Until I was six, my family lived in an old two story house with a tin roof. The upstairs was more like the loaf of a barn than a house but it was spacious. So big in fact that mother had a close line up stairs but that is another story. We also had a wood heater upstairs just as we did down stairs. All the boys slept upstairs and Mother, Daddy and the three girls slept down stairs. It was a cold January night and we had a fire in both heaters. Daddy and the girls had gone to my aunt Cora’s for a visit. My oldest two siblings were out and I don’t remember where. This left my brother John [age 13], Mother and myself. It wasn’t late, probably around 6:00 PM but I had already gone to sleep on the couch. The next thing I knew, I was being carried by my 13 year old brother. He carried me outside and put me down and told me not to move. He went back in to help mother who was trying to put out the fire that had started from the upstairs heater but there was no use, in minutes the flames were soaring through the roof into the cool dark January night. Neighbor started pouring in from all directions. It was cold and I was in my fruit of the looms, no pajamas. I doubt anyone in the family having pajamas but I know I didn’t. The men were bringing out furniture and they brought out our old wooden box that mother used to store clothes in and so I got in the box just to keep warm. The box and I were at a safe distance and the fire kept me from freezing. In all the trauma, they forgot all about me. Mother went into shock and eventually was carried to the hospital. My baby sister and sister two years older were with Daddy. Our neighbors found me and put me in their pick up truck with the motor running and the heat on. I had also found some all clothes that I was using as a blanket. I was there for awhile and had a good view of the fire. There was no hope is saving the house are most of the contents. Most of Daddy’s WWII relics were destroyed along with Mother’s pictures and keep sakes. Everything went up in flames and in just a few short horrifying minutes, it was all gone.
We didn’t have all that much but it was upsetting to Mother and although Daddy never let it show, I am sure that he was upset as well. Every thing was so confused and Mother went into shock but the neighbors took charge. Everything that needed to be done was done. James Newby, one of our close family friends and neighbors told Daddy not to worry about me. I had been warming in his truck for more than an hour. He said “Jack can go home with us and he can stay with us as long as he needs to”. Daddy had his hands full and he agreed so off I went. I don’t know whether it began that night or not, but the Newby’s basically adopted me. I stayed with them several days before our family got settled in my Grandmother’s house.
We lived in my grandmothers house that winter but neighbors and friend came together and helped daddy build the house back. I don’t think any one charged him for labor and I am sure that some helped with the material. We were in the new house by the next Winter. We moved it without any of the house being finished. It was framed, blacked in, had a roof and a chimney. We lived in the basement for a good while. There were no steps to the second floor nor the third for the first few weeks. My brother and I would climb a ladder to the attic that had only a tongue and groove pine floor. We had no electric blankets. My brother did find an old radio that he and I listened to. We had to sleep under so many quilts that you couldn’t turn your toes up. Looking back, I don’t know how Daddy did it. He would work all day and then come home at night and work on that house. This went on for years.
We all pitched in and finished Mother’s closets in the 1980’s. Some of her closets did not even have doors. Mother and Daddy loved that old house. It was home to me for many, many years.
Now for the rest of the story. The Newby’s not only took care of me the night of the fire and the week after, they gave me a job when I was in the 7th grade. I was in hog heaven. I rode the back of a four-row John Deere planter. At the end of the day, I was covered in dust but I loved every minute. A man couldn’t have a better boss than Jimmy Newby. They helped me through high school and college. At times, they created jobs just to help me through school. I love tractors and they owed big powerful tractors.
Jerry and I attended high school and college together. From college, I went straight to Seminary where I graduated in May of 1974. Needless to say, the life of a rural pastor in those days [1970’s] was not very lucurtive but this family never stopped supporting me. I think the Christmas Cards started coming in 1976 and they never stopped. Had it not been for them, I would have had more than one blue Christmas. In those days, we lived 82 miles from home and Hannah loved the golden arches. Hey, I love the golden arches and because of their love and generosity, we got to stop on the way home every year. It is not a big deal today, but in those days, it was huge.