can call Mr. Thompson at 551-7239 or )) Mr. Sutherland at 255-5210.