It seems like every time we're talking with somebody and the state of the world comes up, everybody is an expert. And it's always 'people' that are the problem. People do this, that and the other, as well as things you'd never think of, and are glad you can't. Excepting present company, of course. That's always understood. It's really good when a couple of preachers get together and start talking about how bad the world is. I don't mean to be pointing fingers, because I'm as good at it as the next one. I can get in there and talk it with preachers too. Unconsciously, we put a lot of effort into studying what's wrong with the world so we can have something to say in these conversations, sound like we're paying attention and know what's going on. And don't we love to hear it when somebody says, 'You're right,' when you've made some especially erudite point about something that's wrong with the world.
The theme occupied my mind for many a year. So much, you could possibly say I have a degree in it. My first several years in Alleghany, I became in expert on what's wrong with the place in all kinds of ways I knew nothing about. Then came a day I noticed I had it covered. There was nothing new I could find that was wrong with the place. It was a strange feeling. What am I going to gripe about now? I thought: now that I know everything that's wrong with this place where I am, maybe it's a good time to start looking at what's right with the place. Find balance. I didn't even have to start thinking about examples. My whole inner being told me that what's right about this place is so big I couldn't come near it with a single-space list a mile long. Without even having to think about it, I was overwhelmed on the spot, tears of joy welled up and my heart felt as big as a watermelon. I look to that moment as the time I fell in love with the people of Alleghany County.
If you'd like to see one thing right about the place, try driving down the road at 11:30 pm, see smoke coming from the vents on the dashboard, really bad, billowing smoke that tells you something aint right. Had to open the window to let the smoke out, but that ventilated the source of the smoke and then you see the floor below the dashboard on the right side glowing yellow-orange. Not me. Not now. Not my truck. Not this major inconvenience. It was all of the above. All I could say was, 'Shit,' the tragic eloquence of modern man.
I pulled off the road at the first pull-off place I knew of. The motor had died by then and it coasted to where it could pull off the road by Claude Whitehead's house, though far enough not to endanger the house. Flames were licking. I thought of Susan Billings on Hwy 21 when the truck fell on top of her car pinning her inside and setting her car on fire. I thought of Sue Wagoner trapped in the tractor cab and it burning. I said, 'That aint gonna happen!' But I wasn't sure, because as long as I was inside and the flames got bigger, I was getting closer. There was also something kind of NASCAR about it.
Coasting to the place by the side of the road that was clear, I was thinking about gas lines, full gas tank, lots of things that could happen before I get stopped and out. Of course, I didn't have a fire extinguisher. Next vehicle I own will have one. I went at the fire with a towel I found behind the seat. I dabbed it, smothered it, put it out, but the melting plastic caught fire again the moment I lifted the towel. It kept getting bigger. The first moment I saw for certain it was out of control and I couldn't stop it, I realized my friend my truck was gone and I need to call 911 so they could at least get to it before the fire reached the gas tank.
I went and banged on the door at Mrs Whitehead's house until her dog started barking, then kept it up to let her know why dog was barking. I felt sad for her having to go the door and see a stranger at 11:30 in the night, but I also knew as soon as she knew what was happening, she'd be all right with it. She came to the door and looked through the glass, bewildered and half asleep. I hollered, 'Call 911.' I didn't want to ask to come into her house. That's too frightening in this day and time. I didn't want to scare her, I wanted to thank her. She made the call when she saw the truck on fire and I wasn't lying.
By the time I got back, the whole cab was a conflagration: big flames engulfed the whole interior. Big flames. Everything on the inside was petroleum based; seat, dash, door panels, steering wheel and column, headliner, floor mats. Poof. And that was only about 2 minutes later. I didn't realize a vehicle burned so easily. There wasn't anything I could do but watch my friend, my truck of 14 years that has been as faithful to me as a good dog, burn completely up and die in front of me. When the headlights went out was the moment I think of it's death. I heard 3 blasts that sounded like shotguns. Tires exploding. I stayed way back in case the gas tank did like they do in Steven Seagal movies, knowing it is explosives they use in the movies and gas has nothing to do with it. But still, 17 gallons of 83 octane petroleum in a container with fire going all around it was something I didn't care to dilly-dally with.
Saw getting any closer something like looking down a hole drilled in rock to see why the dynamite didn't go off. There's a grave in the Caudill cemetery on the hill here of somebody who did that, Dean. I had the camera with me in a bag I carry back and forth between Jr's house and mine. I thought it's a little cold to take a picture of my truck burning up. Then realized I'd regret it if I didn't get some pictures. Got pictures of the firemen working too. Soon after the 2 firetrucks arrived and the whole gang of pickups and cars, men putting on those huge outfits they wear around fire, I felt better. But they showed me something great big and equally important.
I saw our VOLUNTEER firemen responding and in action, up close. Naturally, I felt like Jr feels about me doing things for him---feeling bad for causing them so much trouble. One of them told me they love going out on calls, so don't feel a bit bad about it. Highway patrolman Lane came along and was every bit as friendly and helpful as everyone else. He brought me back to Jr's place when the show was over. Tommy Andrews came with a big rollback and hauled it away.
Strangely, I felt nothing about the truck and what was in it that is gone forever. Keys too. Left all my keys in. Once I saw it was irreversible, I accepted my friend was gone. The feeling I felt most strongly was gratitude toward everyone who came to the event. Still, next day, I feel nothing about losing the truck, but my already immense gratitude grows as time goes by. It's not for myself as much as for the people they've helped through the years. And it's done by people wanting to do it, volunteers. I was thinking about Benjamin Franklin started the first fire brigade in Philadelphia of volunteers, just to put it in historical perspective.