Nine months later, the nightmares continue for Angie Lowery and her 18-year-old son, Ryan Moore.
How could they not? One minute last March they were sitting down to a lovely dinner of pork tenderloin, rice pilaf and fried okra in the family's Middle Valley home, the sun brightly shining outside, a perfect early spring evening nicely wrapping up the first day of Moore's spring break.
The next minute? In Lowery's haunting words: "A storm came up out of nowhere. A lightning bolt struck. I thought it hit the back yard, but then I saw flames overlapping near the bay window. I yelled at Ryan to get out. In 15 minutes we lost everything. The only thing left standing was the mailbox."
Everything. Furniture. Clothes. Electronics. Jewelry. Books. Nearly 30 years worth of collectible Hallmark Christmas ornaments. And photographs. Most of all, worst of all, the photographs, the visual history of her life and the lives of her two sons: Ryan and 21-year-old Austin, who had been taking a class for his mechanical engineering major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when the fire broke out.
"Ryan and I do lawn-care work," Austin recalled. "When I got home he was so proud that he'd been able to save my $600 backpack blower from the garage on his way out of the house. He thought I'd bust his (behind) if he didn't save it.
"I was like, 'I don't care about that.' I just wanted to make sure everyone was OK."
Physically, everyone was OK — even the family Labrador, Bella. And because Ryan had parked his Jeep that afternoon in a way that blocked Angie from parking her Volkswagen in the garage, her car also was spared.
But one final thing that wasn't saved was all the University of Tennessee sports memorabilia that Angie and the boys had collected over the years. Pictures of Peyton Manning, some of them signed from his last home game as a Vol, and a Peyton bobblehead from one of his two Super Bowl wins. There was also a basketball signed by the late Lady Vols coaching legend Pat Summitt.
Lastly, there were the photographs upon photographs of UT football coaching legend Phillip Fulmer, who has just returned to Rocky Top as athletic director.
"My parents (Jim and Nancy Crane) have only been to one Tennessee football game ever, and it was Coach Fulmer's last game," Angie said. "I took this picture of my boys with my dad and Coach Fulmer. Coach is hugging the boys, and you can see a tear running down my dad's cheek and one running down Coach Fulmer's as well. I loved that photo, and now it's gone forever."
For the past few years, Lowery has worked as a nurse for Chattanooga dermatologist Dr. Rodney Susong, who was an undergrad at UT when Fulmer was a player at the dawn of the 1970s. As soon as he learned of the extent of their loss, he bought the family a new iPad and some mattresses. And knowing how much they all loved the Vols, he wrote a letter to Fulmer, telling him about the lost souvenirs. He also contacted Alan Pressley, who so often has reached out to those in need with his signature shadow boxes.
Learning that Fulmer was scheduled to speak at Red Bank Baptist Church this past summer, Pressley called the church's Deejay Haas to see if it might be possible for Angie, her parents and her sons to meet briefly with Fulmer. The church and Fulmer obliged, and the scars from the fire began to heal.
"Without Haas, none of this happens," Pressley said this week.
So much has happened so fast for Lowery since March 21, the day of the fire. Thanks to her homeowners insurance, Mathews Construction built a striking new craftsman style home on the same property as her old house in the Huntington Valley subdivision. In August she married her boyfriend of several years, Brian Lowery. Near the bottom of the rubble in her bedroom, she found her Bibles, barely damaged.
Nearly as surprising, inside a metal jewelry box that had become so hot during the blaze that all its other contents had melted, she found a pair of amethyst earrings given to her in 2015 by Brian's mother before she died.
"Everything else was ruined, but those earrings were in perfect shape," she said.
Then came Tuesday morning inside a conference room at Susong's office. Thanks to Pressley, Susong and Fulmer, Pressley was able to present the boys with framed and autographed pictures of Fulmer, as well as souvenir Tennessee footballs signed by the new UT AD.
"Your heart just goes out to them for all they've been through," Fulmer said last week. "I was able to meet with them for a few minutes last summer — such a wonderful family — and while no one can replace what they lost, whenever we can we try to help out in situations like that."
Said Angie of Fulmer: "I'm so happy he's the AD. They couldn't have picked a finer man."
Added Susong of the gifts: "If we can get Peyton to sign a couple of things, too, it will all be perfect."
Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. Though her new house arguably is superior to the one she lost, there were emotional attachments to that home that Lowery may never feel again.
"I was a homemaker for 18 years," she said. "When I got divorced in 2010, I set out to re-invent myself. I lived in nine different places between my divorce and the time I bought that house in January of 2016. I worked so hard for that house while I was studying to become a nurse. Then it was gone a little more than a year later."
Christmas also will be different if for no other reason than she used to put up a tree in every room.
"We'll have one tree this year," Angie said.
Yet she is also overwhelmingly grateful for the care, concern and kindnesses shown her by Susong and his staff, as well as Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.
"I don't even go to church there, and from the beginning they couldn't do enough to help," she said. "They've just been amazing. I'm so blessed."
Amazing is sometimes what you learn about through tragedy and adversity.
Though understandably thrilled with the UT replacement memorabilia, Angie's son Austin views such collectibles quite differently today.
"I could have lost one, maybe two, family members in that fire," he said. "All this (memorabilia) is great, but nothing compares to having my family safe."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org