Pearly McLean (left) and her daughter Natasha Billings view the remains of their home.
WAKEFIELD, Trelawny — On January 8, it has been three months since Pearly McLean and her family wore clothes borrowed from friends and slept in neighbors’ homes. A fire took everything they had.
The blaze destroyed the building that housed all four of them, plus McLean’s shop, her daughter Natasha Billings’ merchandise she planned to sell at Bend Down Market, and the car she would have used to get there.
“It’s rough, man, it’s rough, I don’t even spare a spoonful,” McLean said Jamaica Observer On the 31st of December.
A relative opened a GoFundMe account on November 12, four days after the fire. On January 2nd, $3,005 of the goal had been reached. Fearing that asking too much might discourage some people from giving, they decided to ask for $7,000. McLean intends to use the money to replace some of her tools and work her way out of her predicament.
Pearly McLean examines the rubble that was once her home.
Though she realizes they are still a long way from their goal, she is grateful to the people who have helped so far and desperately hopes others will join them.
“My first steps, I think I’d want to tool them,” she said hopefully.
For reasons of space, all four of them have not been able to live together since the fire. McLean lives with a neighbor, while 40-year-old Billings and her two children live with another. Her younger son is one year and three months old.
McLean is hoping for help to rebuild her home, but she no longer wants to live in Wakefield due to rumors that arson was the cause of the fire that has turned her once peaceful life into grief and despair. The fire department, which is still investigating, has not confirmed that the fire was intentionally started.
The car that was used to bring Billing’s goods to Bend Down Market was also destroyed by fire.
McLean can still remember the terror she felt that night as the flames engulfed the family’s two-bedroom boardhouse.
She said she was inside with her 14-year-old grandson when she heard strange noises and wanted to investigate. Her daughter and another grandchild were out of town.
“I get up and I come down and when I come down and reach into the living room, I see the bright light on the porch and I woke up my grandson and I was like, ‘Fire, fire!'” she said.
The flames spread quickly and she and her grandson had only their night clothes on their backs. Among the items consumed by the fire were the tools of McLean’s trades as a dressmaker, cloth maker, and upholsterer. Before the fire, her sewing room had a place of honor in the house. It was stocked with a wide range of supplies that she intended to use to fulfill her customers’ Christmas orders.
Natasha Billings combs through books and other items while her mother, Pearly McLean, looks on.
“Two industrial machines, one serger, one straight stitch. I have a block head and a grommet to put them in the grommets; I have one to wrap the buttons with, my compressor, my air gun, my drills; I lose everything, I’m losing everything,” she lamented, the pain still fresh.
Two years ago she had equipped her sewing workshop with the money she had earned during a nine-year stint in the Cayman Islands. She started her journey as an entrepreneur and was able to earn enough to support her daughter Natasha and her mother who lived nearby.
The fire devastated them all.
McLean is struck by the cruel twist of fate who saw the fire raging the day before she was due to help her daughter sell her wares at the popular Falmouth market.
“I have the car full of goods and I go to Bend Down on Tuesday nights because on Wednesdays I go to Bend Down and sell my stuff,” she said ruefully.
So far, there has been a glimmer of hope that helps the family believe all is not lost.
Billings’ 14-year-old son missed school just one day because of the fire.
“The teacher gathers around him. He gets a uniform and other things. One and the teacher all get him a phone to help him with his schoolwork,” his mother said, touched by the generosity she showed her child.
The family of four hopes this generosity continues to help them raise the $3,000 needed to purchase the matriarch’s tools so she can earn a living again.
How can you help:
GoFundMe link https://gofund.me/4ec8dfed