by Robert A. Bishir, Great Great Grandson of George D. Bishir in Jeremiah Bishir's line
Holidays evoke memories. I look back with the fondest of memories of Easter and Thanksgiving when all of the family would converge on Grandma’s house. I remember fondly the feeling of belonging. It was important that we were together and it was a blessing that we could be. As we get older, we sometimes take for granted these occasions and they can become more of a chore. Sometimes an event will bring everything back into perspective.
It was Thanksgiving morning, my wife Kirsten and I woke up early as usual. Kirsten’s younger brother John had spent the night on our sofa after being out late the night before. John was still sleeping on the sofa, we didn’t really make an attempt to be quiet but we weren’t intentionally trying to wake him up either. It was a cold morning, right at about zero degrees Fahrenheit. I was looking forward to a hot cup of coffee.
Kirsten got out a tube of cinnamon rolls to put in the oven, which was meant as a treat for me. I have a weakness for such things. In the meantime, John had woken up and was stretching. After the rolls were in the oven, Kirsten went to join John in the family room while I was getting a pot of coffee ready.
I was looking forward to spending the day at my mother’s house for Thanksgiving, something I hadn’t done for a few years. Mom already had a turkey in the oven and we were going to eat at about noon. It was going to be a nice, uneventful day.
Throughout my life, I’ve had two recurring themes for nightmares. The first, having grown up in the Midwest, is dreams about tornadoes. The second, for reasons I can’t as readily explain, has been train derailments. Perhaps it was due to growing up on North Dixie Highway on a block surrounded by railroad tracks. That Thanksgiving morning as I was about to pour a cup of coffee, I heard a crashing noise louder than any noise I had ever heard. Kirsten later described it as sounding like 2 semis crashing head on in our yard. The whole house shook with the thunderous noise. I peered out the kitchen window. I could see down the alley the source of the crashing noise. I watched with disbelief as I saw a train car plowing through the ground at the end of the block.
After staring out the window as it came to a stop, I went to the phone and called 911. My heart was pounding so fast, I don’t believe I made much sense. While I was on the phone, John and Kirsten got up and looked out the kitchen window to see what it was that I had saw. After I hung up, we all decided we would walk down the alley to get a closer look. We were all still in our pajamas, but we put on shoes and coats, I grabbed a camera, and walked out down the block.
When we got to the end of the alley, there were several tanker cars labeled ADM off the tracks and a couple of box cars. I didn’t notice any hazardous placards, so I guessed they were full of corn syrup. I took a few pictures of the tankers, but we soon decided it was way too cold to be outside. I headed back first and Kirsten and John followed soon afterwards.
Once inside, the cinnamon rolls were ready to come out of the oven. We sat down to enjoy them without giving much more thought to the incident that had happened not too far from our home. Suddenly, we could hear someone walking onto our deck from the back of the house. The door bell rang, so Kirsten got up to see what was going on. She opened the door to find Roger Hess. Roger, or “Bones” as he is called, was a friend of the family and the former Fire Chief. He told Kirsten something that we were not prepared to hear.
He told us that we need to evacuate. Two freight trains had collided about 3 quarters of a mile east of our house. The tanker cars that I thought was harmless corn syrup was actually full of highly flammable denatured alcohol. If it were to explode, our entire block would be destroyed. My step dad Dave was Fire Chief at the time, so we called my mom, Rita. There house is about a quarter mile east of the collision point and they were being evacuated as well. Mom was heading to the fire station in town. Kirsten and I decided to join her there.
When we arrived at the fire station, my mother, my step-sister Marcia and her baby boy Mason, my Aunt Joanne and Uncle Mike were already there. They were making plans on how they were going to be able to feed this all volunteer fire department as it was going to be a long exhausting day. My brother Paul and step-brothers Jeremy and Derek were fire fighters along with Dave.
The day was bitterly cold with single digit readings all day. Firefighting is tough enough without having to deal with elements that they faced. At the fire station, we were able to make coffee and hot chocolate to help warm up the volunteers as well as chili and sandwiches. As the firefighters, policemen, and rescue workers came in from the cold on rotated breaks, they were thankful for our efforts. I was humbled as I realized that they were the ones that our community and I should be thankful for. It was a privilege for me and the others to be there for them, to serve them as they served us. It did not matter what their own personal motivations were when the decided to become a volunteer firefighter, a policemen, or a paramedic, they were doing God’s work. This is truly what we should be concentrating on at such an occasion such as Thanksgiving.
We should not wait for a disaster to occur to make this realization. We have an opportunity everyday to make a difference in the lives of others and our communities. We should thank those whose efforts have enriched our lives. We do not need to wait for a holiday to do this. I will always remember that Thanksgiving, not as a disaster, but as a blessing.