McALLEN — Jean Macias credits a bowl of carne de res with saving her life.

Jean Marie Macias sits with her children, left to right, Jose Luis 5, Zenaida 8, and Jaime 9, at their temporary home on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Her mother invited her over to have some on July 25, the night of Hurricane Hanna. They left that evening, driving home through the storm.

Macias’ husband spotted the lights from the firetrucks first. A tree had fallen and Macias thinks a line down started the fire that gutted the home and destroyed all of her family’s belongings, forcing them out of the home they’d lived in for four years.

She remembers standing outside their home on Ware Road, thinking of the pets that were inside.

“You never think, how it’s going to look, feel,” she said. “It happened and the first thing I thought was, ‘Oh my God, my animals.’ The things at the moment didn’t matter, it was just my animals.”

Firefighters went in for the dog after the Maciases told them about it. They brought the 4-year-old Yorkshire Terrier out, tongue hanging and eyes closed, by all appearances dead.

Her husband thought he noticed the dog’s chest move, so he started giving him CPR. The dog’s eyes opened and he started breathing, and one of the firefighters brought over some oxygen.

“So they put that thing on him and the rest of the time we were standing there we were holding that thing on him,” Macias said. “I was so cold. I remember it being so cold.”

The dog’s survival was a silver lining to a grim situation: the home was now unlivable, the Macias family didn’t have so much as a toothbrush and the family cat had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The next day Macias and her family got to work putting their lives back together. She, her husband and their three children crammed themselves into a rented two-bedroom trailer.

“We called that our recovery; that’s where we recovered. That’s where my kids cried, and they saw me break down. They saw me at my worst,” Macias said.

Friends and family donated household goods. Macias’ husband received some furniture from the restaurant where he works, and they’ve since moved into a new home.

Family pictures hung on a refrigerator that was salvaged from the Macias house fire now resting in the garage of their temporary home on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Still, Macias says the scars from losing so much in the fire remain fresh.

“My kids are just so attached to that house. I guess when you’re a child and it’s all you know, it feels different. It’s just different,” she said.

Macias remembers going to get her mail after the fire. Her daughter would burst into tears every time.

“I had to just stop taking her with me because she’s always crying,” she said. “Now we go around. It’s just hard.”

In November, Macias received more bad news: Her mother noticed a lump under her chin that a biopsy showed was aggressively cancerous, and has since undergone chemotherapy and is anticipating treatment at MD Anderson.

“It’s like the whole family gets cancer, because we hurt for her,” Macias said.

Despite all the bad news, Macias has managed to keep her spirits up.

“It’s like 10 steps forward and 20 steps back. It’s hard, and now I feel like we’re again, starting all over again,” she said. “But at least we’re doing it together and I’m not having also to plan a funeral. That’s how I’m looking at it. That’s the only way I can look at it.”

Macias attributes her perseverance, and her family’s perseverance, to faith.

Evidence of a fire is shown at the Macias home on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“My kids and I have this thing where we pray every night before we go to bed. No matter what we’re doing, we have to stop to pray before we go to bed, even if I’m so tired,” she said. “And they’ll come and remind me if I forget.”

Although Macias says the family has managed to replace most of the essentials, she’s still struggling to provide her children with a Christmas that feels normal.

“It’s not going to be the same. Especially with this whole coronavirus going on, it doesn’t feel the same at all. Nothing feels the same,” she said.

Macias is also expecting the family to undergo more financial hardships supporting her mother and her cancer treatment.

To donate to the Macias family and others, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to the Spirit of Christmas campaign. Due to COVID-19, only monetary donations are being accepted for families in need.