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I Hear Sirens! - Lots and Lots of Sirens!

"A true story about an even that occurred in my small southern town; a fire of massive proportions."
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I Hear Sirens – Lots and Lots of Sirens

It’s 4 a.m. on Monday morning, June 25 th , 2012, and I am awake. Wide awake – and I don’t like it. Not being an early morning person, everyone in this house knows to leave me be until I crawl out of my haven of rest on my own. Unless I happen to be leaving really early to go on a vacation somewhere, or to a yard sale I can’t resist, which is always a welcome change, I never get up at 4 a.m. Today is not that day either. Yet I am wide awake and don’t know why. Thinking it’s just my nightly awakening to hit the powder room, I head that way, then stumble to the kitchen to find some coffee. Coffee is a must any more, although there was a time it mattered not one iota if it was available or not. Without morning coffee, the “functional human being” state arrives far too long after lunch for me to be of much use.

Coffee in hand, I head to the den. It’s a small room off the kitchen end of the house that was once a play room for my children and before that, when the house belonged to the church and served as their parsonage, it was (I think) the dining room. At 9 x 12 feet, it would never have occurred to me to use it as a dining room, but I think the last preacher to live in this house actually did. They must have had to squeeze by each other to move about while dining in it.

Anyway, my morning ritual is to grab the coffee, preferably in a cup rather than the entire pot at once (although I could see me doing that in desperation at some point in time), head to the chair by the window in the den, his recliner, fling the window open, flop my grumpy, morning self into the chair and enjoy the stillness of the morning, the birds chirping and singing out there somewhere. Loud noises bother me a lot – especially in the morning – when I’m not quite awake, but not nearly able to go back to bed and sleep. I often wonder why everything seems so much louder in the morning than it did the night before – like the TV that was blasting all night into his nearly deaf ears that refuse to accept the assistance of those lovely, expensive hearing aids that spend 99% of their time hidden away in his desk drawer. I’d super glue them into his ears if only I could get away with that. But I can’t – he’s 6’4”, I’m 5’1” – well I’m 5’1” now, whereas I used to be 5’2 ” – somehow I’ve lost a bit more of my shortness along the way and can’t seem to get it back. But that’s okay – I have a step-stool and I know what to do with it. I also have a grabber – several, in fact – handy gadgets to have if you are vertically challenged, as I am.

Settling into the chair – his chair – emphasis on the ‘his’, the 6’4” his – it’s a big, big chair, really big (as you might expect), which requires a big pillow behind my back to keep this extra-large, “big man” recliner from cutting off my airway as it bends my head forward at an angle that enables my chin to rest on my chest – which is not needed any day of the week – coffee in hand, I listen for my morning birds. I can’t hear them. But there are sirens – lots and lots of sirens. They’re on Interstate 26 I think; they’re also on the highway that goes through town a block away from my home. They’re coming from every direction, it seems, and there are lots of them – LOTS of them. It’s pitch black night out there still – no way to see anything even if I did venture out into the darkness, setting myself up as blood sucking mosquito bait in the process, as I do and always have – they adore me. Guess I’m just delicious and nutritious and very yummy to the flying, blood sucking beasts of night.

You have no idea how annoying it is to a hyper-sensitive hearing (particularly in the a.m.) individual to be bombarded by unwelcome loudness that cannot be turned off when the mornings are supposed to be nothing but quiet serenity other than my neighborhood birds. But there they are – sirens, screaming sirens at 4 a.m., at 5 a.m., at 6 a.m. – and there is no way to see where there might be smoke – the kind of smoke that would require so many, many sirens. Being a need to know kind of person, this is most annoying, so I cannot wait for the sun to rise, allowing me to take a peek so I might at least find out where the smoke is – and I know there has to be smoke, lots of smoke, to go with all of those sirens.

