Smithwick woman finds healing as she rebuilds home destroyed in fire


SMITHWICK — Marcia Blayney holds up a piece of glass about as big around as a quarter. Colors of red, blue and a dash of yellow swirl together, forming a collage. She rolls it over in her hand.

“I used to have all this stained glass in the house, and, during the fire, a lot of it just melted together,” she said. “And I still find pieces like this around in the dirt.”

Blayney, 64, stands beside what is becoming the foundation of her new home. She lost her previous home Oct. 28, 2012, in a fire.

She spent 30 years building that house, adding on and crafting it into her home. Now, Blayney, with the help of her son, Billy Brakhage, is starting over.

“This is just home,” she said. “I couldn’t leave.”

Her son nodded.

“She never wavered,” he added. “I think the defining moment was when her one cat came back. From that point, this was where she wanted to stay.”

Just over a year ago, a fire destroyed her house in the 300 block of Helen’s Road, where she lived for more than 30 years. Over that time, Blayney raised her two children, Billy and Arwen Blayney-Lietz. But the house was more than a simple structure; in many ways, it reflected her own personality.

And losing it was tough.

“I definitely struggled,” Blayney said.

But with Thanksgiving Day approaching, she said she’s also thankful for the chance to start over on the same piece of land that has become part of her.

The process hasn’t been easy. The fire destroyed her house and killed several pets and nearby trees, including two of three pine trees her daughter planted many years ago. As she walks around where her original house sat, she still can point out charred parts of the land and rocks.

“I think the site needed healing,” Blayney said. “I needed healing.”

After the fire, Blayney moved into a small recreational vehicle on her land. With no insurance, she was limited to what she could do on the property. But after research and advice, she learned about some innovative home-building techniques. Blayney and her son are rebuilding her home using E-Z Hogan framework and Mason Greenstar Blox.

The E-Z Hogan frame is an octagon structure on which Blayney then builds up with the Greenstar Blox (they’re manufactured in Mason).

Blayney and her son have laid out the foundation and set up a few of the E-Z Hogan pieces. Eventually, she’ll stack the blocks along the framework to create interior and exterior walls with a highly-rated insulation value. Plus, the blocks are fire and termite resistant and can withstand extremely high winds.

But that’s only part of the rebuilding process. The biggest comes from within Blayney.

Since the fire, Blayney has combed over the land. She found pieces of stained glass melted together, a mass of buttons similarly bound and many other things. Blayney even found her father’s wedding ring.

“It’s really very healing to me to be working the site and actively working in the dirt,” she said. “I was really excited to find these pieces of stained glass, colored glass, from the house. These are a part of me.”

She collects the pieces of stained glass in a large bowl with plans of someday creating a mosaic — a piece of the old house going into the new.

While construction is well under way, Blayney doesn’t know when she’ll be able to move into her new home. She hopes to have it completed in the next year.

“I’m old and slow,” Blayney said with a laugh. “Billy has been so helpful. He’s been great.”

As they work, the two also craft pieces of art from rocks they’ve collected on the property over the years. They’re building a wall next to the future home made up of a mosaic of local rocks, each adding a little of its own personality to the final structure, much like Blayney does to her home, both past and future.

Her son pointed out the base of the foundation.

“She did that,” he said, pointing at the rocks that make up a pattern around the base. “She did that on her own.”

Blayney shrugged. She didn’t want a plain concrete finish at the base of her home, which most people just accept. No, Blayney wanted something different, so she tucked hundreds of rocks of various sizes into the form before her son poured the concrete. Now, instead of a simple cement face, Blayney has a piece of art.

And she collected all the rocks herself on her property. Every piece, a part of her.

Blayney walks around to the only surviving pine tree, which towers 30 feet above the ground. Even though it managed to survive the fire, it bears tremendous scars on one side. She looks up at it and talks about how, years ago, the top was destroyed but another branch shot up to replace it. It even bent over to center above the trunk.

“Nature’s resilient,” she said. “I guess we are, too. It’s amazing. Poof, in an instant you lose everything. It’s a tremendous time of learning, time of acceptance and healing. All of it together.”