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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A Smell from the Past

By Linda Hillin of Texas to Oregon

Smells are not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, so I decide to turn on some soft music, sit in my recliner, put my feet up, lean back, close my eyes and let my mind wander back through time searching for smells.

At last my mind stops and I smell fire. It’s 1947 and I am five years old, standing in the back seat of my parents’ car watching our house burn to the ground. Upon realizing the house was on fire my mother puts me in the back seat of the family car and drives me a short distance from the house. She warns me not to get out of the car for any reason. I can see her now running back to the burning house.

Huge billows of black smoke fill the air warning neighboring farms that something is terribly wrong where the Tidwells live. Neighbors come quickly. Someone reports the fire to the switchboard operator in town and before long town people began arriving to see if they can help. There is no fire department near this rural farm.

Someone goes to my father’s job on the Santa Fe Railroad tracks and drives him home. He is devastated at the loss.

I smell ashes following the fire as my parents stir among them looking for something, anything they can salvage. There is nothing. Mother recalls when she was burning trash a piece of paper blew under the house and started this awful fire.

Rural communities come together in times of crisis to help neighbors in distress. My parents lived most of their lives in or around Hood County, Texas. The little community of Antioch is blended now with the small town of Tolar.

Help begins immediately. Money is collected at the local grocery store. The Methodist Church gives what it called a “pounding” of food, the staples of life: flour, sugar, coffee, etc. Women in the community open their pantries and share jars of home-canned vegetables and fruits. They open their linen closets and share gifts of embroidered linens with crocheted edges. There are gifts of assorted pieces of furniture.

Many years later, some of those pieces of furniture remain in our home. Even today, some 60 years later, I sometimes take a bowl from my cabinet and am reminded, “this bowl is from the fire.”

My father’s voice cracks as he tries to tell the community how grateful he and my mother are for the help they have received, for the generosity of the people.

We stay the first few days with my mother’s brother, Raymond. He lives alone in a small house very near ours. He is the owner of the burned house. Within days my parents rent a house in the small town of Tolar and begin again the business of making a home. The burned house is rebuilt, the farm is sold and we all go on with living.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I can't imagine how horrible it is to go through that. My mom's home burned when she was a small child, and for years after that, she kept all her best belongings in a box under the bed, for easy removal in case of another fire.

What a sad ,and yet uplifting story,Linda.

I'd like to think that my neighbors would help us get back on our feet the way your parent's neighbors did.How kind they all were..

My Mother always told the story of her house burning to the ground in Omaha,Nebraska when she was little.

All of her life after that she was extremely careful with anything that could start a fire.Every night she went around and pulled out the plugs from radios,toasters and other appliances. My Dad made her stop short at pulling out the refrigerator plug......

A pictorial telling of a tragic event.

A wrenching story - so devastating for your parents to lose everything, but so heartwarming that neighbors pulled together to provide for your family. I'd like to think we would do as well today, but I'm not sure. What I find amazing is that the experience doesn't seem to have left you with permanent emotional scars - your parents must have been special people.

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