Hearing a fire siren this hot August night, I remembered hearing a siren in Pike, New York in 1958 on another hot August night. That siren was calling the volunteers to get to the station, get on their truck and rush to a fire. My grandfather said, “Let’s go see what is on fire!” Very excited, the four of us piled in the car and followed others to the fire. I had never heard of doing such a thing, but the scene was full of other onlookers as well as the volunteer fire brigade.
No one was hurt, though the house burned down. It turned out the woman had left paraffin melting on the stove and gone outside “just for a minute.” She had planned to seal her jelly jars with the paraffin, but lost her house instead. We all chatted about how easy a mistake that was to make. No one seemed anything but compassionate. Most people knew the farmer’s wife and knew all the firefighters too. A small town getting together to witness a tragedy.
In 1871 my grandfather’s father had just moved from a small Minnesota town to the big city of Chicago. He was caught up in the great Chicago fire with no way to let his family know he was all right. It was a scary time for his family until he managed to get out of the city. I am sure my grandfather heard stories about that fire many times as he grew up. Surely that excitement lingered when he heard the alarm in 1958. This wasn’t Chicago ablaze, but we could see a fire first hand just as his father had. And it was an unforgettable experience for the four of us. Only my grandmother disapproved with her “Oh, Niles!” (his name) spoken whenever she found his “country ways” less than admirable.