My rural Missouri hometown is cut in half by Highway 25.
To the west lies the school and houses, and the town quickly fades into country, with fields and farms lining the road, which eventually takes you to Poplar Bluff. To the east lies the train tracks and more houses, followed by more fields, and eventually the Mississippi River.
To get anywhere in my hometown or to go anywhere, you have to drive on Highway 25. It’s the main thoroughfare, and most of Bernie’s businesses are located on it. The city park. The doctor’s office. Main Street with it’s fledgling restaurants and businesses, the antique store that used to be Wood’s grocery store (the owner was the mayor for years), several mechanics and gas stations, the drug store, and First Baptist Church. The old factory that shut down when I was a child. The community center. The Town and Country Grocery store.
Now that you’ve got the scene in mind, let’s get on to the story. Apparently, on Monday of this week, my dad had asked my mom to come pick him up at some farm south of where my parents live. I’d tell you the name of the plot of land, but since we call it by the name of the man who once owned it, it wouldn’t mean much to you. So my mom was getting ready to go pick up my dad and take him back to his truck or the shop or wherever he was going when a family friend called her on her cellphone.
OK, my mom isn’t a big phone talker, but this family friend is a big talker in general. She talks A LOT. My mom nicely hinted that she had to go, but her friend kept talking. So my mom headed out the door on the phone, giving a few “yes” and “uh huhs” here and there, but in general just listening.
She got in the car and drove down the driveway. She drove down the road and turned right onto Highway 25 to head into town. She headed toward the city limits sign and the city park, the stretch of road my mom had always tried to go 0-60 on in six seconds when we would drive to school in the days before my brother and I had our licenses. (This is NOT made up!) And suddenly, trucks with blue flashing lights and sirens appeared.
“Something’s going on in town,” she said to her friend.
The friend kept talking, never even acknowledging what my mom had said.
My mom continued driving into town, but now there were more screaming sirens and flashing lights. The fire truck. The emergency responders. She pulled over to the right to let them pass on the two-lane highway through the middle of town, all the while fearing the worst. In a small town, flashing lights generally mean someone you know and love might be in trouble. She began to wonder what was happening.
“Something really bad must be going on,” she muttered into the phone. No response. Her friend kept talking about whatever it was she had called about.
My mom eased back into traffic and continued driving south. And found the source of the excitement and emergency vehicles as she drove by the local grocery store. The Town & Country sign had caught on fire and had burned out, completely on its own. And now, all the people who had driven those emergency vehicles at breakneck speeds through the middle of town (plus a few other curious residents) were standing in the parking lot staring up at the burned-out sign dumbfoundedly.
That, my friends, is an exciting day. The story of the day the Town & Country sign burned up will be retold for weeks (and possibly years) to come.
And as far as I know, my mom’s friend never even realized anything was going down.