Sunday, October 01, 2006


Lightning struck the home of Julia and Don Elliott Thursday, September 28 burning it, and all of its contents, to the ground.
If you don't know her, let this picture introduce you to Julia Elliott. She's on the back row, on the far right. On the back row, center, find Paige Elliott, her oldest child. Next to Paige, stands JoJo, Julia's youngest child. Jeremy was away at school at the time, and Don--well, he just wouldn't be in a photo like this. The other five mates are the Schwieps, Julia's sister's family whose names I don't know in proper order.

The oversized kitchen window at the Elliott's house extended a foot on each side of the double kitchen sink, and on the sill dozens of frames displayed Julia’s children, nieces, sisters, and the children of her friends. No ordinary run of the mill pictures framed that window. A talented amateur photographer, Julia Elliott displayed shots of events like this one when Julia, her girls, and the Schwiepes dressed up like pirates for a day and went around Miami saying, “Arggg.”

A look over the pictures and out the window of their home provided a vista of trees, cars, and homes from one of the highest points in Georgia’s East Cobb County.

One could often see visitors coming up the driveway.

After a steep drive up to the Elliott’s contemporary style multi-level house, a guest could count on seeing a few of Don’s cars and at least one cat. If you went into the garage, you would see Julia’s shiny purple VW bug with a flower in the vase, another of Don’s cars, tons of auto parts and paraphernalia, and maybe one of Julia’s projects, such as the nesting of earthworms headed for the garden.

I don’t think Julia really liked for guests to step into the garage. I will always consider it an honor that she showed me her earthworms.

A step inside the entry hall and a walk up a steep staircase would bring you to the great room-a combination dining and living room--with a piano at one end and a fireplace at the other. A wall of windows and sliding glass doors on each side kept the sense of being in the woods sans Georgia’s heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.

Golden oak tables, curio cabinets, and leather chairs invited you into the room. If I recall correctly, Don’s collection of matchbook cars and some assorted antique and collectible pieces filled a curio or two. Framed artwork, except the original painting of a rural home over the fireplace, consisted mostly of old sepia-toned family photos and much more recent shots of Julia’s family taken by her famous 35 millimeter camera.

Placed prominently on the coffee tables and other occasional tables, Julia’s neatly assembled albums chronicled much of our East Cobb Church of Christ family life. Besides hundreds of pictures of camping trips Julia led us on, there were albums full of mission trips, including a yearly trip to St. Vincent.

Julia leads a team to Awia, St.Vincent each summer to put on a vacation bible school.

I think she may have nearly as many pictures of my children as I have. Most of the portraits on this blog are credited to Julia.

What house might be most likely for a gathering of the entire youth group? What family would be most likely to make a home for the church youth group’s summer interns? Who cooked spaghetti nearly every Sunday for her family and guests?

The Elliott’s house, warm and inviting, housed multitudes of memories for dozens of families.

Even as teenagers, it seemed like the Elliott kids possessed a sense of community and playfulness rare in our world of electronic entertainment. Never pretentious, always open, the Elliott family comforted, celebrated and entertained us in their house in the woods.

Paige, the eldest, now lives in Athens; Jeremy and his wife, work on their masters degrees at Florida State; JoJo studies at Harding University. Over the past two years, Julia had hardwood floors installed and updated a bathroom, sprucing up the empty nest. Taking some time to enjoy the fall in Colorado, Don and Julia were vacationing last week. Late Thursday night Laurie Kalet, Julia's closest friend, wrote to me, “The house is pretty much gone, as well as everything in it and all of the cars except the Corolla. We are all just in shock and don't even know what to do. I've talked to Julia several times and I think she is unable to even process what has happened. I don't even know what we should pray for, but please pray.

P.S. all of her photos and the negatives are gone.”

Laurie loss in this includes the deck on the side of the house where she and Keith exchanged their wedding vows.

I have known friends to experience fires—all awful and disruptive. But the total destruction of a contemporary house, in town, is a first. When I called Laurie to talk to her, I could hardly speak.

