His parents’ bedroom set.
The headboard he and his dad built together when he graduated from college, when he needed furniture for his first apartment.
The rocking chair his mother bought around the time he was born — the chair that held her while she held him.
These are some of the things the fire took from him.
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Larry Mann built the house two decades ago on the side of a mountain, a piece of property he bought for a song because the sellers thought the land too steep to develop. He’d put in a large foundation and proved them wrong.
“It was literally built on a rock, so it was pretty solid,” Mann said Tuesday of the home he lost during the Gatlinburg, Tenn., wildfires, which, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, “culminated on Nov. 28 when hurricane-force winds sent unpredictable fires racing through” Sevier County.
Those fires have claimed 14 lives in that county, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. More than 1,700 buildings were damaged or destroyed. As of Monday, the fire in the Cobbly Nob community — where Mann’s house was — was only 53 percent contained.
His wife, Lucie, sat beside him on a red leather sectional in the bar area of their Hilton Head Island theater, Park Plaza Cinema, as customers bought tickets for an afternoon show. The couple talked about the things that couldn’t be replaced: pictures taken before the era of digital cameras; a guest book with friends’ and honeymooners’ entries — memories.
And they talked about how, for the second time in two months, they’d worried from afar as a natural disaster threatened their home.
When Hurricane Matthew menaced the Lowcountry in October, the Manns evacuated to Cobbly Nob. There they waited for news of their home and business. A friend sent them a picture of the front of their Hilton Head house the Monday after the hurricane. And they returned to the island days later to find their home and the cinema — and the new red recliners they’d purchased for it, delivered the day of the evacuation — unscathed.
Still, the storm affected their business. They saw fewer ticket sales during Thanksgiving, they said. They expect fewer visitors during Christmas. And they know that Gatlinburg, a town of around 4,000 people that’s heavily dependent on tourism, will feel the effects of fires.
The Manns rented their Gatlinburg home to vacationers, and they ferried friends up for weekend getaways.
“They flew us out in their plane,” Meredith Kronz said of a trip she and husband Greg — the Manns’ pastor at St. Luke’s Church — were invited on in 2008. “We could have never afforded something like that — a plane flight and a weekend at a mountain chalet. It just wasn’t in our budget.”
And the Manns would later offer their mountain home as a wedding gift to the Kronzes’ daughter, Bethany, who married a pastor.
A weekend at the Manns’ home — which Larry named “Los Altos,” after the California city he used to live in — was a regularly featured item at the annual St. Luke’s charity silent auction, with proceeds benefiting the church’s preschool. And the congregation’s men’s group would sometimes stay on the mountain, where they would fish, hold Bible studies and listen to Larry play guitar.
“They say if your foundation is built on a rock, it’s pretty solid,” Lucie Mann said. “I guess, in this case, nothing is for sure. Except our faith.”
The fire taught her what it is to lose a home, she said, and has given her the ability to empathize with others who’ve experienced such a loss. That empathy, she said, is “a gift.”
Larry, who said his company, Southern Heritage Homes, has built more than 150 homes on Hilton Head, doesn’t know if he’ll rebuild in Gatlinburg.
“‘Maybe we just live with the memories of it and move on,’” he said, recalling his thoughts when he learned last week the home had been destroyed.
He’s just not sure. The view is still there, but he worries it won’t be the same. And a new home would just be ... a building.
“Because you’re just building a box now,” he said. “As opposed to a place that had so much of your life in it.”
When the insurance company sent them photos of the devastation, one of the pictures showed a U.S. Postal Service “Sorry We Missed You!” package slip. The charred piece of paper had the home’s address — 719 Picadilly Lane — written on it.
That’s how officials verified the address, Larry said. The numbers on the house had melted. And while the wooden post the mailbox sat on was reduced to ash, the box itself — and the package slip Larry thinks was inside — survived.
The Manns haven’t been to Gatlinburg since the fire.
But they will go soon.
Larry hopes to find his grandmother’s iron.
It was an antique, the kind you had to heat in a fire.
The kind that might have been strong enough to survive this one.