It was summer in the late 1960s. I had spent the weekend with my favorite aunt and uncle.
They were the fun aunt and uncle, always on the go, with a boat and a cabin on the Tennessee River. Waterskiing on the Tennessee remains one of my fondest memories. The weekend had been a great one, full of water, bonfires, and reading.
A massive thunderstorm hit Sunday morning, and we packed up to return home. My uncle owned a garage, and he was forever fixing up vehicles. That day we were in a slide-in, pickup truck camper that he drove for a while. I loved that thing. It represented fun and family.
I was a little bummed because we would get home in time for the evening church service. I had already missed morning services, which was a rarity. If we returned home later in the afternoon, I wouldn’t go to church that evening either, meaning I would get to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I loved that show or at least the idea of that show. I could count on one hand the number of times I saw it as the show aired on Sunday nights while we were at church.
I didn’t object to going to church; I enjoyed it. I had friends, sang, enjoyed the lessons, and was looking forward to the day I would be old enough to play the piano sometimes. During the summer, church was how I stayed in touch with friends. But sometimes the previews for that show looked interesting.
Just as we finished loading the car, a neighbor from town pulled into the drive. The cabin didn’t have a phone, so there was no way to call. The news was grim. Lightning had struck my aunt and uncle’s house, and it was burning. The fire department had arrived, but it didn’t look good.
I looked at my aunt and uncle, wondering what they would do. I would be crying. My books. My room. My stuff. What would I do without my stuff?
My uncle hugged my aunt and said, “No one was in the house.”
Just like that, I had what is now called a paradigm shift, a change of attitude. Stuff didn’t matter. People did. Everyone who lived in their house was with them at the cabin, even the dog, and a few extras like me.
We were a subdued group as we drove to their house. I rode in the back of the slide-in camper up on the sleeping area, watching the road. It was a great way to travel, allowing me to write stories of grand adventures. On this day, traveling the road I knew well, I worried for my aunt and uncle. When we arrived, even I knew their home was a total loss.
My Mom and Dad were there, along with most of the family and friends, because that what you do in a small town. Everyone shows up to help if possible. The fire department saved his garage, which was just up the hill, so his business was secure, and he thanked them for that. They came home with us that night, so that’s where all the food showed up. It was the south after all. Good news or bad, it’s always appropriate to bring food, and our town rushed to make sure no one starved. The news of the fire and where they were staying made the rounds pretty quick.
When it came time to go to church, Mom said I could stay home if I wanted, but she and dad both had their classes to teach, so they were going. I think I surprised her when I said I wanted to go to church. In church, when it was time to pray, I gave a prayer of thanks that the people in my life were safe. Turns out, Disney, while good, wasn’t as important as I thought.
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