Finally, at about 6:30 a.m. the sun is up and I venture out in my night gown covered up by my wild and crazy summer robe of many colors – the one my granddaughter made me promise not to wear anywhere other than here in the house. It is that loud, this robe – something has changed me from the pale, solid color robe wearing person I used to be into the riotous, tropical print, bright colored robe wearing me of today – could it be my age? Or the fact that I no longer care what the neighbors think of my robe or me venturing outside in it? Perhaps both – as they seem to go hand in hand as we finally “grow up” and start wearing whatever we like rather than what “they” like and expect us to wear – whoever “they” happen to be. I now could not care less. One day I’ll have to figure out exactly who those previously all important “they” people are.

Anyway, my neighbor across the street is out on her porch drinking coffee in her pajamas – see? We all do it now – and we don’t care anymore. So there. She’s been up for hours, too – and also did not know what or why something had gotten her up so early. But now the sun is up and I can see clearly from my very own driveway that there is smoke – lots and lots of it. Gobs of billowing black smoke coming from just across the way – it even looks as if that acrid smoke is directly in front of my house, even though I know there is nothing straight “over there” that could create all of that putrid nastiness. There is, however, the cement plant – the one my hubby (of the huge recliner fame) just retired from last year. Didn’t ever seem to be such a straight arrow shot from my house before, but this morning it’s pumping copious amounts of thick black smoke out into the atmosphere right in front of my driveway.

Hmmmm - I always thought I had to turn right to get there from here – several times, in fact. But there is that curve in the road from here to there, I now recall – maybe that’s the trick. My neighbor had also heard the screams of the sirens going on for hours. Now as she sits on her porch with her coffee, and from where we can see each other, we start to wonder together what all the sirens are about. I tell her about the smoke I can now clearly see behind her house and in front of me from the edge of her yard, and she comes down from her porch to join me in trying to make a determination about from whence it comes. We both agree it could be the cement plant, the one where my hubby worked, but not the one where her hubby worked, but I am not content to surmise. I have to go see. That’s just the way I am – a need to know kind of person. Always have been, always will be, I guess – until I can’t remember to remember any more, perhaps.

She turns down my invitation to ride over that way with me, her in her pajamas, me in my night gown and vibrant colored robe (notice I did not say ‘loud robe’, as my granddaughter suggested) – but she turns me down. Maybe wearing pajamas on the porch and in the yard is all she can do yet, even at this age. But that’s okay – we’re both making progress against the reigns of propriety here, out in the yard in our night clothes, not caring a whit. Me? I’m going for it – and I head to the car, jump in, fire her up, and head for the previously dirt road, now scraped and paved as so many dirt roads have been the last few years. (I don’t like that – leave the dirt alone.) This is the short cut road to the highway on which the cement plants, all 3 of them, are located; to the gas station beside the interstate and to the interstate highway itself. The same road I was told by my former brother-in-law not to travel many years ago – it wasn’t “proper” for women to travel the short cut. You want to know why? I’ll tell you anyway. This road seems to have been reserved, without anyone’s knowledge or consent, for the men of the village and surrounding area to use not only as a shortcut, but also as their outdoor bathroom – a stopping place during their travels while riding around in their pick-ups doing nothing much, except drinking and driving. I was told on ‘good authority’ that “proper women” did not drive down that road. Excuse me??? That’s another thing – but don’t get me started – I’ve a story to tell today and it’s getting longer and longer. Hang on, I’m getting there, I promise.

So where was I? Oh – I remember now - heading down the short cut road to see what I could see. And I did see. All that black smoke was, indeed, coming from “the plant”. It was THE plant, the one where Mr. Hubby used to work. The one where Mr. Hubby had been shuffled from here to there during his last few years of working there, from the console where he worked for years as the absolute best console operator they ever had, to a building across the drive where they stored, crushed and loaded all kinds of recycled materials onto a hopper needed to burn as fuel in the kiln instead of the coal they had always used before. No, I’m not just bragging, neither am I making it up, they said it themselves – when it was LaFarge, when it was Blue Circle – they said it, not me – I had no clue how to run the console – still don’t. But he did, and he was the best, as in THE best, they ever had.

