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Being grateful at all times


There were no signs of the house.

Is that a good omen or a bad omen?

That question was going through my mind as I saw the field where the burned out house sat last time I was here, 10 months earlier.

Looking at the field, you would never know there used to be a house where Randy and Debbie Wilson lived.

Regular readers of the Keizertimes may recall the story from last July about the Wilsons. The two made it out alive when their house caught fire in June—on Debbie’s birthday, no less —but they lost everything.

All they had left was each other and their two dogs.

I wanted to see the Wilsons this week before leaving here. I looked up the directions to make sure I remembered exactly how to get there. After all, Nevada Street isn’t too easy to find when you’re going 55 mph down Highway 99 just outside of Keizer.

Going slowly up the half-mile gravel Nevada Street—a sign asks you to not exceed 10 mph, lest too much dust get kicked up—I didn’t know what I would see. Maybe Randy and Debbie enjoying a new home? Maybe a trailer?

I get to the end of the road and see…nothing. I get out and see familiar landmarks. The tire swing hanging off the tree over there. The gate back there. The neighbor’s house just up the road.

But there was no sign of the Wilsons.

Well, that sucks. Maybe they are simply two of the thousands of homeless in the area. Or maybe they stumbled upon some great luck — the good Lord knows they certainly deserve it — and got back on their feet with a nice house somewhere. Who knows, maybe they passed away.

Spotting a neighboring home, I walk that way. A man, Austin, asks if he can help. I explain I’m looking for Randy and Debbie. He offers to walk me over to them. As it turns out another neighbor, Juan Benavidez, has been letting the Wilsons stay in a trailer on his property since the fire.

Austin walks me over to Randy, who comes out from underneath the 1998 Ford Mustang he’s been working on. Randy readily admits he’s not much of a mechanic, but he’s trying to repair the rear brakes.

It’s not going terribly well.

But that’s fine with Randy. A friend had three cars and didn’t need the Mustang, so he gave it to Randy and Debbie.

“It’s in pretty good shape,” a grateful Randy says.

Debbie notes her Social Security application was accepted, so hopefully sometime soon the couple will finally start getting some financial help.

“We’re hanging in there, with the generosity of friends,” she says.

The couple had a relief fund set up last year via a friend’s Wells Fargo account. But only $275 was collected and it was costing more to keep the account going than it was bringing in. On top of that, the friend with the account suffered a house fire of his own last year.

“We want to get out of this yard and get a place of our own,” Randy says. “Nothing has changed yet, but it will.”

In some ways, the couple is stuck on last June 20, the day of the devastating fire.

“We do what we can,” Debbie says. “It’s still overwhelming. Every day I think about it. What can you do? You just keep moving forward.”

The couple can accept mail or donations at: Randy and Debbie Wilson, General Delivery, Salem, OR 97305.

The Wilsons have nothing but kind words for Juan.

“For him to do this was a big dent in his world,” Randy says. “It was not necessary, but he did it.”

In general, grateful is a good way to describe the Wilsons.

Yes, they lost all of their possessions.

Yes, they are getting by thanks to the extreme kindness of a neighbor and good friend.

Yes, they are still waiting for Social Security to kick in so they can get back on their feet.

“My luck isn’t good,” Randy begins.

He pauses, then looks over at Debbie, the woman he’ll be celebrating a 26th wedding anniversary with the next day.

“Actually, yes it is,” Randy corrects himself. “I would lose those things 100 times over again if I could still have you.”

I realize at that moment the reason I came here. Sometimes when we have an incredible new chapter in life waiting for us, like I do next week with an exciting job opportunity after 18 years in newspapers, we lose sight of the great blessings we’ve experienced in this chapter of our lives.

Meeting and getting to tell the hard luck stories of people like the Wilsons and families in our Chasing Dark heroin stories has been a deep honor and blessing.

“May God bless you,” Randy told me multiple times as we parted company.

He certainly has, Randy. Thank you for the reminder of that.

For that, I’m eternally grateful.

(Craig Murphy was News Editor of the Keizertimes until this week.)