Everyone, I am sure, including Don and Julia, is grateful that no one sustained injuries. Knowing Don and his financial prudence, I am sure they have insurance to cover losses and they will be able to build another house.

But, the shock and the sadness over losing so much--especially the many pictures in a place filled with such sweet memory--remains so intense for me, I can't quite imagine how they feel.

To Don and Julia, Paige, Jeremy, and Jo Jo-thank you for making that house such a grand home. With all of the mini-mansions erected in East Cobb, possessing opulence and grandeur, there was not a structure more grand or richer than your house to your friends.

I wish Ken, my mom, and I were there to weep with you this weekend. I wish we were there to pick up some pieces and to give you something purple.

Yet, we are confident that your faith and hope in Christ will comfort you and direct your energies.

We know your home will remain strong no matter what happens to your house.


Anonymous said...

Just when I think I'm through crying about this someone, in this case you, does or says something that shows me once again how much we are loved and I start all over again. But crying because you are loved isn't a bad thing. We have actually been able to save an amazing amount of pictures - some burnt and wet, but others looking like they were just put in the album. I know it's God showing His power over Satan as always. We are very blessed and well-taken care of with our wonderful church family. I wish you were here too.
I love you,

Dana M. said...

Bev, as usual, you have found words I could not put together and expressed sentiments we all feel. It would have been nice to have the Dowdy/Choate combo at the playground Sunday night to help us cut pictures out of charred photo albums, sorting and stacking as we go to help Don and Julia recover as many memories as possible.

It has been amazing the way people have stepped up to help and to offer help that they cannot put into words. You wouldn't believe the number of houses offered for them stay in, the number of folks just aching to spend money in order to help replace both needs and memories. God has been so evident in the process for so many--not just the Elliotts I think.

Thanks for sharing the post. We miss you immeasurably. Give Ken and Jo hugs for me, please.

BlueFox said...

Terrible thing that happened - good no one was hurt! Do you have any pictures of the house after it was struck by the lightning?

Annie Pfriem said...


I'm sorry to hear about your friend's house. I remember Paige from the days I used to hang out with your boys. She is such a sweet girl, and I rememeber their house just as you desribed it.
I stumbled upon your blog via Matt Elliott's blog. I to am a blogger these days, also a wife and soon to be mother :o) The wife part planned, the baby however a "surprise blessing" we like to call her :o) I was reading through some of your past blogs and as always found myself inspired by my favorite US history/psyche teacher from GACS...."Mrs. Dowdy". Thanks for challenging me and others at such a young age to regard Christ as someone who would have us pray for peace & justice for not just ourselves but the whole world. Know that you hold a special place in my heart as that kind of teacher.
feel free to check out my blog if you would like....

lots of love,

Annie Pfriem (Ackley)

P.S. Did you say in your blog that Chris is now studing at Harvard? Tell him & Lauren I say "hello" :o)

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and say hello. Also, thanks for telling me about the fire and directing me to this article about Jo Jo's home. We are so sorry to hear about their loss. Your blog was a sweet tribute to this family and their loving gift of hospitality.
We've been around JoJo enough to truly love her and now, to grieve with her...and hopefully, to do what we can to love and comfort her.

It was wonderful seeing you both. Please come back soon.
With much love, Lisa

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Patti, my mother was Emma Belle Choate Shrader. I remember your dad. I remember meeting you and your family. It was at Grandma's funeral many years ago. I just read your blog about your father. I remember him being a big man.

Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

Your comment is so kind. It is so exciting to hear from you. We often think about your mom and family and wonder how we could possibly get in touch with you. Did you know my sister Kimberly was not given a middle name at birth, so when she was a girl, she told everyone she was Kimberly Belle! Please send me your email.

Anonymous said...


Louise Koonce said...

Probably don't remember me, Louise Koonce AKA Lou Tucker, from Meridianville, AL. Happened to see your blog listed on Matt Elliott's, wanted to say hello from Africa. Have the fondest memories of your inlaws from when I was just a babe.