Our farm home was destroyed by fire May 18...

Our farm home was destroyed by fire May 18, 1922.

Surveying what was left from the house, Mom and Dad found the following: one Morris chair with cushions in the ashes, one green Turkish towel on which my grandmother, Huldah Logan Henry, had crocheted a dark green basket which would hold a small matching washcloth, one library table drawer containing legal documents, insurance papers, Grandpa’s papers for discharge from the Confederate army after the Civil War, the clothes we were wearing the day of the fire.

The smokehouse’s cedar shingles caught fire from the spray of burning embers of the nearby house. Joe Baumgartner and Les Wegner were carrying meat out of the smokehouse while Dad was getting his personal papers -- and almost nothing else out of the living room. No one else arrived in time. Dozens came as word of the fire spread over the party line.

Everybody at the scene offered help of some kind and my parents, O.D. and Nancy Meyers, decided to accept the Eugene Crouch family’s invitation to stay with them till we could get started again. Another neighbor had a big army tent to lend. Others said they’d bring household goods as soon as the tent was erected.

At the Crouch home we’d be close to the cows and milk house from which Eugene operated a retail dairy. The Crouch kids were of sizes appropriate for lending clothing for Jim and me; we were in school in the Crouch kids’ clothes by 9 a.m. the next day.

Dad and Mom had one bit of good news: going over the insurance papers they discovered that they had an extra $500 worth. They forgot about having increased the $3,000 policy a few years back. The total, of course, was shockingly inadequate.

Mom spent most of the $500 the next day, outfitting us with the bare necessities. Dad didn’t need shoes because he wore gum boots most of the time in the milk house, which had to be hosed out several times a day as they worked with buckets, strainers and bottling equipment. The milk had to be iced down and held till morning for early delivery. (That’s another story.)

The fire smoldered all of the next day, and it smelled like caramel candy in one certain spot. Mom knew why: Two large burlap bags of sugar had been bought the day before the fire. The prospect for wild blackberries was very good so they bought 200 pounds to make cup-for-cup jam -- a cup of sugar for each cup of berries.

Part of the sugar was for Arthur and Zanna May, the couple who lived in our little tile house. He worked in the dairy and Zanna May sometimes helped Mom with her work. The sugar caramelized in the kitchen corner area for at least a week.

There was also the wonderful odor of the remaining home-cured meat cooking in the cellar where hams, shoulders and bacon fell into the cellar full of Mom’s canned vegetables, tenderloin, sausage, etc.

The horrible sight of sprawling, twisted piano strings reaching up in every direction haunts me when I think of the fire. It was Dad’s gift to his beloved Nancy, a fine pianist who played at Olivet Church until her untimely death. I remember that the new sheet music in front of the keyboard was “Ain’t We Got Fun.”

When we poked around in the warm ashes we brought out Dad’s half-melted gold pocket watch, my baby doll’s china head with empty eye sockets, a Pyrex casserole which was melted into an art object but was not broken. A pile of tiny metal wheels and springs told us where the toy box had been, Mom’s scissors lay in the ashes where she had been working on my organdy dress at the dinner table.

Dad and the hired men hitched the mules to the old wood burning stove to drag it out of the ashes. They set it up under the one remaining maple tree, and we “camped out” till the new house was up -- not ready, just up. Another story!

Thirty-five years later I walked through that site with my Nancy and Walter and told them about my early home. “The piano was here ... ”

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