Our neighbor rushed to our front door. I could see the expression on Jim’s face and knew it was not good news, or another sack of squash from our friend’s garden. My brother’s business was on fire! Jim and I rushed to our Jeep, leaving on the dinner table: baked potatoes, fresh green beans, tomatoes, squash and baked chicken. A hot blackberry cobbler was waiting on the range to be served with vanilla ice cream. Why do we always remember where we were and what we were doing when tragedy strikes? From Elvis’ death to our own personal blows in life, we remember and relate the events to anyone who will listen. It’s true.
Why am I writing this story on A French Opportunity, basically a travel site? If you can bear with me just a little while, I will try to explain.
When Jim turned on to the highway still several blocks from the fire, I saw smoke pouring into the sky. The fire wasn’t real until then. All of my emotions that were held in check surfaced without control. Jim tried to comfort me and still drive carefully since the road was blocked by emergency vehicles. He went on through explaining that the red-faced, crumpled person in the front by him was the sister of the business owner. Sisters have rights!We walked downhill through the neighbors, friends and relatives who had gathered at the property. My eyes took all of this in, but I was searching for my brother Tim. I knew he was not harmed because he was not there when the fire started, but I wanted to see for myself and tell him how much it hurt with my eyes, my heart and a hug. I found Tim in the front yard of his house, our family home where I grew up with him and our sister Rachel. Tim was facing the burning wood works building just a short distance away, with the structure near complete collapse as numerous firemen on the ground, and in buckets in the sky, wielded powerful water hoses. My brother’s green shirt was soaked through from the heat and exertion. I hugged him with a lifetime of memories in our embrace. He was holding up fine, all things considered. I should have been the one to comfort him, but he is my tall brother, so he had the soothing words and sounds as I cried on my big, baby brother’s shoulder.
My daughter Jessica said it best: “This business is part of my family’s legacy. It’s not just a building, but many generations of memories and hard work.” If you are part of a family business, you will understand those feelings. I spent my childhood playing in and around the wood works shop. Daddy had lumber stacked in compartments in two or three levels to the rear of the shop. I would sneak back there and build playhouses on the clean lumber, pretending I lived there with my dolls in my own little frame house. It was great fun until he caught me and shooed me to the real house next door. I ran around barefoot anywhere in the shop, but when friends came to visit the mothers drilled it into their heads that they could not step one foot into the shop. I thought they were too picky. What did they expect us to do, send them home without legs and arms hacked off by the big band-saw? I thought this with a chuckle while I innocently played paper dolls with the less-brave friends.
Then, there was the time that I played Indian behind the shop in the big, open field covered in dry broom sage. I built my teepee with branches and Mama’s tablecloth. Then, I built my campfire! It got out of control, very fast. Thankfully, Royce Spivey, a carpenter in the shop, hurriedly put out the fire while I stood crying and scared of what would happen next. He must not have told Daddy because I went without punishment, or maybe they thought I had my punishment already from the fright of it.
Through the years, we have always been very conscious of the danger of fire. My brother does not smoke, and he stresses this danger along with many other measures for safety. We have always known that if a fire happened, the shop would likely be destroyed.
When we rushed over to the shop after hearing the news, I didn’t take anything with me, not a purse or phone, and certainly not my camera. I noticed many others were snapping pictures around me and decided I wanted my own photos to record the sad moment. Jim went to our house to retrieve my camera. With camera in hand, I was re-energized. However, the smoke and burning chemicals were hurting my eyes. I found my brother sitting on the front porch, the same porch where Jim and I spent many hours before we were married holding hands, and kissing – when Daddy wasn’t looking.
Tim was reliving the days he spent enlarging the shop (7200 sq.ft.), since he doubled or tripled the size from the original, adding many pieces of expensive equipment. Yet, he said some of the equipment that was created by Daddy was better than the new stuff. Tim was telling the group about a day when he had worked on the addition to the shop until he felt he would fall on his face from tiredness. Daddy’s failing health and years left him on the sideline, but he was watching from his favorite chair. Daddy saw Tim’s condition and called a friend to come and help, offering to pay him for his work. Suddenly, Tim was puzzled when he had a worker at his side to help with the addition to his building. I’m thankful that my brother and my daddy have the reputation of producing fine quality work and being honest businessmen. Tim has two lovely daughters, Berkley and Shannon, who are a great support to him.
I said my good-byes, telling Tim to call me for anything, anything at all. Then, I was home and looking at the picture of Daddy and Mama on the shelf with the bouquet of daisies. Oh, my, I am so glad that they never saw this tragedy. The dinner we left behind was waiting, but my appetite was gone. A slice of blackberry cobbler seemed just right, though. I had cooked it earlier in the afternoon, like Mama did when I was little. I put the blackberries and a cup of sugar in a pan and slowly brought them to a boil. I had gradually added strips of pastry, cooking on low heat. Then I put the mixture in a deep dish pan, layered pastry on top and popped it into the oven for about 20 or 25 minutes.
The blackberry cobbler was comfort food, remembering that I always picked the blackberries for Mama’s pies behind the shop. I wonder if the blackberry vines survived the fire. Large fig trees loaded with figs were singed from the heat, but the honeysuckle was blooming like nothing had happened at all. Take a lesson from the honeysuckle and ramble on.
Why did I write this type of story on a page devoted to France and travel? This sad event in my life, here in Opp, Alabama will affect me in my outlook on others as I travel. In France, and all other places Jim and I have been, we have shared Opp and our background with new friends. Telling the story has been a release of my feelings and I hope an insight to the person who loves France and Opp, and sees both as opportunities.
Special thanks to Opp Fire Department, Opp Police Department, Opp Emergency Teams, Onycha Fire Dept., Babbie Fire Dept., Rose Hill Fire Dept., Union Hill Fire Dept. and the many friends, neighbors and family. A double-thanks to Skip, neighbor and friend, who kept a water hose on the house preventing a fire until the fire department had it under control! A news article about the fire is shown if you CLICK here.