Three weeks ago yesterday, your daddy called me and asked if I’d looked outside lately. I hadn’t, but I did.
There was black smoke billowing up, just down the road. And the wind was blowing like crazy. On a very, very hot summer day.
Instantly, I was just a few years older than you. It was a Sunday morning. My mom answered the phone when it rang. And before I knew it, my daddy—who had just seconds ago been almost dressed for church—was changed into his logging clothes. He and my logger uncle made the fastest trip ever to my grandparents’ ranch. Their hard work, and that of others, helped save my Papa and Grama’s home from the fire that came nearly to the fire line my daddy helped make just beyond their back yard.
We live in the middle of a field—a dry one, yes, but a field nonetheless. We weren’t too worried for our immediate safety, unless the wind changed. But our hearts ached for our neighbors. And I set some sprinklers in the yard just because it made me feel a bit better.
You had to follow me outside to look at the smoke time and time again. Then came the helicopters and airplanes. You wanted to do nothing but watch them. The nap you were supposed to be taking was out of the question.
I tried to remain calm, and not let you hear the fear in my voice as I phoned your grandmas asking for prayer.
You must have caught on to something your daddy said about a neighbor’s house, though, because you started saying, “Make sure our house doesn’t blow away.”
“If you know what will happen to our house?” you asked. “We would have to get a new house!”
Your repeated statements were heartbreaking.
“Will our house break? If you know what will happen?”
The wind kept up, blowing your little pigtails as you stared up at the helicopters, smiley face stickers on the lenses of your little sunglasses.
“It wouldn’t be a good idea for our house to burn. We would have to build a new house.”
It was so matter of fact for you. More like Eeyore’s house disappearing than anything. Yet even as you spoke, I knew that neighbors must be losing homes. So many, many houses in those wooded hills.
Your Papa and Daddy were remembering another fire, when they lived nestled amidst trees and hills, when Uncle Mason was a little baby. They evacuated, and were told every home up their road had burnt. But they returned to find the beautiful home Papa built still standing.
We lived about as close as we could to this fire without having to evacuate. My mental checklist of what to take with us if we had to leave kept growing, even as I knew that if I got out of here with you and your sister and your daddy, I would have all I really needed.
“Are the helicopters going to come back and see me? They like me! Are they eating breakfast? Are they getting water in their bucket to drink?”
In the end, we did know one of the families who lost their home. But so many more were miraculously spared. Your daddy and I watched the flames crown up in tree after tree around one mobile home on the hill, and then it was enshrouded in smoke. An hour later, the wind cleared the smoke, and revealed the home still standing, though lacking much of its surrounding greenery.
“Did the smoke break anything? Will Daddy fix it? Did the smoke break the helicopter? Did the smoke break the airplane?”
No, the smoke didn’t break the airplane. But I was beginning to wonder about our screen door breaking, the way the wind tore it out of your hand every time you tried to go outside to see the helicopters.
That night, when the wind had slowed a bit and the fire was burning further away from us, we drove your daddy over to a neighbor’s farm to bale some hay. A red sunset, a pink moon, and the hills above our home dotted with what looked like dozens upon dozens of bonfires.
And then, on Sunday, came the rain, God’s natural fire extinguisher. Complete with a rainbow shining in the midst of the smoke over the burnt hillside. It was a beautiful sight, my little girl.
I don’t know if you’ll be able to remember this fire like I remember the fear I felt for my grandparents’ ranch. So I wanted to record it for you. Your innocent questions that squeezed at your mommy’s heart. The way I tried not to cry even as we prayed aloud about the smoke and the fire and our neighbors. And the way that you kept us smiling in the midst of it all—with your smiley-stickered sunglasses, your never-ending hunger for chocolate chip cookies, and your constant wish to watch the helicopters all afternoon long.
I love you, Ru girl. And I’m so thankful for God’s protection of our family.