bs's blog

Dec 27 2010

Fire (November 1978)

We moved to the country in the early 70s to escape the crowdedness of a community that would become one of the fastest-growing in the country, but not until 35 years later. We lived in a rambling old wood-frame farmhouse built in the 40s--three bedrooms, big eat-in kitchen, living room, root cellar, attic. We heated with a old-fashioned wood stove, so we shut the doors of rooms that weren't used during the day.

Dad planned to re-do the house one room at a time. We'd been there for 5 years in the summer of 1978 when he completed his and Mom's bedroom. He took everything back to studs, insulated, re-wired, lowered the ceiling, dry-walled, and painted the room a bright springy green. I was in awe of him, watching but not understanding that he was doing the work of three or four professionals. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure he was making a lot of it up as he went along--a skill I'm proud I learned from him.

It was Veteran's Day. Dad was off work but we had school and Mom was working. Someone driving by our house saw smoke and called the fire department from a neighbor's house when they couldn't find my Dad at home. Dad returned and may have futilely tried to put out the fire with a garden hose. When the fire department arrived a little later, it required their full effort to put the fire out--it was too late to think about what might be saved. The only rooms that weren't completely destroyed were my sister's bedroom, my bedroom, and the bathroom--the doors were closed. The fire department speculated that the cause was the old wiring, though there was not a lot of careful investigation done.

We had neighbors who kindly allowed us to live in a tiny mobile home they kept parked on their property as a "weekend place"--it had a kerosene heater and very little else. (Over 30 years later, I'm still highly sensitive to the smells of kerosene and burning wood or paper.) This was long enough ago that the term "trailer" was commonly used--it felt a lot more honest than "mobile home," which was perceived as a fancy phrase designed to save face.

We were insured, but the claim payout was not adequate to pay off the loan, and was certainly not enough to build a new house. So Mom and Dad decided to get a large trailer. I watched the demolition crew dig a big hole with a backhoe and push the burned-out shell of a house into the hole and bury it with a bulldozer. It was possibly the most awesome thing my 9-year-old self had ever seen! I was not there the day in December when several cement trucks came and poured the pad on which the trailer would be placed, but I was back when it arrived. I think that was probably right before Christmas because I don't remember having Christmas anywhere else.