Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Belated Palm Sunday Story

I spent the past weekend visiting with my mother in Kentucky, where she's lived for 38 years now. I've spoken of this event earlier in my blog, but as a result of talking with my mother it was more fully revived, but as I had no internet connection, it had to wait for my return.

The Palm Sunday I am thinking about was in April of 1967 when I was a sophomore at Defiance High School. Our house caught fire that day. As I recall, it was a beautiful, sunny spring day and my father had taken advantage of the weather, barbequeing for Sunday dinner. One of my brothers was tasked with cleaning up the grill. It is probable that he, being about 11 at the time, did not check to make sure the coals had gone out before he dumped them in the garbage can, or wherever he decided to deposit them. I was outside in the vacant lot that was in front of our house on Elliott Lane, and turned to look around and the garage was in flames. I ran across East High Street to the Cunningham's house which was unlocked (that happened in those days) and used their phone to call the operator. My hands were shaking so badly, I had a hard time dialing the "O." I could hear the wail of sirens in the distance.

When I got back outside I watched as my father ran into the right side of the garage which was smoking but not yet on fire like the left side was, with the white aluminum siding turning black and warping in the red flames. My father's car, with his doctor bag was on the right side and I saw him open the car door and try to start the car and back it out, but the steering wheel was too hot and he gave it up. At that point I just cried hysterically, face in the grass, beating on it with my fists.

Some fellow driving by jumped out of his car and raced into the main part of the house, which had not caught fire, and rescued our color tv. Out the door, right behind him, trotted our dog, Mandy, who I had forgotten in all the chaos and confusion. The firemen arrived with two or three trucks and ladders, hooked the hoses up to the fire hydrant that was on the grassy circle in front of our house and proceeded to do their job efficiently.

The final tally of loss was the two car garage, my father's car and his medical bag, the family room with piano, and part of the kitchen, with smoke damage throughout the rest of the house. My middle sister disappeared for a while and no one knew what had happened to her, but she showed up several hours later, having hidden herself in the ravine behind the house as a way to escape.

Friends and neighbors were quick to offer to put us up while the house was being repaired by the guy who had originally built it--Roger Lang. Each of the five kids was farmed off to a different family. I went to my then-best friend, JoAnn's house across the ravine from us.

It took a week to get the cleanup crews to clean for smoke damage and Roger to get the house sealed sufficiently that we could re-inhabit it, but by Easter Sunday we were back in the house. However, in a rare break with tradition, the family travelled to Kentucky--postponing the move in--where we stayed at the Beaumont Inn in Danville, KY, visited horse farms, and went to the races at Keeneland.

Months after Roger finished rebuilding the house, when it rained, we could still smell the smoke.