For 21 years, every time this calendar date rolls around, I get nervous. I worry about catastrophes because of an event Dec. 20, 1984, and another event Dec. 20, 2003. The first devastating experience has been well-documented through my writings.
Late on a Thursday afternoon during a ruthless winter storm, our house exploded because of a problem with the wood stove, and burned to the ground. A neighbor, Karen Feist, saw the explosion as she was driving by and ran through our drifted driveway with her infant son, Chris, to see that nobody was in the house as the flames shot nearly 40 feet in the air. She then ran across a field, with snow up to her waist, to her home to summon help.
It was a horrific experience for the kids and me as we happily drove from town that afternoon and suddenly spotted the flames while still a mile away from home. Bill was in Louisiana where he had just attended his father's funeral. Ironically, he was visiting with the Oakdale, La., fire chief while both dined at a restaurant when I called him. Thanks to family and a generous, wonderful community, we were able to patch our lives together over the next few months.
Two years ago, on this day, our son Willie had just made arrangements with my mother to purchase my dad's pickup. My dad had died a month earlier on Nov. 21. Annie was coming home from New Zealand on this day, and she would be needing her car, which Willie had been using while she was gone for six months. Mother offered Willie a generous, flexible deal for the pickup, and Willie promised to honor the contract.
The first stop on his way to town from Colburn (nine miles north of Sandpoint) would be Les Schwab Tires because the pickup needed snow tires. Willie climbed in the pickup and left my mother's house. Bill followed shortly thereafter in his pickup. It was snowing. The roads were slick. By the time, Bill reached the Selle Road, just two miles south of Mother's house, he noticed something in the road ahead. It was twisted metal.
As he got closer, he could see that the twisted metal was actually a canopy for a pickup. He slowly moved on past it and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone climbing up a bank. It was Willie. He had hit a patch of ice and rolled his grandpa's pickup. It was totaled. He was okay physically but devastated because it was "Grandpa's pickup."
The pickup sat in our driveway for several months. Bill investigated possibilities for having its body redone because the engine was fine. He'd made arrangements to take it one day to a body man. The evening before, he started it up to make sure it was still running okay. Suddenly, he saw a spark and a fire started. He ran to the house for a fire extinguisher, but by the time, he reached the truck, the vehicle was in uncontrollable flames.
As the fire department came to put out the blaze, Willie stood for a moment and then backed off to the darkness under the same willow tree where he had sat on that winter night in 1984 and watched, as a horrified 7-year-old, while our house burned down. I walked back to Willie and said, "I guess nobody was ever supposed to drive Grandpa's pickup again."
So, I pray today that when it ends, all is well.