Smoke gets in your Eyes

29 6 16

(prompt: 'compete' 23/2/2018)

'Call that a library? THIS is a library,' I recently answered another author and her photo of a most neatly organised collection. My answering photo was of a higgledy-piggledy, ragamuffin wall of books, two layers deep in far too many places.

Tucked away in the depths of my grey matter was the memory of the Aussie, Crocodile Dundee and the famous scene from New York. When accosted by a would-be thief brandishing a knife, good ol' Croc laughingly stated, 'That's not a knife...," whipping out his trusty Bowie knife, near as long as his forearm, with a blade that could shave off a bee's whiskers, "THAT's a knife!" said he, with an evil grin.

I chuckled and chortled some, until another memory crowded all else out. My mirth experienced an abrupt death as I pictured another story I'd thankfully not seen - but as it came from the lips of a key witness, I knew it's truth, and that little could compete.

The old lady had dropped in to buy some farm fresh eggs, and her and I were having a lengthy chat. She was lonesome these days since her husband passed away less than a year before. Somehow, this conversation drifted through many and varied subjects, finally coming to rest on the terrible fires that swept large areas of our State of South Australia in 1983. Amongst the devastation of that day were vast areas of south eastern farmland being consumed. At that time, we still lived on our dairy farm far to the north, so we knew only the statistical reports and media coverage. Now I was hearing a deeply personal story.

"We were standing out in the front garden, watching the great billowing clouds of smoke engulf the land in the distance. Everything around us was gone. Our land, most of our sheds and machinery - and our stock." She paused as tears filled her eyes and she needed several deep breaths. Her love for their animals was evident. Her pain at their loss, also. I touched her arm in sympathy. She knew how deeply I shared her abiding love of animals. In a moment she was able to continue.

"Herbert and I were standing in the withered and scorched area that had been our front garden, blessing our good fortune that we at least still had each other - and our grand old home with its treasures in every room. Those angels, the 'firies' had fought and saved our nearest and dearest for us and now they were miles away, performing the same wondrous miracle for others... we hoped and prayed." Another deep sigh before she could continue.

"And then we turned around and to our horror, there was smoke billowing out from under the roof. Our desperation was unimaginable. All help was miles away by now and our old beauty was on fire, with only us and our garden hose to fight it. Herbert's fire-fighting unit on the back of his utility was long gone - a molten wreck." Another huge breath and now my hand held hers tightly. "Much later we would learn that embers had blown under the eaves and that awful wind the fire produces whipped them up into flames again to smoulder insidiously and burst back into life throughout the roof timbers."

She was determined to tell the whole sorry tale. "We lost everything." Her voice was brave but the words were heart-breaking. "Everything! Our history, our life... all was gone. We both cried and cried. Yes, even Herbert. His loss was maybe even greater than mine. He had one complete room that was his library. He loved his books so much. Most had come from England - some brought here when he came out many many years ago - and a whole lot more imported over the years. Beautifully bound first editions, many signed by the authors. All gone. Along with our antiques and inherited treasures. My dear, I can't begin to tell you of our pain."

And I can't continue to tell you any more. I'm crying again, too.

No contest there. THAT was definitely a bushfire.

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