SOUTH PORTLAND — Standing near the end of his driveway on Osborne Street, 10-year-old Max Calkins looked up at his house and saw a patch of melted gray vinyl revealing dark-brown clapboards, plywood where there once were windows, and a plastic sheet covering a hole in the roof.

“Not a good weekend,” Max said Monday, wearing recently purchased jeans, a New England Patriots hat and a matching sweatshirt.

The clothes are among the fifth-grader’s only possessions because of a fire Friday that left the house uninhabitable, killed the family’s two dogs and two cats, and triggered an outpouring of support.

“Black Friday,” said Max’s mother, Denise Calkins, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “This gives it a new meaning.”

A piano teacher who gives lessons at her home, she lost two pianos and a lifetime of accumulated sheet music.

Her husband, Mark Calkins, is a special-education technician at South Portland’s Small Elementary School, and a professional actor and singer.

“They’re the type of people who would give the shirt off their back to anyone,” said longtime friend Michael Tobin of South Portland. “They aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, but their wealth comes from what they do for people.”

Tobin and Mark Calkins make up half the cast of Tobin’s musical adaptation of “The Gift of the Magi,” which was being rehearsed at the Calkins’ home and is set to open at 8 p.m. Friday at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Kennebunk.

Ticket sales from that show and another, at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Dunaway Community Center in Ogunquit, now will go toward providing a proper Christmas for the Calkins’ boys, Max and Sam Lennon, 16, and the couple.

Eight more shows are scheduled, in Portland and in Portsmouth, N.H. For more information, go to

The Magi theme – a poor, loving husband and wife sell their only valuable possessions so they can buy special Christmas gifts for each other – is not lost on Mark Calkins.

“My wife and I are overwhelmed, to say the least, over how many people have come to us, contacted us, called us,” he said. “It’s like, we leave the house and people shove money in our pockets. We get home and we don’t even know where it came from.”

On Sunday, officials ruled the house fire accidental. It started in the kitchen, in or near the electric stove, and spread quickly to the second floor. A neighbor, Jeremy Brooks, was backing out of his driveway when he smelled smoke, saw puffs coming from a roof vent and called 911 at 4:26 p.m. Friday, about 15 minutes after the Calkinses left to see a movie, “The Muppets.”

Brooks kicked in two doors in an attempt to save the pets, but twice had to turn back because of the fire. He tossed a cinderblock through a window in an attempt to circumvent the fire, to no avail.

“I ran back in because I thought I could hear what sounded like dogs’ paws on the floor,” Brooks said Monday. “But when I looked back, it was actually stuff that was on fire, falling around me. So at that point I came back out.”

When he learned of the fire, Tobin sent a text message to Mark Calkins, who ignored his buzzing cellphone while he watched the movie. Finally, near the end of the movie, Calkins took the phone far enough out of his pocket to see the text.

By the time the family got home, the fire was out. Calkins and his wife said they were glad not to have seen their home burn.

Denise, Mark and Max Calkins spent part of Monday retrieving items from their basement, which had been broken into Sunday night. Plywood over the bulkhead door had been pried open.

Lennon, whose father lives one street away, returned Monday to South Portland High School, where he is a sophomore. Max will spend another day with his parents before returning to school Wednesday.

After one night with friends, the family is staying at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.

“Our insurance company is already in the process of trying to find us a new home,” Mark Calkins said. “We requested one in South Portland so the boys could stay close to friends and close to school. Our main concern now is to start rebuilding the normalcy of our life and getting things back to an even keel.”


Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]


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