DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
GRANITE SHOALS — As Jennifer Hart sifted through the remains of her Granite Shoals home Jan. 30, a few days after a fire ravaged it, she picked up a charred toy. It was a top.
“Hey, look. I found Mom’s top,” she said, holding it up for several friends and her brother to see. Then, she pressed down on the spindle coming out of the top of the toy. It spun. “And it works. It hasn’t worked for years. It’s amazing. It took a fire to get it to work again.”
She shook her head a bit in disbelief then carefully set the top on the remains of her home’s fireplace and went back to the reality of cleaning and sorting through what little was left of her house and belongings. Hart recovered a part of a Bible, an old tool her husband had built and some other things.
But somewhere among all the dirt, mud and burned materials, Hart hoped she would find the ashes of her late husband, Mike McMahan. He died in July 2013. The two of them had worked side by side to transform an old garage and a shop on Jefferson Street in Granite Shoals into their home.
“I’m glad he wasn’t here to see this,” Hart said as she put something else down on the fireplace. She pointed at the stone base of the fireplace. “That’s the first thing we built together.”
On Jan. 28, a fire destroyed Hart’s home. She believes the fire started near her fireplace, but the cause remains under investigation. Hart escaped the blaze, but she lost her dog in the fire along with almost all of her possessions.
“She lost everything,” said her brother, Leonard Szalkowski. “This is her home.”
Szalkowski and several of Hart’s friends were out with her during the week, cleaning up the site and salvaging what they could. Hart said she plans to rebuild at the same location; she’s not sure how, but that’s her plan.
“This is my home,” Hart said.
With no insurance, Hart faces a tough challenge. But friends and her employer, Pat Heinecke, are trying to help her.
“She’s been with me for years,” said Heinecke, owner of the Farmhouse Restaurant, 8037 RR 1431 in Granite Shoals. “I’m going to help her out the best I can.”
Heinecke set up an account at Security Bank and Trust to which people can donate to help Hart. She said people just need to go into one of the Security Bank and Trust locations and ask to donate to the Jennifer Hart Benefit Fund.
She also plans to set up donation jars at the restaurant and her other business, El Rio Food and Fuel, 14757 RR 1431 in Kingsland. Other locations that might set up donation jars include the Jet Stop, 7000 RR 1431 in Granite Shoals.
“That fire left her with nothing,” Heinecke said. “Can you imagine? I think the community will help out once they hear about it and know there’s a way they can.”
Back at her home site, Hart appreciates the help. She picks up a few more remnants near where her husband’s ashes were sitting before the fire then looks around at the rest of the damage. Her brother and several friends are clearing the metal roofing materials, loading them up on a trailer.
“Well, I guess I better do this later,” Hart said. “I need to get back to helping clean this up.”
And with that, Hart heads back to a pile of burned metal and materials to load up in the back of her small Ford pickup. Despite the fire, Hart beats on.
Those wishing to offer financial help to Jennifer Hart may donate to the Jennifer Hart Benefit Fund at any Security Bank and Trust location in the Highland Lakes; at her place of work, the Farmhouse Restaurant, 8037 RR 1431 in Granite Shoals; or El Rio Food and Fuel, 14757 RR 1431 in Kingsland. Other area locations also will be setting up donation jars.