Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The fire crested up over the ridge, taunting my ten-year old imagination.  I was inside, safe, and the fire was still a mile or so away.  But the vivid orange and red hues scared me as I hid in the daylight basement of my grandmother’s house.  I was supposed to be sleeping.  It was well after midnight.  Instead, I pulled the blanket up to my chin and watched the blaze conquer the mountaintop. 

My mom was out there somewhere, pretending to be a hero.  I wanted her inside, helping us assemble turkey and roast beef sandwiches for the firefighters. 

Mom was in Idaho for her annual summer visit, a diversion for me from child care and a father too caught up in his life as an attorney to enjoy our “vacation.”  I spent the weeks leading up to her arrival planning our time together: lunch at Vista deli, a few nights at the ranch, sliding down the dusty slide, riding along in the early morning to feed the cattle, pretending I knew something more about a cow than the noise it made.

We picked her up at the airport earlier that day, drove down the street to Vista deli where my mom ordered a grilled cheese on rye.  We piled back into the car, my mom, sister, grandmother, and me, leaving Boise behind via the interstate.  We passed the orange and white water tower that sat on the edge of the city and entered miles of sagebrush and dirt.  We pulled off I-84 at the Stage Stop and started down the dirt road that led to my mom’s childhood home.  Years before it had been a town complete with a one-room schoolhouse and a dance hall.  All that was left now was the cemetery.

In the days that followed, that fire circled my grandparents' ranch, destroyed acres of land, and threatened the structures that held so many memories of a town far beyond its time.  The houses remained.

Now that I’m older, now that I’ve been through my own wildfire and have lost my house, I can better understand that fire, understand my mom's desire to fight for her childhood home.  Home is more than just the physical walls we set up around us.  The land that my grandfather lost, the cattle that died are a part of his identity.  His home is far more than the bed where he lays his head.  It’s so easy for those looking in to assume that as long as the house is still standing and we are still breathing that those losses can be recaptured.  But there are invisible losses in a fire, whether it be identity or security or memories.  As a ten year old, watching the fire crest over the rim, I lost a little bit of my naivety.  That summer visit wasn't about sliding down slides or picking raspberries.  Bad things sometimes do happen.  And sometimes, unfortunately, we lose it all.

This week's TRDC prompt:

Part I
Make a list of some of your most vivid childhood (or more recent) memories. (Maybe it’s an image of your father or mother doing something they did regularly; maybe it’s a visit to a grandmother’s house.)

Jot down a few memories and then pick one and write it down in as much detail as possible. (Take 10-15 minutes to do that…)

Part II
Now I want you to investigate what this memory means to you. Ask yourself the following questions: Why has this stuck with me? What did this mean to me at the time? Why did I (or someone else in the scene) react the way I (they) did? How does it feel to look back on it? How does it still affect me (or not)? (Take 10-15 minutes to do that.)

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