It was a spring Sunday afternoon, and I had taken my 4-year-old son to the park while my other boys were inside at a 4-H meeting. We had just come in to warm up when my mother-in-law said, “I’m supposed to tell you, something’s on fire at your house.”
My brain scrambled for answers. I unplugged the curling iron, shut off the stove and stopped the dryer. My fingers unconsciously texted my husband, Michael, “What’s going on?” His response: “It’s the farrowing house.”
The farrowing house, a place of safety for new life, where seven mamma pigs, their babies, and our recently weaned piglets were housed had become a trap. We have a small show pig operation with Michael’s brother and I knew this time of year the farrowing house was nearly full.
Yes, the house we live in was safe. However, our baby pigs that I had helped deliver and had recently named were still inside the farrowing house.
The ten mile trip home took hours. I saw smoke and flames from a mile away. Seven sows and nearly 100 piglets died of smoke inhalation. I walked away and sobbed.
It was more than the money lost and the animals that died. It was a host of memories that turned to ashes in those flames. It was a New Year’s Eve that we spent as a family watching a new mamma pig all night long. It was my nightly date with my husband to stoke the wood burning stoves that kept the temperature just right. It was watching cousins take turns putting on plastic gloves to catch the next baby to be born. It was dragging my sleepy body to teach school the morning after I had been up all night helping deliver piglets.
And yet, in this whole disaster, the blessings were unbelievable. Only an hour before the fire, Michael and our four boys were splitting wood just outside the farrowing house. If the fire had started then, what would have happened? The cause was ruled electrical, and the small office where the breaker box is located serves as the hub of many daily activities. Rarely is that building or that room unoccupied by one or more of the humans I love.
The support was amazing and unexpected. Four high school boys I teach are members of the volunteer fire cadet program. They hauled hoses, sprayed water, and checked in with me frequently. The next day, a random squeeze on my shoulder proved that even if they didn’t care who Shakespeare was or what grammar rule was being taught, they still did care about the teacher. Facebook messages, neighbors volunteering to help, and even a pan of brownies reminded me of the benefits of living in rural Nebraska.
Just a month after the fire, the building has been rebuilt. Hours of cleaning and tearing down, climbing on the roof and hammering, installing new wiring and water lines have led to a fresh start. Currently five sows and their new litters of piglets are in the farrowing house, and life has resumed as normal.
Well, almost normal. I cringe when I smell smoke. I watch our piglets that were in the other building grow and wonder about the ones that died. But most importantly, I am thankful. I’m thankful for kind words and helping neighbors, for God’s perfect timing and guardian angels, and for the chance to add new memories to the old.