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06/29/2010

The Day We Burned Oklahoma Down

It Was an Accident, I Swear

My dad bought a new truck in 1994. Big red and gray ford with a long bed and dual fuel tanks. Did I mention in August of '95 it was two months old? Two months. About the same time my dad purchased his new pickup truck, my grandmother had a stroke. She was in rehab for quite some time and when she went home, she was told someone needed to come stay with her and help her rearrange things because she was going to remain weak on her left side and wouldn't be able to live alone unless changes were made. 

My mom ran booths in a couple of antique malls at the time and could be away for an extended time without much trouble so I drove her Oklahoma City to stay with my granny for a month or so, then I came back home. They rearranged cabinets, purchased new storage, put handholds in bathrooms and close to doorways and basically set the house up so Granny could continue to live alone. She was there about a month. At the end of that time, I drove to Oklahoma City to pick her up in my dad's almost brand new truck.

Over the course of the month that Mama had been in the city, they'd had several clean-up days where people could put anything they wanted out at the curb and the city would pick it up. Mom and Granny spent many many days driving around and picking through other people's trash to unearth treasures for her antique booths. When we loaded all of her treasures into the truck the entire bad was packed with antique tools, old wood furniture, and my mom's favorite piece, a pair of antique hand made sawhorses. 

As we finished loading our suitcases amongst the crap, the random thought crossed my mind that all those old wooden things sure were dry and would burn really well. I didn't voice this thought out loud and didn't give it another thought. We went to the gas station and filled both fuel tanks on the truck. We could go five hundred miles without stopping. Consequently, that's exactly how far it is from Granny's house to ours. We were set to make a flying trip home.

We wended our way through the road construction, (there's always road construction in Oklahoma City) and finally headed out of the city. We were on the turnpike maybe twenty miles from the city when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw black things flying up out of the truck bed. I slowed down and looked closer and realized the black stuff I was seeing was ash and everything in the back of the truck was on fire.

I swerved onto the shoulder, jumped out of the truck, climbed into the truck bed and started tossing burning crap out of the truck bed onto the shoulder. I had one goal, get the stuff out of the truck before two full gas tanks erupted. My mom hopped out on the other side and started stomping out flames as the grass beside the road caught fire. Soon, flying embers had also ignited the median between the two sides of I-44 and grass fires were racing in all directions. People were slowing to stare, Mom was wringing her hands and stomping on flames, the dog was in the cab of the truck barking at this great new game we had devised and no one stopped to help.

Finally a good samaritan that was also a firefighter wheeled in behind us. He grabbed a bottle of pepsi twisted off the cap, covered the mouth of the bottle with his hands and shook it until it turned to foam, then he sprayed the remaining fire in the back of the truck. I jumped in and moved the truck forward away from the fire and jumped back out to help mom and the firefighter stomp out the flames. The the fire department arrived.

There had been some rhyme and reason to the way I tossed things out of the truck bed. Flaming things hit the shoulder, not flaming things went in the grass. I was trying to salvage a few of Mom's treasures. The firemen scrambled from their trucks and started spraying water and stomping on flames and mom and I stepped back to get out of their way. 

As we watched the firefighters work, we noticed that one of the things I had saved by tossing it down the hill away from the fire were the two antique sawhorses. As we congratulated ourselves on saving at least one treasure, a firetruck bounced down the hill and ran over them. At that point we started to laugh.

Then I walked up to the truck to get out water bottles for mom and I, and found that Max, Mom's Jack Russell Terrier, had been excitedly running from window to window keeping track of all the firefighters. As he stood on the armrest on the door, he'd stepped on the the door lock button and locked us out.

We were five hundred miles from home, Daddy's brand new pickup truck was covered with charred and bubbled paint. Three fire departments frantically worked to stop the natural cover fire that we'd inadvertently started. We were locked out of our vehicle and Max was locked inside. And worst of all, at some point in the very near future, Mama was going to have to call Daddy and tell him we'd trashed his brand new truck.

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