I live in a quiet country setting. There are not a lot of comings and goings. But nevertheless, when I am in the garden, neighbors going by come into my driveway for a chat, or if I am shoveling the walk, they stop in and we head for the house for a quick cup of coffee. And when Hub and I walk the dogs on the gravel road, neighbors pull up alongside of us, roll down the window and inquire how we are doing.
And though I seldom talk to other of my neighbors, we still have spoken on occasion in the garden, in the yard, or on the gravel road. So I know their names and where they live and what they look like and where most of them work.
Now you must be wondering what this is all about. Believe me, it is about important stuff. Important because these are necessary conventions for country living.
Now if you will just set the foregoing ramble aside for just a moment, I will tell you what happened last Wednesday.
The power went off and about thirty minutes later, a neighbor came to the door. When I let him in, he frantically explained that down the road were two grass fires raging in the ditch where a tree had fallen and broken a power line.
My youngest daughter was visiting at the time. So while she phoned the fire department, Hub and son-in-law and neighbor rushed back to the fire with nothing more than the two pails of water they managed to get (with no power) and two old blankets I quickly gathered from my basement.
The fire was already threatening a house and outbuildings and with the gale-force winds there was extreme danger that the whole place would go up in flames. Hub and his small crew battled the edge of the fire that was threatening yard buildings with the bit of water and the gunny-sack substitutes I had given them.
The house was the home of the ‘Unknowns’ who have never stopped in, waved, or strolled in my yard. They were not home. Still after we contacted the fire department, daughter and I wanted to contact the people that lived there. But how?
They came from the city. That much we do know. And they have lived here for more than four years, but nobody knows their names. We still refer to their residence by the names of the previous owners.
Nobody knows where they work. Nobody knows anything about them. We only know the vehicle that drives by. We have discussed that they don’t understand country-dwelling protocol but none of us has ever felt adept enough to go to their door and try and explain it. How do you explain it?
So now there is a fire and we are in a real pickle. Nobody knows who to phone, how, or where. Then someone commented that they had heard that a relative of the wife-of-the-man-down-the-road, where the fire was, worked at a particular business place in town. I called there. Even to myself, I sounded like a total idiot, while I tried to explain that I didn’t know who I was looking for but there is a fire burning near a place down the road that is the home of someone related to someone that works there.
The individual who answered the phone was confused, and who could blame him, but recognizing the urgency, he re-conveyed in loud shouts and short phrases, all that I said to a shop full of workers. I was close to panic myself and my words were foolishly construed to begin with, but when repeated, they sounded even worse.
And so, within the mentality of country-dwelling protocol, I could only give approximate directions that were more dependent on fence-posts, trees, fields, and a list of names of dwellers of adjacent homes – than any kind of sound and specific intelligence.
It seemed to take forever to communicate any key intelligence to those on the other end of the phone. But finally, the very person who answered the phone, screamed, “That is my daughter’s home. They are away. I’ll be right there!”
With that contact resolved, I began phoning other neighbors. Meanwhile, Daughter jumped in her car to see if there was any way she could assist in the fight. She arrived at the scene just when the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man drove up. He came quickly. Well ahead of the fire trucks. By then Hub and his small crew had managed to quell the flames that were less than two minutes away from the house and outbuildings. But downwind the fire raged on.
Soon the fire trucks arrived, as well as two large water tankers, and two smaller ones, and a throng of neighbors. Some with water backpacks, some with shovels, and some with chainsaws. And another neighbor with a backhoe, that he used to push trees and underbrush out of the path of the fire.
There was little daughter could do so she soon returned to the house and what I noticed was wetness in her eyes.
“What happened?” I asked with extreme fear.
“It’s okay, mom,” she said, “they are able to contain the fire as long as the wind doesn’t change.”
“But why are you so disturbed?” I asked. “Was anyone hurt?”
“No,” she said. “But I spoke to the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road and I have never spoken to anyone so heartbroken. (Here her own eyes spilled a bit.) His voice was so choked he could barely speak. His body was quivering and tears were streaming down his face. I have never spoken to anyone that sad and emotional and I didn’t know how to react.”
Much later when Hub returned, and gave an update of the fire, now well under control, suddenly he said something that caught my attention.
“I spoke to the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road,” he said. “He is a crushed man.”
Now Hub is a practical man that takes little notice of emotional conditions, and for him to say this spoke volumes. This man must be distressed beyond comprehension.
Now somewhere in all the ensuing discussion, it was revealed that the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road had just buried his own father a few days earlier. But as I pondered that and what daughter and Hub had said, it seemed that since he was in his late fifties, his dad was probably in his seventies, maybe even older. So of course the loss would cause sadness, but it should have been eased somewhat with his own maturity and the acceptance that this is the normal rotation of life.
The next day Hub and I drove up the road so I could see how much of the landscape was scarred and burned. The fire had covered a much broader area than I expected.
As we turned around to come home, I said to Hub. “I can’t forget what you and daughter said about the father-of-the-wife-of-the-man-down-the-road being so incredibly sad. He is a grandfather himself. Surely a man of his age could not find it that hard to accept the death of his father. And even a fire, and the risk of the damage fire can do, could not be the sole cause of such severe sadness.”
“I agree,” said Hub. “I think what overwhelmed him was a total and unexpected never-felt-before feeling of gratefulness. The shock of seeing how many cared and the shock of seeing that his daughter is part of a community where every single soul within a thirty-mile radius stopped what they were doing and rallied to assist without hesitation.”
I am awed by Hub’s comment but I have to admit, this perspective explains best the extreme emotional state the fellow was in.
While still pondering the man’s condition and what Hub has said, I begin to wonder if ‘gratefulness’ and ‘loss’ pluck at the same heart strings, but with a different beat and sequence.
Making the identity of tears of sadness and tears of gladness much confused.