AN INITIAL ADVENTURE WITH A GRASS FIRE
By Gramps for CrossDove Writers
Once again, the other day I found myself thinking of my Dad and for whatever reason began to think of my earliest memories with him, way back when we lived in the tiny farming community of Whiting, Iowa.
My Dad at the time was the pastor at the local Congregational Church and we had a nice comfortable two-story house to live in on what is now Bertram Street.
Like most of the younger men in the community, my Dad was active in the community beyond being a pastor of a flourishing young congregation.
One of those community things he did was become a volunteer for the local volunteer fire department and being just a little guy of not yet five years old in the summer of 1961 I found out just what that meant, and it was an experience I never forgot.
Like all sons, I looked up and admired my Dad for all he did so on that day when he asked if I would like to run to the local hardware or drug store (we are talking 60 years ago so forgive me if I cannot remember for sure which it was) for a few things, I said sure and away we went.
Another thing I can not remember for sure is, did my older sister Dorothy go with us, in my mind she did not.
What I do remember is while Dad was looking over some items in an aisle, the community alarm went off and as I quickly found out that meant one thing, there was a community emergency.
Dad grabbed me by the hand, and I moved my little feet as fast as I could possibly get them to go trying to stay up with him as we rushed toward the car.
It seems that someone else in the store we were at was also a volunteer fireman or something because by the time we got to the car Dad already knew there was a developing grass or field fire just outside of town along the highway to Onawa.
As my Dad hurried the car east and then south out of downtown Whiting and onto the highway to Onawa, I remember him telling me that I had to be good for him and listen to what he was going to need me to do.
Of course, the whole thing, despite that amount of me felt frightened, I was staying calm because I was with my Dad and with him, I knew I would be okay.
Speeding down highway K-45 south/southeast toward Onawa, my eyes surely grew as big as little plates when I saw ahead of us nothing but smoke along with several cars along the side of the road up ahead of us.
My Dad slowed down and pulled the car off the to the edge of the highway and parked behind several other vehicles that were already there.
It was then that Dad turned to me and said, “I need you to remain here in the car, lock all the doors, and make sure you keep all the windows up and shut. Can you do that for me Billy?”
Of course, I shook my head yes as I did not want to disappoint my Dad. As he got out of the car I checked and made sure all the doors were locked and gave an extra tug on all the window handles to make sure every window was as tightly closed as possible.
And when I looked up to see where Dad went, I caught a glimpse of him as he went past the back end of one of the Whiting Fire Trucks and literally disappeared into the thick wall of smoke.
Every time when I think back on this adventure with my Dad, I realize now that I am grateful that I could not see any of the flames from the fire because watching him disappear into the thick wall of smoke was terrifying enough in itself, and I am sure I might have freaked out a bunch if I had seen any flames. But then again, if the flames had been that close to the ditch and highway, I am sure, Dad would have stopped the car much further back along the highway and jogged a bit further to help the rest of the volunteer fireman.
And while the smoke at one point even surrounded the car like a thick morning fog, I just concentrated on watching the spot out in front of the car and about 10 yards down the road where my Dad disappeared into the thick wall of smoke. Watching intently, as I waited for him to reappear.
While at the time it must have felt like forever before my Dad reappeared from the field, in talking about the event over the years I am always positive Dad told me it was not more than may thirty to forty-five minutes because thankfully it was a fire caught while still small enough to contain quickly.
As my Dad reappeared with several other volunteer firefighters from the now disappearing smoke, he walked up to the car and I watched as he went to the trunk to grab a few rags to clean himself up a bit as he had smoke smudge on his hands, forearms, and face.
After he got in the car and finished wiping as much of the smoke smudge off as possible, we turned the car around and headed back into town.
The rest of the story probably could talk about how Mom reacted when we returned home and we told her about my exciting adventure running with Dad to go take care of a nasty grass/field fire and how he disappeared into the thick wall of smoke and how the smoke at one point surrounded the car, and then what her reaction might have been to him taking little me to the fire with him – but honestly, I can not remember or I choose not to, one or the other.
What I do have is the memory of just how extremely proud I was of my Dad, a firefighter. It seemed to be so cool. I just watched him as he drove back into to town, just beaming with pride and excitement, so much so that I can not recollect if we had any conversation on the way home at all with one exception.
I do remember him giving me that Dad smile of his and then reaching over, touching my shoulder, and telling me how proud he was of me for being such a big boy by staying in the car and waiting patiently for him as helped to finish getting the fire under control.
So cool was that adventure with my Dad, that for a while beyond that day I remember wondering why my Dad did not become a full-time fireman instead of just a boring pastor who talked on Sundays. Of course, within a few years I realized that job of being a pastor was itself much more than those Sunday morning sermons.
That is what I have been thinking about for today as I hit one of those spots in my routine where it was interrupted by thoughts of my Dad and how much I miss him and wishing I could just pick up the phone and chat about another one of those family stories from our past.
With that – hugs, prayers, blessings, and happy thoughts from Gramps.
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