My sister and I stood in the charred remains of a life that once was and said not a word. What was there to say? Finally, I spoke.
“I refuse to cry,” I said evenly.
I’ve been crying too much for the past several years over too much loss. Those I love as well as material but sentimental possessions lost to both thieves and a misfortunate plumbing disaster at Mama’s house that had flooded to ruin so much she left behind. It was time to follow the example of my people and stoic up.
But still ...
It was hard not to see the ghosts in the blackened ashes, to hear their whisperings or to recall the wisdom plied like a fine whiskey upon the ones who would listen and take note. Sixty years before, my daddy, Ralph Satterfield, had taken the little money earned from a gas station he bought after the war, then a little garage he shared with my uncle. He bought the land and then built the garage that now was nothing more than nothing under our feet. Lightning had struck both the shop and our hearts.
The firemen were kind. They called it a “landmark,” and many commented on the cups of coffee and stories they had shared around that old wood-burning stove.
The fire marshal said, “It meant a lot to this town.”
There had been a two-step-up platform in the back. It was there that many times I had walked in to find Daddy in a low, tattered chair, holding court to the coffee-drinking men. Most times, he was to be found with a completely worn Scofield Bible open in hand, explaining the “word of God so you heathens will understand.” He was entertaining as well as authoritative, that daddy of ours.
A man, his skin the color of the ashes around us, walked up softly as there we stood.
“I knowed Ralph,” he said quietly, tears filling his eyes. “This place has been here since I growed up. He was always good to me. I shore do hate this.”
So did we.
Louise was standing near Daddy’s desk, still standing but ready to collapse.
“How many times do you suppose he hung up the phone at this desk, grieved over news he had received, then dropped his head in his hands and prayed?” I asked.
I could see it so clearly. The Lord had lived in that shop that made a living for our family as surely as he lived in any church.
That’s the main thing Daddy would want us all to remember.
On an outdoor wall still hung — though licked thoroughly by fire — the badly faded Coca-Cola sign that read “Satterfield Alignment and Garage.” For 40 years, at least, Daddy had a Coke machine, so the company had given him a sign. It caused a chuckle, though. The years had faded the sign so much that previous lettering showed faintly. The Coke sign before it had been Daddy’s had belonged to a vegetable stand.
“So fitting,” I pointed out to Louise.
Our family history is one of hand-me-downs and secondhand purchases. “Brand new” were words rarely spoken in our house.
“Let’s take that sign for the barn,” Tink had said.
“We could have it repainted,” I suggested.
“I think we should leave it just as it is,” he replied. “It says so much about your family.”
That it does.
One of Daddy’s self-penned mantras danced in my head as I looked around: “Kid, never worry over that which money and hard work can replace.”
But that’s the problem, you see.
No amount of money or hard work can ever replace the memories or rebuild what once was. It cannot bring back the man who gave his labor to those in need, his hospitality to many and his prayers to everyone.
Oh, how I want to break down and cry.
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