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Date Night at the Dump

“Do you smell that?” My husband shook my shoulder to wake me up. “What?” I mumbled, barely able to get the word out. It felt like we had just gone to bed, and my brain felt sleepy and muddled. “Smoke!” he said a bit more urgently. Smoke? The fog in my brain seemed to dissolve as I slowly made the connection between smoke and fire. “Fire?” I suddenly exclaim, throwing the covers off the bed and looking at the clock. 1:00 a.m. My husband was already up lacing his boots, I scurried to catch up. Twenty minutes later, we were tucked back in bed. We could still smell the smoke, but everything seemed okay: no burning outbuildings or haystacks. We finally decided that it must be the neighbor's wood stove smoke and we drifted back to sleep. Forty minutes later the phone started to ring. We both sat up with a start. We knew at that moment the smoke wasn't the neighbor's wood stove. “Fire! ...your cows..our house....the gate....can you come now?” I could only hear a few words from my husband's conversation. But the pit in my stomach was tightening. “We need to go,” my husband stated. “I'm not sure what all is happening, but the fire department needs us to let them in to the cow pasture. Hurry.” I didn't take time to get dressed, instead sliding the legs of my silk pajamas into my Muck boots and pulling on a stocking hat with a big pom pom on top. We stepped outside, and could immediately see the blaze from several miles away over the tops of trees. The roads were deserted as we headed towards the billowing orange and white flames. Neither of us spoke. We didn't know what we'd find. Were our landlords okay? Did their house burn? Are the cows alive? We drove up over the last hill and were met with an inferno worse that we'd imagined. The trees that followed the creek the length of the pasture were all on fire. The cows were silhouetted between the blaze and us, and would have made for a great photo—if anyone would have had time to take pictures! One fire truck after another arrived at the scene. I'm not even sure what the final count was. But there were both city and rural departments from multiple cities, I believe 5 different cities before it was all said and done. A slash pile from one of the local orchards hadn't been completely out when the wind picked up, and it wreaked havoc. Two homes were evacuated, and the flames had licked up the edge of one of the houses, charring the flowerbeds—but thankfully no structures were destroyed. As the first light began shining on the charred mess, we started counting the cows. It took us a bit, but we finally accounted for every last mom and baby. The relief was palpable. With no loss of life or buildings, the knot in our stomachs quickly turned to hunger. We left the burning, soggy mess to find some breakfast. It didn't last long though, and another phone call let us know it was on fire again. This time we hauled our ski steer down, and the rest of the day we were on shovel duty. The fire had gotten inside of the tree roots, and the whole place was smoldering hot spots. The mainline had melted in places, and the metal risers were just laying sadly on the ground where they'd melted off the pipes. We were tromping around with buckets and shovels, when our landlord lamented that because of the fire, he was going to miss one of the most special dates of the year with his lovely wife. They had been getting ready for it all last week. Life is too short to miss a special date, so my husband quickly offered to stay and keep on eye on the fire. They were both very excited, and soon headed off on their special date—to the dump. It was our town's free dump day, where they provide free soda and hot dogs for all their customers. “We get to sit together, dine al fresco, with our allotted one Coke a year. It's real nice!” the husband grinned. “And this year, we're celebrating my wife's 70th birthday too—although maybe she would have liked a little less fire to blow out!” And off they went smelling of smoke and likely tired, with big grins on both their faces to their date at the dump. My husband and I smiled at each other. We celebrate our anniversary with gas station burritos. It isn't about the place, or the food, or even how you smell—it's about making silly traditions and spending those moments with the people you love. As we watched them bump down the road in their pickup loaded for the dump, I wondered what they'd think about a double date next year?

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