Thursday 2.11.10

I received a call from my brother yesterday. We talk or see each other a handful of times every year. Even though it is always good to hear from him and catch up on things, often the reason for these calls is some news about something that happened in the town where I grew up. He still lives there. I moved out about 32 years ago.

Yesterday’s call was to tell me that there had been a house fire in town and that the body of a 56 year old woman was recovered. That in itself is fairly awful. There is, though, some back story to some of it.

When I was growing up in this small town there might have been about 1000 or so people there, maybe 1100. This was a time when my entire life was inside the boundaries of the city limits, for the most part. If we needed anything, it was in town. There was no internet, no Walmart, no cable tv, no computers or video games. For some, this might be hard to imagine. For others, they might think we were part of some super secret cult. No, this is the way things used to be.

Everyone knew everyone. Your business was not just your business, it was everyone else’s business as well. One of my regular things to do was to get into trouble. I could do this on a small or large scale. I’m pretty sure that whenever anything questionable happened in town, mine was one of a handful of names that would come up.

One late summer afternoon the fire whistle went off. The fire whistle usually only went off at noon, that one was of course called the noon whistle. Hearing the “noon” whistle at anytime other than noon was a big deal. Something was on fire. If the sirens were anywhere near us, people would usually wander out of their homes to see where the trucks were going. This was one of those times. The sirens became louder and seemed to be coming in our direction. We wandered out towards the sidewalk. I could see the trucks turning the corner at the end of the block and heading towards the downtown. There also appeared to be some smoke in that direction. I made my way down the block a couple of houses or so until I stopped at the house of a friend and fellow neighborhood criminal. His mother was out on the sidewalk looking down the street. I stopped and asked her where she thought the fire was…

She turned, looked at me and said something like “I think you probably know.” I suddenly had a sick feeling. Earlier that summer day I was out on some kind of adventure with her son. I am thinking that at the time we were probably 7 or 8 years old. We had found some matches somewhere and even though the temperature was probably somewhere in the 80’s that day – building a camp fire somehow seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Unfortunately, we had built our camp fire in a spot next to the lumber yard. This was also along the train tracks and there seemed to be a lot of easy to burn creosote soaked wood in the area. The part of the story between being done with the adventure and the fire whistle going off is still a blank. The fire that we had not put out or failed to put out all of the way had sparked up and started to burn a pile of wood next to an old wood building along the tracks. My partner in crime had completely spilled his guts to his mother.

Parents were gathered, the story was told, the fire was put out and the next thing I knew I was in my Dad’s car and we were headed somewhere. We drove across town and pulled in to some big house. My Dad got out and went to talk to some guy, then he came out and collected me. I was taken into the house. The house belonged to the fire chief. If I remember right, he was still wearing his boots and fire pants and I was sort of in awe of a fire helmet that was parked somewhere. I got my ass reamed. The fire was small but could have developed into something else. The ass reaming did the trick, well, at least for a while. I’m sure that other crimes against the neighborhood happened but nothing like that one.

I was impressed by the chief. Fire was a big deal and important.

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In later years after my neighborhood gangster era, I was doing other things like making friends and checking out girls. My best friend at the time happened to have an older sister. I did not see her much because she was off away at school or out of the house or something. I would see pictures of her in the house. Once in a while, she would be at the house. She was one of those good looking attractive older girls. I can’t even remember if I ever really had any conversation with her about anything. She was my friend’s older sister and that was about it.

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As it turns out, this attractive older sister is the 56 year old woman that died alone in a house fire the other day. The local paper had a very small article about the fire and the response from the fire departments in that area. The first couple of lines of the article mentioned her name and that she was the body recovered. It went on to say that things were under investigation. Beyond that, the article mentioned the rest of the efforts by the local volunteer fire departments and the mutual assistance from neighboring towns. It went on to say that food and refreshments were served at the firehouse later on.

What the article failed to mention at all is that the woman, former not bad looking older gal, was in her mother’s house. Her mother had moved from the big original house many years ago to the place next door… a smaller ranch type home. The original home was the home where I was taken to talk to the fire chief all those years ago. The Chief was this woman’s father. I found it ironic that none of that was mentioned in the article. Also ironic is the fact that the daughter of a fire chief was lost in a house fire. Going on to mention food and refreshments and the back slapping praise of a job well done… seems like someone should have done some research before they hit the keyboard on this one.

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