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Fire poses latest challenge for Dover woman

By Dawn Schuett

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Tammy Palmer settled into a small rambler with a view of a tree-covered hill on the edge of Dover a little more than a year ago. She’d just gotten out of a bad relationship, so the home gave her a sense of security at a time when she needed it most.

She filled the house with family keepsakes — childhood photos of her two sons who are now 19 and 20, their first Christmas ornaments and even one of their pacifiers she’d saved all these years.

Palmer had the companionship of her dog, Jackson, and was helping her 21-year-old foster daughter, Brittany Ross, who lived with Palmer.

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For Palmer, life finally seemed to be in order.

Then disaster came calling.

An electrical fire Dec. 12 heavily damaged Palmer’s house, which will eventually be demolished. Unable to return home, she’s staying at the Hampton Inn in Rochester through Wednesday, but is uncertain what she’ll do beyond that.

"This year it was supposed to be a new beginning, and it’s one hell of a way to end it," Palmer said, trying to hold in her emotions.

The days since the fire have been a blur of tasks. She met with the insurance adjuster, talked to the American Red Cross about disaster assistance and worked with Ross to find her an apartment.

Acts of kindness lifted her spirit. The Dover Fire Department gave her a check to start the recovery and hotel staff treated Palmer and Ross "like royalty."

With all that’s going on, Palmer has not yet returned to her job with the state of Minnesota doing in-home health care for a family in Utica.

"I can’t take care of other people until I can take care of myself," Palmer said.

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The possessions destroyed by the fire are minor things to her, although not everything can be replaced.

"I mean, where are you going to find a 1987 teddy bear with your son’s name?" Palmer said. "We have to start new traditions. All those things are gone."

What she misses more are the intangibles, the peace and comfort of being at home.

When her son, Brock, asked if he could buy her something, Palmer said she wanted pillows and a blanket. Like the comfort she finds in holding someone’s hand in prayer at the dinner table, "those are the little things you forget about ’til you don’t have them," Palmer said.

"This is so close to Christmas, but you know what? God only gives us what you can handle," she said. "It is going to get better. ... All we can do is look forward."

It’s not the same as looking out the front window of her house to see the countryside, but it gives her hope for the days ahead.

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