Christopher Emro saw his grandmother just last week. Whenever he returned to Hopelawn, while on leave from Norfolk Naval Station, the first thing he did was spend time with Elvira Bustin, the woman who had a profound influence on his life.
His much beloved grandmother was dying from cancer, he said, and time was precious. He couldn't spend enough time letting her know exactly how much he loved her.
Time was shorter than he knew.
Elvira Bustin on Tuesday that started in her Lee Avenue home and spread to the house next door.
"I wanted to spend as much time with my grandmother as I could before I was deployed," Christopher said. "She was dying. I loved her very much."
The blaze, which had started in a back bedroom, was so fierce, it melted the vinyl siding on a detached garage. His grandmother had tried to escape, and her son, Frank, had fought the thick smoke to rescue her, to no avail. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Christopher, 22, could hardly speak when he got a call from his mother about his grandmother's senseless death.
"The Red Cross got me back here quick," said Christopher, who specialized in naval engineering at his Norfolk, Va. post. He was back in Hopelawn less than 18 hours i front of the burnt out house where his grandmother had died.
'A proud, proud woman'
The Elvira Bustin her grandson recalled was "a proud, proud woman" who was a sharp businesswoman and a loving mother to her own three children and a myriad of grandchildren.
She was strong and opinionated, but loving to the close family, Christopher said. One of her three children had passed away in 1995. To her remaining son and daughter, "She gave them advice. She didn't always agree with everything they did, but she'd also tell you that she still loved them, no matter what they did," Christopher remembered.
To her grandson, Elvira was a kind, yet stalwart, figure. "She told me when I was right and she told me when I was wrong. No matter what her children or grandchildren did, in her eyes, she was proud of us. She wasn't afraid to tell us what she thought," he said.
A Thanksgiving remembered
Christopher found out about his grandmother's illness in 2009. It was before Thanksgiving, he remembered, because it was right before he left for boot camp.
"I was glad she lasted long enough to see me graduate from the nuclear engineering program in the navy," he said.
Elvira worked as an administrative assistant for an automobile parts distributor in Colonia. "She worked at the same job for years. She was very good at what she did. Her bosses loved her," Christopher said.
She had just celebrated a milestone anniversary with her husband, John Bustin, Christopher said. "They were married for years, and they still loved one another as much as they did when they first met," he said.
John had been home the day of the fire, but he had been taken to the hospital with an unrelated illness before the blaze broke out.
Family was everything to Elvira, her grandson said. She and other family members had taken care of her own grandmother, doing food shopping and tending to household chores. Elvira had taken care of financial matters for her grandmother so she wouldn't have to fret.
"She was a very organized woman. She helped take care of her grandmother, my great grandmother. My two great aunts and grandmother were all very close. Most of my family is close. We all live within a 20 minute drive of one another," he said.
Neighbors, friends Elvira still had from high school, and the extended family are all shocked and grieving on the sudden loss of the woman they all loved so well.
"Anyone who ever met my grandmother is grieving," Christopher said, choking up with tears.
"She was a very big influence in my life. She was a very big part of it."
Funeral services will be held on Saturday, March 24, at Flynn and Son Funeral Home in Fords.