Their street-level sales room was one of the three levels of the huge store. A crude elevator gave access to basement and attic. I was asked to set up a workshop on that elevator, slightly elevated, to attract the public to watch as I worked and explained pottery from the ground up. A woman who worked at Hays’ store arranged a display of 36 of my handmade "little people" for this special event. Sales and special orders were going well.
One morning, a radio news item interrupted the program: "Hays’ Hardware Store on Broadway is on fire, and help is arriving from towns near Columbia to try to save Woolworth’s and the basement restaurant on that block ..." My 36 sculptures would be gone!
Our phone line was immediately busy with people sympathizing! My loss was nothing compared with the tremendous loss by Mr. and Mrs. Hays and their son, Kurt, our friends and neighbors. My 36 displayed pieces - which I called "Little people of the Boone’s Lick Trail" - had been "fired" in my kiln, but accidental fire was quite different. We hurried to town, and people told me that my display was still standing! They withstood the extreme heat but were smoke-stained in a crackle pattern - easy to give away later. I could think only of the Hays family’s loss and the day our home burned to the ground!
I understood the tragedy of fire from the loss of our Meyers family home and all of its contents when I was in first grade. Neighbors’ children let my brother and me wear their clothing to school the next day while Mom and Dad arranged to borrow a big chunk of money to buy, first, shoes for Dad.
He was planting corn in a far corner of the field when he saw black smoke rolling out of the rear of our house. He jumped off the corn planter and ran toward the house. His 12-gauge shotgun shells kept discharging. The mules followed him, planting corn diagonally across the field in the wrong places!
Mother had gone to town to get Jim and me from school; she stopped for something needed to finish the sash for the Easter dress she was making for me. Jim’s shirt had been ruined at school by the boys’ pranks with a paintbrush.
We were two miles from home when Mom discovered smoke when she came over the top of Crouch’s Hill.
"Oh, God, no!" she screamed, "That’s my house!" She must have put all of her weight on the gas pedal of that Ford touring car and sped down the hill, around a curve and across the bridge to the steep hill of our half-mile driveway.
Someone’s car was stalled in the driveway, but Mom sped around between their house and barn and stopped to put me out to play with neighbor kids.
On she and Jim went, faster than she had ever driven before! She had shielded me from the horror of a home completely engulfed in flames and walls ready to cave in.
Neighbor men, exhausted, were barred from going into the meat house "one more time" for fear of their lives. Onlookers watched a year’s worth of freshly hung meat - hams, shoulders, sides of bacon, links of sausage cooking in the flames and smelling good for a few days after our tragedy.
More on another Monday.