Twins Leland and Shandi don’t understand why they can’t live with their mommy.
The four-year-olds cry every time their mother, Nancy Fleming, leaves.
They wonder why things can’t be like six weeks ago, when they lived with their parents and seven siblings under one roof.
But that was before fire destroyed the blended family’s Elliston home and took their belongings on May 8.
Family life since the Mother’s Day blaze has been almost non-existent.
The 11 members of the clan are spread out over three different homes in two communities.
The kids, who range in age from two to 18, miss their brothers and sisters. Family get-togethers are rare and near impossible. And the twins remain puzzled about why Mom always has to go.
“It’s hardest on the kids,” says father Kenneth Cole. “The small ones don’t understand what’s going on.”
His explanation to them is quite simple — they’re waiting for a house.
“We don’t know what to be telling them. I finds that hard,” Cole says.
His common-law wife also finds it tough and feels like she doesn’t have control over her children anymore.
“We had some kind of a routine, and when I get them all back together again, I’ve got to start that all over,” Fleming says.
The couple isn’t even living under the same roof. They’re both staying with their parents. They each have kids with them. The remaining children are at Fleming’s sisters’.
Cole, who works seasonally at the Plate Cove crab plant, says it’s a challenge having to buy groceries for three homes.
The fire and its fallout are the latest in a run of bad luck for the family.
Seven-year-old son Simon is on an emergency list for a kidney transplant. And their car was lost to hurricane Igor, the brutal storm that also stole their front lawn.
“I don’t know if it could get any worse,” says Fleming.
“But as someone said, ‘Don’t say that, because you don’t know what could happen.’”
If there’s a bright spot, it’s the support they’ve received.
A committee has been struck with the goal of raising upwards of $200,000 to rebuild the home, the debris of which was removed shortly after the fire so the six school-aged kids wouldn’t have to pass it every day on the bus.
People have been generous with donations of clothing, too, and companies are making in-kind donations.
Fred Cuff lives across the street from where Cole’s house stood.
He’s heavily involved in the effort to get them back under one roof.
“This family has had it hard, and this community — not only me — felt we had to do something to help this family out and get them back together,” he says.
So far, more than $40,000 has been raised.
Cuff says donations are coming in slower than he’d hoped, but he’s confident the target will be met. He notes the amount needed might be less because of the in-kind contributions from various companies.
Support from businesses is already allowing things to proceed.
A contractor is preparing the site for footings and it’s hoped the foundation will be laid in a couple of weeks, after house plans are finalized.
“As you can appreciate, this is not your three-bedroom house,” Cuff says. “It’s a large family. We have to have a large enough house that’s practical and can accommodate them over the next few years.”
They hope it’ll be finished by September.
To make it happen, the committee is launching a province-wide tag initiative similar to the Janeway balloons or the little tents Tim Hortons sold for Camp Day.
Cuff says they’re also planning a 15-kilometre road race where runners trot out to Cape Bonavista and experience two bays. (Further information will soon be available at www.bydbaysroadrace.com.)
All the effort and support has touched the family.
“A lot of people are coming forward and helping out,” says Cole. “‘It’s great.”
He and his partner say their new house can’t be built soon enough.
“I’ll be a lot happier then,” Fleming says.
Donations can be made at any Scotiabank care of “Fred Cuff in trust for Kenneth Cole Family.”