Dad was planting corn at the far corner of the west 40 acres. He glanced up
after turning the corner and yelled out loud, “Oh, no! Smoke! The house! Oh
Dropping his driving lines he leapt off the planter and made a beeline toward
the house by way of the barn where two hired men were milking the cows. The
house seemed to be miles away. The mules planted corn all the way as they
followed him down the hill to the barn.
Smoke boiled up from between the six maple trees that surrounded our home. He
thought, “Damn these rubber boots.” A dairyman, O.D. Meyers wore his tall
Ball-brand rubber boots most every day.
“Get help.” Black smoke rolled in heavier clouds then before. “Run
faster.” Two men in the barn. They’ll help.
A shotgun blast. The shotgun and a box of shells were stored high overhead in
the porch, out of the reach of us kids. (Jim was eight and I was six.) More
explosions. “The whole box. Won’t that noise ever stop?”
The back porch was gone. “Go in the front door. The papers in the library
table drawer. Get that first.” He was exhausted before he reached the men in
the barn. He went in yelling and waving for them to come to help. Then he
fairly flew up the steps and on toward the inferno.
The startled men looked at each other and one said, “Boss must’a lost his
mind.” And they went on milking.
Smoke and heat blasted Dad in the face as he went in the front door. “Get
things. Mom’s precious piano? Not possible without help. The table with the
He grabbed the heavy oak library table, dragged it toward the door. Damn that
old Morris chair! He slammed it out of his way, got a breath and went back in.
He tore the leg off the table trying to get it through the doorway. Coughing
and eyes burning, he pushed it back inside far enough to get out for a breath.
Then he went back in for the last time. He grabbed the drawer and escaped with
his legal documents and insurance papers. Going back would be certian death.
The house was an old one-story frame building and it was burning fast. He
collapsed on the ground to revive a bit. Meanwhile, Mom had gone to the MU
Elementary Laboratory School, had picked up her children and headed home. Dad
dreaded our return.
He’d finished remodeling the interior of the house, making a dumbwaiter
between the kitchen and dining room. He’d just painted the big kitchen and the
living room ceiling. Her piano was gone. She’d taken the laundry off the line
and put all of the clothes on their bed before going for us at school. All
that was on fire. Mom’s Haviland china. Dad’s gold watch. All the clothing.
How could this have started?
Before he had quit struggling for air, Dad realized that two neighbors were
carring hams out of the smokehouse, a building which stood a few yards behind
the house. God! The meat! Nancy’s canned fruit and vegetables. He ran to the
smokehouse; the roof was blazing.
Joe and Les came out with more meat as Dad ran in. He untied the bailing wires
that held some bacon slabs, and rushed out for air, just in time.
He met Les and Joe as they were starting back in and screamed, “Don’t go
back, the roof’s going down.” It went down shortly.
Mom saw the smoke about a mile away and gave that Model T Ford all it had even
though she knew it was too late. The walls were down when we arrived. A woman
had heard the shotgun shells exploding, and she ground the telephone crank
frantically to attract the neighbors. She’d yell “Nancy’s house is on fire”
over and over.
The yard was full of men, women and children and was no doubt wet with their
tears. The walls of the house fell in just as we came in sight of the inferno.
Mom was too shocked to cry. She grabbed Dad, and they held each other tight
for a long time.
Then they hugged Jim and me against their bodies and said we shouldn’t worry,
we’d get through it some way.
I’ll tell how we did it another time.