He stood, hands tucked into the back pockets of his usually worn bib overalls. His stare, unreadable, seemed contemplative, sad at the edges, unblinking for the longest while. He, the eldest and the carpenter, had to get things rolling, get the job moving. This one held little of the “ordinary” work day for him, for us. I’d driven 87 miles from my home, brother Ron just 10 or so from his place along the Wisconsin River. A nephew or two, a wife – lots of spectators slowly driving past on Main Street to look at Smith Paint Store tucked between Gartman’s Hardware and Marquardt’s Insurance Agency. A narrow lawn and a sentinel blue spruce separated the hardware and a very narrow, perhaps 3-foot-wide alley, protected the agency. Those two businesses were lucky, 129 Main not so much.
Mom, dad, Den and I had moved from the farm to this place as dad started a new life, the farm days long gone to threats of “eminent domain” from the UW system’s desire to annex his land to their agriculture department. Dad sold to Parker, our neighbor, before that happened. Den went off to start his journey to become a WELS minister and I enjoyed a fresh school start as a 7th grader. Home. The apartment above the remodeled store, the shop itself an amazing transition from the old tack shop Emile Kusrow ran in the years forever past. 1961. Home – the place for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Easter – Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church just a few miles further away than the mile from the old farm. By ’83 dad was dancing with Alzheimer’s and I was on a second marriage. Mom ran the shop and Ron ran the business. Den was home in summers ‘til he took his first call to Birmingham, a little mission church as I recall. I wonder what Neil’s thoughts harbored just now, now looking at the charred ruins of the folks’ place, the black line up the wall that captured his stare, the holes in the roof smashed to find hot spots, the yards strewn with blackened “stuff” like mom’s canary cage sans the yellow songster.
Sunlight prismed through the shop’s storeroom window had created enough heat to melt the radio on the paint counter. Wires shorted and the sparks found life in the litter of clean up rags and such. Mom and dad watched TV, became curious at the popping sounds coming through the intercom from downstairs, pops later proved to be exploding paint cans on shelves from the intense heat of the full-on fire. Dad opened the back door to go down and check, engulfing the entire apartment in thick, black smoke. The druggist from the pharmacy down the block had seen the fire and came up the front steps to help – quickly found mom and got her out. Then, by the grace of God in the toxicity of blackness and in a happenstance only a Savior can create, the groping man caught dad’s hand and pulled him out as well. How the building just 3 feet away was saved remains a mystery.
Mom came out this day from a final look at what was her life, a little tear as she commented, “My table cloths from Grandma Falk were on the dryer,” the dryer itself nearly melted. Her mother’s hands had embroidered them, brought some of them from Germany when she came to America as the century turned to the 1900’s. Mom had known those cloths since her birth in ’08. The roots of life mattered in those tears, not the structure that held them. Wordless, Neil grabbed the saws-all and headed in. We followed, knew the tools needed for demolition awaited. He said we’d just “take off the back third of the place” and “make ‘er smaller. ‘Bout all we can afford to do.” And it began. I realized then, though I let the realization slip away for many years, the strength faith can give in times of hardship. That radio sat in that spot for years. And mom and dad returned to that home to live out the few years they had left until God said, “Come home.”
submitted by Dave Smith