David Lauderdale

Fire can't snuff out young spirit to see good in bad situations

Brianna Ennis
Brianna Ennis Submitted

Brianna Ennis is a case study in attitude.

At 21, life just dealt her another unfair blow. The condominium she and two sorority sisters leased at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach burned to cinders in the twinkling of an eye on March 16. A stiff wind on a dry evening turned a brush fire into a torch that leveled 109 units in 26 buildings in about 30 minutes. Police and residents of Windsor Green in Carolina Forest banged on doors, and everyone ran into chaos. No one was injured, but 190 people lost their homes.

Brianna was at home on Hilton Head Island for the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the gathering her mother, Jeanne Cullinane, always hosts afterward. She was celebrating her 21st birthday with older sister Maggie and one of her roommates when the text messages started flowing about the fire.

All Brianna had with her was a couple of changes of clothes and a pair of flip-flops.

After closing down things in Myrtle Beach, she'll move this weekend back to the place where she was born and raised.

Her dad, Jeff Ennis, moved to the island in 1989 to be a chef at the Hyatt, and then Lowrey Group restaurants. He inspired Brianna's love of cooking fine meals. But when Brianna was a 14-year-old freshman at Hilton Head Island High, he died unexpectedly at age 50.

Then in her senior year, her mother battled breast cancer with chemotherapy and four operations.

Now comes a fire that took personal things, like four journals she'd kept since ninth grade -- mostly poetry. She lost pictures and mementos from a mission trip to Africa with St. Luke's Church.

"Unfortunately, she's had a lot in her little life," said her mother, who runs the office at FWA Group architects and waits tables three nights a week at Le Bistro Mediterranean restaurant. "People think, 'She's a kid, she'll be fine.' But I worry."

Brianna has a lot of support at home. Like her sister and now her younger brother, she started working at age 14 at Gene and David Martin's Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza. A picture of Brianna hangs by the deli counter, and when people ask David Martin if that's his daughter, he says, "Well, kind of."

She also worked at the Frosty Frog in Coligny Plaza, and will be waiting tables there again next week. She has support from the St. Francis Catholic School, which she attended until high school; and her church, Holy Family Catholic; and the St. Luke's youth group. In Myrtle Beach, she has been supported by the American Red Cross, and many more.

"You go on," Brianna said, "and you have a positive attitude. You see the positive in every situation. That's the only way you get through it. Right now, we've been thinking about how many people have helped us since the fire."

And then, she said, you give back to others.

She hopes to return to Africa to help poor children in Cape Town.

Her healing began when she dug into her purse and found a favorite ring she thought had been burned. Her mother gave it to her for Christmas. It's engraved with "Hakuna Matata" from her favorite movie, "The Lion King." It means "no worries for the rest of your days."