The View From Faraway Farm: Not a big fan of drama

One of the more traumatic days in my life happened on the Fourth of July in 1974. I was the manager of a tiny little gas station between West Lebanon and Hanover, working the holiday afternoon shift. There were three buildings on the gas station property, the tiny station itself, an empty building being used for storage, and a two-story house behind the station that was a rental property owned by the oil company that owned the gas station. This was nearly 44 years ago but I remember it quite clearly. It was a perfectly beautiful summer evening. The family that rented the house was planning on going to the fireworks. I remember that the father had washed their beautiful red Mercury convertible in the shade of a forsythia, and had gone back in the house to work on another project. Business was kind of slow and I was sitting outside the gas station enjoying the weather.

Suddenly I heard a deep "whump" sound, then a scream. I looked back at the house just in time to see the father burst through the seconnd story window. He hit the dirt driveway, with his hands out in front of him to break his fall. Glass rained down on him as he writhed in pain on the ground, his damaged hands held in the air. I ran over to him as he stood up, repeating "I'm OK, I'm OK." I could see that he was in shock. I looked up at the window that he'd broken through and flames were roaring out of the destroyed opening and up to the peak of the roof. Everything was going up in flames very fast.

I ran back into the gas station and called in the fire. Within seconds a Granite State Electric Utility truck showed up and unhooked all the power going to the house and the gas station, followed by the Hanover, N.H., Fire Department. The family was out of the house and within seconds the old structure was fully involved. As the fire quickly spread there were a series of explosions. The father said, "That's all the ammo going up!" Because of the exploding shotgun shells, no one could get near the place. One of the kids was screaming for the family dog, a Doberman that perished in the fire. By this time the scene was chaos. I went back to the station and locked it up as the firefighters worked to douse the flames. The father was transported to Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital via ambulance, and I followed so that I could take him to a relatives house after treatment. It must have been close to midnight by the time he was released with casts on his two broken wrists. It was one of the most intense emotional days that I'd ever experienced, one of those things that you'll never forget.

What exactly had happened? Evidently, the father of the family had a small workshop in a spare room upstairs. He was cleaning snowmobile parts up there with gasoline. Something ignited the fumes causing an explosion. I never found out if it was the explosion that blew the man through the window, or if he simply smashed through it to escape the flames, it all happened so quickly. The home was a total loss and I never saw the family again except for one member who was a delivery guy for a furniture company. He delivered a piece of furniture that we bought maybe eight years after the fire.

I've been in a couple of situations since then that required a level head and the ability to act quickly. I've made it through them just fine but it seems that the older I get the harder it is to deal with those intense emotions that erupt when there is trouble. I got to thinking about how people react to sudden emergencies and wondering why I was able to get through those situations without panicking. The only thing I can recall is the First Aid training I got at the State of Vermont Conservation Camp at Lake Bomoseen when I was young. It was a rather intense course taught by Vermont State Police and Vermont Fish and Game Wardens. It was advanced from any First Aid training I had gotten while in the Boy Scouts, so I attribute my ability to handle emergencies due to having taken the First Aid course two summers in a row at Conservation Camp.

I am in no hurry to be tested again. I'm pretty sure I've forgotten about 75 percent of everything I learned 50 years ago. I really do have an aversion to that kind of drama, or any kind to be honest.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions