Friends share spirit of season after fire

The Rev. Linda and Paul Burger’s Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments that friends provided after a 1992 fire destroyed their home.

Christmas was not on the minds of Linda and Paul Burger when they returned from Toledo, Ohio, one evening in April 1992.

Linda, a Presbyterian minister would become pastor of a church in the Ohio city within a week. The Burgers, tired from traveling, unpacked and went to bed.

That very night, a fire consumed their house in Emden, Ill, taking all of their Christmas decorations and everything else with it, Paul Burger says.

Ornaments in his family since before the Civil War were gone. Ornaments made by Linda or collected by the two of them over 32 years were gone. Ornaments they presented to their children to create memories to share with future generations were gone.

They didn't remember the ornaments as they completed the insurance forms, the two say. The focus was more on photographs, antique furniture and small heirlooms such as his father's lighter. But six months later, as their first holiday season at Fairgreen Presbyterian Church in Toledo rolled around, it hit them.

"That was when it dawned on us that we didn't have anything," says Linda, who with her husband has retired to Charleston and worships at St. Andrew's Presbyterian in West Ashley.

Christmas in their home would be different that year, Paul says. The inherited ornaments were the ones hardest to lose. As the Burgers mourned their loss, they resigned themselves to having a bare tree. But they carried on with another annual tradition.

The couple, like others who move a lot, produce an annual newsletter, updating friends on events in their lives over the past year, says Paul. As Linda wrote their "Burger Bugle" for 1992, they decided to issue a simple call for help from friends.

"If you have got an extra ornament around or you see something we might like, send it to us," Linda wrote. The response from old friends, students and acquaintances from Olean, N.Y., Cana, Galena and Springfield, Ill., and other towns and cities as well as their new congregation was fantastic.

"By the time Christmas Eve came, we had more ornaments than we could put on a tree," Linda Burger says. Some came from jewelry stores, others craft shops and still others were handmade by friends or former students.

There's the girl with the bell skirt from a woman named Bell in Toledo; the silver church ornament sent by the Herhilan family from Mount Clemens, Mich; 14 shell ornaments made by friend Janet in Atlantic Beach, Fla.; balls of beach sand from Sandy Mills in Grand Rapids, Ohio; and two ceramic angels that matched two kept by donor Dee Smale in Toledo.

They carefully labeled each ornament with the name of the donor, Linda says.

A lot of the labels have fallen off over the years, but she says they remember the donors, who are part of their family's Christmas this year, and will be for years to come.

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.