Family's tales are treasured memories

Friday, November 9, 2007 | 4:00 p.m. CST; updated 8:00 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

We had finished dinner, and we were swapping tales of family and friends, of mayhem and misadventures. And it was Grace’s turn to tell a story.

“I’ve got a million of ’em,” she said.

This one was set on the farm in west central Minnesota, where Grace lives with her husband, Dave, and her younger son, Joe.

One Memorial Day weekend, the wind blew so hard it whipped the sugar beets out of the ground. It also toppled Grace’s gardening shed.

“When are we going to put the shed back up?” Grace asked her hubby.

“We’re not,” Dave said. He was going to burn it.

Grace dug her tools out of the shed’s remains. Dave doused the lumber with fuel and lit it.

The battered shed caught fire.

So did the grass. An old cottonwood burst into flame. Other trees caught fire.

“Should we call the Fire Department?” Grace asked.

The fire chief brought a truck and hosed down the grass and trees. No charge. Dave and Grace donated 50 bucks to the department.

The flames hadn’t been far from the liquefied propane gas tank and wouldn’t it be messy if that exploded. But the fire was out, and everything was fine.

At 1 a.m., Grace looked out a window to check on things. A tree was ablaze again. The fire was spectacular and it wasn't far from the tank.

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light,” Grace sang out. “The tree’s on fire.”

“I’m in bed!” Dave said.

“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our tank was still therrrrrrrrrre!” she sang on.

Dave got out of bed.

He picked up a shotgun and a box of shells.

And he shot the fire.

Actually, he fired shell after shell into the burning limb he thought most likely to fall onto the tank. He blasted the branch about 10 times. It fell harmlessly to the ground.

Dave went back to bed.

Grace grabbed the garden hose and turned on the water, but only an ineffective stream came out.

As she stood there with her hose, her son Joe flew up the drive in his car. He jumped out. “Do you guys know the place is on fire?” he asked. “Where’s Dad?”

“In bed.”

Grace went back to bed, too, waking again and again to check on the fire. It simmered, but it did not spread, and eventually it went out.

And the lessons from all this?

1. True stories of our family and friends can be richer than what many fiction writers put to paper. They’re better because they’re the stories of OUR people.

So take the time to talk and share stories.

And make the time to record them: on paper, on camera, on an iPod, on whatever tool you have. Don’t let these treasures melt away.

2. I don't think I'm going out on a limb saying shotguns aren't approved firefighting tools. As satisfying as it is to shoot the fire, better dial 9-1-1.

Mary Lawrence teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Karen Mitchell November 10, 2007 | 8:03 p.m.

It's good to have you back, Mary. I miss your wit on the weeks when you're off.

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