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Tommy Guptill had once owned a dairy farm, which he inherited from his father, and which was about two miles from the town of Amgash, Illinois. This was many years ago now, but at night Tommy still sometimes woke with the fear he had felt the night his dairy farm burned to the ground. Their house had burned to the ground as well; the wind sent sparks onto the house, which was not far from the barns. It had been his fault – he always thought it was his fault -- because he had not checked that night on the milking machines to make sure they had been turned off properly, and this is where the fire started. Once it started, it ripped with a fury over the whole place. They lost everything, except for the brass frame to their living room mirror, which he came upon in the rubble the next day, and he left it where it was. A collection had been taken up: For a number of weeks his kids had gone to school in the clothes of their classmates, until he could gather himself and the little money that he had; he sold the land to the neighboring farmer, but it did not bring much money in. Then he and his wife, a short pretty woman named Shirley, bought new clothes, and he bought a house as well, Shirley keeping her spirits up admirably as all this was going on. They’d had to buy a house in Amgash, which was a run-down town, and his kids went to school there, instead of in Carlisle where they had been able to go to school before, his farm being just on the line dividing the two towns. Tommy had taken a job as the janitor in the Amgash school system; the steadiness of the job appealed to him, and he could never go to work on someone else’s farm, he did not have the stomach for that. He had been thirty-five years old.
The kids were grown now, with kids of their own who were also grown, and he and Shirley still lived in their small house; she had planted flowers around it, which was unusual in that town. Tommy had worried a good deal about his children at the time of the fire; they had gone from having their home a place that class trips came to – each year the fifth grade class from Carlisle would make a day of it in spring, eating their lunches out beside the barns on the wooden tables there, and then tromp through the barns watching the men milking the cows, the white foamy stuff going up and over them in the clear plastic pipes – to having to see their father as the man who pushed the broom over the “magic dust” that got tossed over the throw-up of some kid who had been sick in the hallways, Tommy wearing his gray pants and a white shirt that had Tommy stitched on it in red.
Well. They had all lived through it.Continue Reading