The Night of the Fire                                    

       It happened 28 years ago, on the 5th of February.   It was on the farm where I grew up and where my mother had grown up before us.

        My brother Phil and two nephews were down in a shed working on a car,  which they had backed in and put up on jack stands.  Phil was welding and was coming out from under the vehicle when the torch accidentally set the car  afire.  They attempted to put it out but found that the fire extinguisher was empty.  They attempted to tow the car out of the shed, but the chain broke.  The gasoline tank exploded, setting fire to the building. 

       Mom came out the front door of the house, which was on the south side,  and descended to the first step.  The light of the burning shed shone in her eyes, whose failing sight had dimmed in one and darkened in the other.  The flames were to her left, to the east.

       The fire roared, punctuated by explosions as it rose skyward.  "Oh, my God! Oh, my God"! Mom exclaimed.  She sat down and grasped the iron  railing.  She looked up at the ascending fire, then forward, and thereupon fell backwards, sprawling across the landing with her head toward the threshold of the house.  She would never revive.  The spark of her own life went out that night. 

       The fire would be extinguished but not before it destroyed the shed and threatened  the barn with fiery fragments that fell to the roof.  

      In  the aftermath we can wonder about the events that led to what happened and the meaning that night might've had.

       Hers was an extraordinary life.  She gave birth to eighteen children, two of whom died in infancy.  As a younger mother she suffered ill health and the doctor didn't give her much chance.  She asked God to let her live until her children were able to take care of themselves.  She later had diabetes, her eyesight diminished, and the autumn before, she suffered a series of heart attacks along with hear t failure.   She recovered, though weakened

       The week before the fire, the last of her flock moved out.  That very day she completed an afghan for her youngest grandchild, and uncharacteristically, she asked my dad to box it, instead of leaving it out as she usually did. 

        That morning out in Brisbane, California, her son Joey had a dream, a dream about her.  He saw himself on the farm.  He came around the southwest corner of the house, supporting her.  He saw that she was young looking and noticed a beautiful golden sunset.  They reached the front steps and she said, "My heart, my heart."   He let go of her.  Just inside the house, by the stairway, he saw our grandmother who had died some years before.  She was holding out her hand to Mom.  He felt an explosion but awoke to a sense of peacefulness. 

       We were to learn that Mom never liked that shed, because it cut off her view of the sunrise.  The light from it was one of the last things, if not the last thing, she saw on earth.

       Whatever was in the mind of God, in permitting the events of that night,  hers was not a lingering death.   The fire, seen from the distance, was a tower of flames shooting up.  In a way, her passing from this world was marked by a torch, illuminating the night.

       The shed that burned was connected to another one, and it, in fact, formed part of its north wall.  The fire stopped there.  Afterwards you could see stored lumber through the chinks in the charred boards. 

      The fact that there was a light wind from the northeast helped.   That the firemen happened to be meeting at the firehouse at the time, enabled them to respond quicker.   Still, one fireman would tell my brother Bob that they didn't know how they contained it there.  I would not account it impossible that my mother's dying wish was granted: that the fire be stopped from spreading further: that she interceded for her family  at the dawn of her new life.

John Riedell

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