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Burning Down the House

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Phoebe had softball practice tonight, two hours of it, in the golden afternoon sun. I took Liam, a book (Annie Dillard's For the Time Being), and Chet Baker along. Soon I tired of trying to figure out what Annie was trying to get me to figure out and surrendered to the warm sun and the laughter of children, and I lay down and dozed in the cold grass. When practice finally ended, Phoebe begged to stay and watch a friend of hers practice. But behind her pleading face, coming out of the trees a ridge or two away, I spotted a plume of thick black smoke, and I didn't like the looks of it. Brush burns blue; grass burns yellow; tires burn black, and so do houses. I dragged the kids to the car and sped off in that direction. Only a mile down my beloved, beautiful Germantown Road, we were horrified to see this old Ohio farmhouse going to its reward. One by one, they burn up or, more often, are pulled down, and what replaces them is almost invariably modular, spiritless crap, doublewides that add nothing to the landscape, and worse, will roll over and kill their owners in a tornado. Oh, I hate to see a house burn, but an old farmhouse hurts most. Just look at the setting--it's like a gem in the landscape.
The house can't have been burning for more than fifteen minutes when we arrived, but it was clear that there was nothing to save. Only two tankers were there, and they were giving it all they had.More vehicles rolled up as the flames were doused to rolling smoke.
The renters arrived. Neighbors were saying that there were three in the house, and they were all accounted for. Their dogs were tied out back, thank goodness, far enough away from the flames to be all right. We couldn't hear anything but the occasional pop or crash, but I could imagine what these poor people were saying, in the anguish of watching everything they owned go up in flames.In the midst of it, the children were watching, so heartbreakingly beautiful. People have been watching such things, feeling such things forever. It was like being present for someone's dying, and we were all hushed and quiet, sending this good old house into the afterlife.


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