SOUTH PORTLAND – Denise Calkins sat at a small round table in her temporary townhouse, clutching a hard-bound journal. Over her shoulder was a view of the Port Harbor Marina. In her mind was a clear memory of her home on Osborne Street before the Black Friday fire.

“This is my kindness journal,” she told a visitor. “Every time something happens, I write it down.”

Ever since news of the fire swept through the community – of South Portland, of local musical theater, of strangers touched by her family’s plight – Calkins has been doing a lot of writing. She averages six or seven notes of thanks each day, and only now is catching up on a task she knows she’ll never conquer.

“Especially for the people who don’t sign a name and just drop something in our driveway or at the door,” she said. “So that’s why I wanted to do this, to publicly say, ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ to every single person who has sent love our way.”

On Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, the Calkins family – Denise and her husband, Mark, their 10-year-old son, Max, and their 16-year-old son, Sam Lennon, whose dad lives nearby in South Portland – went to the movies with two of Mark’s cousins. They watched most of “The Muppets” before Mark finally pulled out his persistently vibrating cell phone and learned of the fire.

Their house was in flames. Despite valiant rescue attempts by their neighbor Jeremy Brooks, the four family pets – dogs Jazz and Filbert and cats Miss Betty White and Casanova – perished. The family spent the next 10 days in a hotel before their insurance company moved them into a Breakwater townhouse.

Mark, who had been in rehearsal for a musical production of “The Gift of the Magi,” went ahead with its three-week holiday run despite bronchial inflammation brought on by smoke inhalation from repeated trips into the house.

Denise, a piano teacher who lost all of her sheet music and two pianos in the fire, received dozens of offers of replacement instruments and studio space, and libraries of sheet music.

Sam, who wore a sleeveless Twisted Roots T-shirt (his dad, Mark Lennon, plays bass for the band), found solace in his own guitar strumming and in the music of Metallica, particularly a stanza from the song “Nothing Else Matters.”

“So close no matter how far

Couldn’t be much more from the heart

Forever trusting who we are

And nothing else matters”

Max, who celebrated his 11th birthday Monday, accompanied his dad and brother to Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve to see the Patriots beat Miami, 27-24. The tickets came from Max’s school bus driver, along with “a guy named Ted” who works for WCSH-TV. Denise stayed behind to play in Christmas Eve church services.

Josh Frank, Max’s fifth-grade classmate at Brown Elementary School, had been saving up money for years to buy something big. He decided that thing should be a Nintendo 3DS game system for Max.

Another friend, David Fiorini, gave all of his birthday cards – including those with money and gift cards – to Max.

Donations of cash and food and clothing and restaurant certificates poured in. When the family tried to use one at Famous Dave’s recently, the staff not only treated them to dinner, but gave them more gift certificates and a laundry basket filled with toys and games for the boys.

“And we don’t know any of these people,” Denise said. “I just thought it was the sweetest thing.”

As was the night that the South Portland Chamber Singers caroled at their door, their arms loaded with boxes of sheet music and art supplies; the prayer shawl knitted by a member of the First Parish Church in Saco and passed around during Sunday service so every member could imbue it with prayers and personal touches; the spot-on representations of their lost pets in ceramic ornaments made by Nancy Carroll of Bean Tree Pottery in Westbrook; the paw prints and fur clippings and poems provided by Fluke’s Aftercare pet crematorium in Litchfield.

“And we could go on,” Mark said. “I seriously feel like I have enough stories to write a book.”

A new home – designed by their friend Patrick Costin and his Canal 5 Studio – will be safe and green and on the same lot on Osborne Street, once the insurance settlement comes through and the burned-out shell of their former home is razed. They hope to move in by late summer, gather the family and two cousins on the couch, and watch the Muppets movie, all the way through this time.

Any other needs?

“If people want to help,” Denise said, “turn around and help somebody else. Give to someone who’s way needier than we are. There are so many people in this world who don’t have a coat, or a blanket, or a place to sleep. We’re doing OK.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]


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