However, in the last year or so that he worked out there, they had farmed him out to the alternate fuels building so they could let the new guy he had just finished training get some “real time” on the console by himself. Mr. Hubby must have been working in that other building, the alternative fuels building, about a year. Maybe more, maybe less – but he didn’t like it one bit. And I can see why. In the summer it was hotter than hades in there. Winter – it was freezing cold. No heat, no A/C, just stacks, piles and mountains of material to be crushed and recycled as alternative fuel to cut down on using so much coal, which now turns out to be an excellent idea since we all have heard, most likely, that the use of coal as fuel has become a “no-no” to the greenies and the powers that be. Coal mines and plants that use coal for fuel are closing everywhere, along with other kinds of businesses that use coal for fuel. But I won’t get started on that since there is a story to tell here.

The alternative fuels building and all of its contents are now gone, burned to the ground in just a few hours. I didn’t see the actual fire, but I did see that horrible, thick black smoke and spoke to an actual fireman that day – more politically correctly known as a firefighter these days, although it was an actual man in an actual fire suit that I saw and spoke to in the gas station near the plant. And yes, I was still in my night gown under my brightly colored summer robe that my oldest grandchild seems to detest. I think it even embarrasses her – as it would have me when I was her age, but no longer. (I guess she is now much like me when I was her age – that’s actually a good thing, I think - me not anywhere close to being wild or colorful at her same age, nor is she). It burned to the ground the day before, completely obliterated by that all-encompassing fire.

A guy at the plant let us in the next day as we rode up in Mr. Hubby’s pick-up truck that he’d driven to work so many times, both of us visitors now instead of an employee and his wife (still a strange concept to both of us). Since it was Mr. Hubby who they had all known, worked with and loved for many years, “Come on in, Mike,” they retorted over the intercom when he asked for permission to enter and have a ‘look see’ at the building where he had worked just a short year ago.

The alternate fuels building is currently just a pile of ashes and debris, with a little bit of white smoke still drifting skyward, to be sifted though, examined, tested for evidence, all in an attempt to find the cause of that massive fire. I am now incredibly happy that Mr. Hubby was offered and took early retirement last year, although it hasn’t been so until this day. I’m glad he wasn’t there that night; otherwise, he might have been the one working in that building when it caught fire and burned to the ground.

Although no one who was working then was hurt or burned, they got out safely once they saw the building and its contents could not be saved by their efforts alone, Mr. Hubby might not have been so fortunate. He has always been the kind of guy who does not give up once he sets his mind on something he has decided to do. And if he had decided he was going to put that fire out by himself no matter what, the story might have turned out much differently. I’m glad it turned out as it did. Even though an important source of recycled fuel was lost along with the building, the firefighters kept that monstrous fire from spreading far and wide, which could have ended up decimating this tiny town of 600 country folks as it spread to materials often found within the plant used for other purposes that might have exploded on contact with that raging fire.

We could always use a few more firemen, or women - firefighters – to be politically correct. And we must never forget to thank them all, every single one - and all the firefighters who finally managed to get that fire under control, keeping it from spreading to the rest of the plant, keeping it from putting all of us in danger. For that, and for all your hard work with or without pay or glory, I thank you all for doing what I am not able to do. Thank God for all of you – always there when we need you.

Me? I could have done very well without all those sirens screaming from 4 a.m. until whenever they stopped, but I’ll forgive it this time – and I’ll thank every single firefighter for doing your job so very well every single day of your lives, but especially that night and the following morning. I, for one, appreciate your hard work and valiant efforts to return our little village back to the quiet, peaceful place it usually is. And thank you firefighters everywhere for what you do for the rest of us as you risk your very lives attempting and succeeding at keeping us safe from harm.

Now back to my coffee, my open window, and my chirping, singing birds. It’s a new day, and a lovely one at that – a quiet Sunday autumn morning in the ‘Ville’. Dogs are in my lap and elsewhere in the chair, HIS chair, the one by the open window of a cool fall day. Coffee in hand, it’s a day for quiet contemplation and thankfulness once again.

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