Out of the ashes, Fort Mill woman finds support

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comDecember 14, 2013 

  • How to help

    To help Elizabeth Mauck, contact Pastor Gene Flack at 803-545-6111 or Glenrock Baptist Church at 803-547-6420.

— The urn carrying the remains of Elizabeth Mauck’s late husband once stood among antique dolls, an old-fashioned fireplace and memorabilia that made her home a “clean clutter house.”

The angel statue memorializing her son –“born dead,” she said – sat near the side door of her front porch.

Mauck, 66, stationed throughout the house a rocking chair, dining table and other furniture she says were in the White House when John Tyler and Zachary Taylor were U.S. presidents.

Six decades of memories – “treasures,” she calls them – are gone, consumed Nov. 30 in a fire that swept through her Fort Mill home at 123 Fox Run Drive, near Springfield Parkway.

All that remains is just a shell of a former two-story, 12-room house that included a dining room and sun room decorated with African art and carved masks. Blackened ashes and a pile of charred bricks are heaped where Mauck’s porch and front living room once stood buttressed by white columns and elaborate brickwork. She’s even missing two kittens firefighters told her ran out the house during the fire.

The inferno started with a pile of ashes Mauck threw out her back door. Since 1999, she’s lived without heat or air conditioning. To stay warm in the cold months, she relied on a fireplace. At about 3 p.m. Nov. 30, she scooped ashes into a box and tossed them in her backyard. Like always, she sifted through the ashes, mixing them with coal, to ensure that none were still warm. None felt hot.

“But, there was a little breeze that day,” she said.

And, plenty of leaves on the ground. The ashes reignited and sparked a fire that burned her storage building. From there, the flames traveled to her minivan before moving to her house. The flames gutted the home, starting at the back of the house and moving to the front, Mauck said.

She watched it all burn.

Forty-five firefighters from four different fire departments responded, using four water pumps to douse the flames, said Flint Hill Fire Department Chief David Jennings. Crews from the Flint Hill, Pleasant Valley, Fort Mill and Riverview fire departments battled the blaze until almost 10 p.m.

The house, Jennings said, was a total loss, with the blaze causing up to $200,000 in damage. Damage to the car and storage building is more than $75,000. The house itself, property records show, was worth $98,000.

Mauck has no insurance. After Nov. 30, all she has to her name is the food stamp card she stashed in her pocket earlier in the day when she went out to buy groceries.

“I can’t get my mind around it,” Mauck said about losing her home. In her mind, “I still see the house as it was. I didn’t think I’d ever be homeless.”

‘What a church should do’

Gene Flack, pastor of Fort Mill’s Glenrock Baptist Church, got the call about Mauck’s home burning that afternoon. He drove to her home, about 4 miles from the church, and stood with her, neighbors and other church members as firefighters extinguished the flames.

“Since then, we’ve been helping her,” he said. “Our folks have embraced her. She’s not alone. We’re only doing what a church should do.”

The American Red Cross put her up in a motel for a few days. When that ended, members of Glenrock Baptist collected money to help pay for her stay in Knollwood apartments on Archie Street in Fort Mill. They’ve also helped pay for her clothes, toiletries and other necessities.

“I don’t know if anybody could imagine” what she’s endured, he said.

But, church members did get a “taste of it” five years ago when Glenrock burned, Flack said. They raised money and worked to erect a new building.

“It’s always refreshing to watch people come together … to love people who need support,” Flack said. “We are all part of the same family.”

Earlier this month, he joined her as she examined the wreckage of her home. He pointed out a still-intact angel statue, tucked behind a section of bricked foundation. A friend of Mauck’s bought that for her after her “second” son was “born dead.” Her first husband did not want to bury the child. A statue in his memory would have to do.

‘Wednesday’s child’

A stillborn son was just one episode in what Mauck called her “soap opera life.”

Her other son is serving time in a Virginia prison. He’s been in and out of the system since he was 10, she said.

Until the fire, she and her younger daughter had been estranged for five years. That same daughter and her husband have already purchased a new car for Mauck from a dealership in Roanoke, Va.

Mauck said she’s been widowed and married three times.

She moved to Fort Mill from Virginia in 1987 to help care for her bedridden mother. While looking for a home, she found her “dream house,” one with white columns on the outside and gold trim on the kitchen walls. God sent her a vision of the house she would have, she said, and as she drove down Fox Run Drive, she saw the house with a red bow on top. Her mother closed on the house on her 40th birthday.

“It was a birthday gift,” she said in tears. “It was a birthday gift from my Heavenly Father through my earthly parents.”

By 1989, both of her parents were dead. After that, she went into “survival mode.” She held jobs at Wendy’s, Bojangles’ and Kmart. She worked at a post office and a day care. Over the years, she’s worked as a caregiver for the physically handicapped and mentally disabled. She’s been on various forms of public assistance – Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security.

In August 2010, she began attending Glenrock Baptist Church, where she met Elmer, her third husband. He was more than 20 years her senior and suffered from colon cancer. She became his caregiver, eventually moving in with him as he underwent a surgical procedure to remove the cancer. In that time, “we fell in love,” she said.

They married last Easter. He died of a massive stroke 12 days later. The only thing she has of his is a “fist-sized” urn filled with his ashes.

But, like the tangible memories of her childhood, parents and children, the urn, too, was lost in the fire.

“He’s in these ashes somewhere,” she said.

Born on a Wednesday, she said she lives up to the poem “Monday’s Child,” which predicts the fate of “Wednesday’s child.” In the third stanza, it reads: “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”

‘God is moving mightily’

It doesn’t take Mauck much to remind her of all she’s lost.

During a recent Bible study, she watched members of Glenrock Baptist prepare for the Christmas play. One of the props is a wooden spoon. Mauck told herself, “I have one that looks just like that.”

Then, she remembered. The memory, she said, hit her like a “tsunami of reality.”

“It literally takes the air out of me,” she said. “It literally takes the life out of me. I just wanted to come home. There’s no home to come back to anymore.”

The Sunday after the fire, Mauck went to bed crying and asking God “why, why, why?” She received her answer the next morning, she said, when “the Holy Spirit” told her: “I had to let it happen.”

Before the flames, she was “cozy” with her possessions. She admits that she lived in “clean clutter” and hoarded mementos.

“That helped to take it up” in flames, she said. “God is moving mightily. God is freeing me to do His work. I don’t know what it is yet.”

Now, she says she’ll never clutter her living space again. She won’t be getting a new house, either. It’s just apartments from now on.

“I will never get attached to things like I did,” she said. She’s learned “don’t let your possessions become your gods or your driving force.”

She said she wants to keep one of the many charred bricks in her yard to use as a reminder, and as a door stopper.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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