Dad Fights a Fire


That red dirt, green woods, wet summer smell. As if Wolfe’s soft, stone smile of an angel had come back to offer up a friendly nod and say “Good morning. Got a story here for you.”

Again that red dirt smell. And I’m no longer trudging, shoulders slumped, down my city street to work.

That smell and I am suddenly bright eyed and curious young and strong, just kicking up sunshine. Laughing. Walking the farm with my Dad. Who would have turned ninety today.

We were walking on the day after the forest fire. He was telling me what happened. How the woods in the far corner of my Grandfather’s farm had just started to burn.

The men all went off to fight the fire. My Dad joining his half brothers. My Uncles, they had all grown up on the farm. Dad grew up just outside that big Yankee City in Illinois. What did he know about fighting a fire? Firemen fought fires. Dad went downtown to an office every day.

But of course Dad was going. He had to go do his part. That’s who he was. Whether the fire would turn out to be a raging inferno toppling trees. Or maybe more like a matchstick that singed a little grass, Dad would go. He was really, really good at simply doing what was right.

So he went and came back.
Dad always came back.

This time drenched in the grey ashes and hard, hot work of putting out the flames. Dad was laughing with the rest of the men. That laughter that comes after the fear is gone.

They all stripped off their blackened shirts and jumped in the swimming pool. You could almost see the steam rise from the water, they all carried so much heat.

There was yelling and stories and laughter. So much laughter. Now that the fire was gone.

So when that red dirt smell came this morning, back in Chicago. I knew where it came from. That was Dad. The guy who went off that day to fight the fire. To go do his part. To do the right thing. And to then come home.

And to make all of us who came after him so quietly proud.

12 Responses to “Dad Fights a Fire”

  1. boomerbob Says:

    I always say to myself; “if I had life to live over again, I would love to be a firefighter”. I watch fire fighter helmet cameras constantly. THEY are true heroes in my book, walking into fire to take it down. Amazing videos here

  2. Robin O'Brien Says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I remember it so well. Mom was frantic. Dad was burned on his arm, and when he jumped into the water he howled!
    I do know dad comes back as fragrance: Sweet burning wood, and now, red fire earth

  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thanks Robin! I remember it as having a lot of emotional resonance. I didn’t really know what was going on, but I knew it was big. Looking back through an adults eyes, going off to fight a forest fire is just the kind of thing Dad would do. I wonder if Greg O’Brien was there?

  4. Naomi de Plume Says:

    Yo are always so generous about letting us get to know the people in your life. And due to your mastery of finding the perfect phrase, we do know oh so well. Happy B-day, Mr. ChiGuy Sr.

  5. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Uncle George was always known for doing the right thing. I remember hearing a story about him quitting a lucrative job in the 1970’s with a company in NYC because he believed them to be predatory and dishonest. It is so much easier to walk away from a fire than to stay and put it out. “Keep a fire burning in your eye, and pay attention to the open sky…”

  6. chicagoguy14 Says:

    “You never know what will be coming down”. . .

  7. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Oh. . .and sure was right about that company!

  8. Tom Cordle Says:

    Recently back from my annual pilgrimage to Michigan, where I communed with all my family, save my dad who passed away about ten years ago. Your post was a good tribute to your dad, and the love and respect shone through.

    Your piece also put me in mind of a conversation I had earlier today with my son, a conversation in which I mentioned the research about smells referenced in the preface to the book I’m Okay, You’re Okay, research that showed how smells can trigger vivid memories of other time and other places.

  9. chicagoguy14 Says:

    I’m OK, You’re OK–that was a huge book! And I totally buy that research.

  10. Tom Cordle Says:

    No trigger here, however … I lost my sense of smell in an accident at a very early age

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: