Oso woman loses home, decades of keepsakes in fire

OSO — Karen Crabtree has lost more than 30 years of her life.

On the evening of Jan. 31, a fire consumed close to half of Crabtree’s house near Oso which she’d made her home since the late 1970s.

Karen and her husband, Tom, raised nine children in that same house. Before Tom’s passing from leukemia 14 years ago, he and Karen worked together at “Crystal Bouquet” in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Although no one was injured in the fire, the house that Tom and Karen once shared has since been declared a total loss by her insurance. In spite of a response by Oso and Arlington firefighters, Karen’s bedroom burnt completely to the ground.

Celeste McCarthy, one of the Crabtrees’ grown children, now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., but she still regards the old house as a familiar a friend.

“It’s like a member of the family died,” said McCarthy, who still recalls the first time she saw the two-bedroom house, whose property included a sandy beach at the river’s edge that appealed to her Southern Californian mother. “The wide expanse of grass and swaying trees, and the long driveway lined by mysterious, beckoning woods drew my nature-loving dad in. I remember the first time [my brother] Aaron and I put our toes in the sand and stared with wide eyed wonder at the cold green water in front of us.”

Over the years, the concrete back porch gave way to a dining area and a deck to take in more of the view, and a wing was added to the house, along with a bathroom and what became the Crabtrees’ bedroom, with its own view of the woods and the river.

“Home-schooled kids that we were, the woods was our playground,” McCarthy said. “I remember swimming at 9 p.m. in the curious late summer Washington glow, with [my sister] Amy and a few other siblings and friends by my side.”

According to McCarthy, the Crabtree home became something of a community hub, complete with jam sessions under the carport, church picnics, volleyball matches and Fourth of July parties. She likewise noted the growth of her parents’ business on the property, as their children helped them with their art, as well as how her father breathed his last in the bedroom he shared with McCarthy’s mother, surrounded by their children and friends.

“This house was so much more than just a house,” said McCarthy, whose wedding reception took place there. “As we have become adults there have been many wonderful reunions there, without own kids by our side to enjoy the magic of that piece of property. Nothing can take away from the cherished memories of this house and the safe haven my parents created for all of us.”

Karen Crabtree herself plans to rebuild on that property, for all the reasons she and Tom settled there in the first place. In the meantime, her insurance company has relocated her to condo in Smokey Point, where she continues the art business that remains her sole source of income. A longtime member of St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church in Arlington, Crabtree expressed her gratitude to the congregation for supporting her during her time of trial.

“They’ve helped me wash out my smoke-filled things,” Crabtree said. “With my husband’s passing, I’ve become a seasoned veteran of tragedy. There were many beautiful things that I loved in that house, but stuff doesn’t matter. It’s relationships and people that matter. That’s why I identify with the golden cross I salvaged from the wreckage. You can either let something like this burn you up, or you can use it as an opportunity to become refined gold.”

St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church is located at 230 E. Burke Ave. in Arlington. For more information on how you can help Crabtree, call the church at 360-435-9769.

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