BURNING DOWN THE PARSONAGE

by Randy Reynolds

For a few glorious weeks in the summer of 1960 Ronda Jean Reynolds had her own bedroom.   Her three sisters shared a room together.  Her two brothers shared a room.  But she, for the first time ever, had a room of her own, a tiny plywood afterthought at the back of the Shepherd’s Fold (Louisiana) parsonage, flimsier than the rest of the structure, but it was hers. True, the TV set was in there but she, knowing as well as anyone that a preacher couldn’t be caught with a TV in his front room, didn't mind all that much. In Bainbridge, this same little Philco with a coat hangar for rabbit ears and tin foil on the coat hangar to boost reception, had been in the boys’ bedroom, so having her room be the TV den this time was turn about and a reasonable penalty for having a room of her own. The family, after an hour of invading her space each night to watch Westerns and variety shows away from the sharp ears and prying eyes of members who might show up at the front door, scattered to other parts of the house when Daddy turned the Philco off and that's when the little add-on room became hers and hers alone once more.

It was the first room to burn when Ranger started the fire.  Flames shot through the back window above the tiny bed, and the room filled with smoke but Ronda didn’t know because she was out cold.

Her daddy had smothering spells sometimes, usually when he was keyed up about something such as watching Mr. Kennedy make his acceptance speech in Los Angeles on July the 15th.  She knew Kennedy was a Catholic and she was afraid of Catholics because she had heard preachers at the district meeting—though not her daddy—say that people shouldn’t vote for a Catholic because he would let the pope run the country.  She didn’t know what a pope was but he sounded scarier than Morgus the Magnificent on Channel 4, so she was hoping Kennedy wouldn’t win. 

Her daddy got up in the middle of the night and sat at the kitchen table.  Sometimes he just prayed his four-word prayer “I plead the blood.”  He’d say it over and over real loud.  She didn’t know what it meant, but she knew he could say it forty-six times in a row before thinking of something else to say because one time she counted and he would have probably kept going but he stopped when she came into the kitchen.

“Hello, girl, you’re supposed to be in bed.”

“You woke me up,” she said, going to him for a hug.

“Well, since you’re up, we may as well make some cocoa.”

The cocoa always calmed him down and he’d quit smothering till the next time. 

Ricky said that Ranger was a mean horse, but Ronda felt sorry for him.  (For Ranger, not Ricky.)  The poor horse had only one good eye and when things moved or made a noise on his blind side it spooked him.  He was old and not very good looking, even for a horse. He was so skinny she could count his ribs so it was no wonder that he was always trying to break into the shed to get at the bale of hay that was stored there.  The shed wasn’t big enough for the horse and the washing machine both, but he could push open the door with his nose and get his head and neck and front feet in there.  Her daddy shut the shed door tight and sometimes Ranger pushed at it with his head and woke her up.  She yelled at him through her back window before, but when Ranger wanted to do something a little yelling didn’t have much effect on him. 

Her daddy said it was dangerous for Ranger to stick his head in the shed because there was a hot water heater in there and if the horse pushed any hay against that flame the shed could catch fire.  Whether that’s what happened the night the shed caught fire and that fire caught the house on fire, she didn’t know.   But she didn’t know much of anything that night.

One moment she was asleep in her very own room for the very last time ever.  The next thing she knew her daddy was screaming her name and grabbing her hard and jerking her out of her bed which was almost but not quite twin-sized. Gripping her in one arm and his shotgun in the other, he whirled around and took a giant step toward the kitchen as the back wall caved in behind them. Her daddy told her this later because she didn’t remember it detail for detail.

The shed was fully engulfed in flames and the back of the house was burning when Mr. Willie Taylor turned from Bush-Folsom Road onto Lee Road on his way to work.  He drove into the yard and ran up on the porch yelling at the top of his lungs.  He didn’t say anything about a fire—just banged on the door and yelled “Wake up! Wake up!  Wake up!”

Gene was the first one that heard him and he thought a crazy man was trying to break in so he loaded his .410 shotgun and was going to shoot through the door but then he smelled the smoke.  

Still holding his shotgun he yelled, “Wake up, Violet!  The house is on fire!”

He ran to Ronda’s room and Violet ran to the boys’ room and grabbed each of them by an arm. “Get out of here!  Now! Fast!  The house is on fire!”

Randy picked up the new jeans she'd bought for him the day before at Bill’s Dollar Store in Bogalusa, but she jerked them out of his hands and said, “We don’t have time for that.  Run!  Run!  Get out!”

So Randy and Ricky, wearing only their jockey shorts scrambled for the front door as Violet rescued the three youngest girls.

Once outside, all they could do was stand and cry and watch it burn.  

Gene held on to Ronda.

“You need to move your car before it catches on fire,” said Mr. Taylor.

Gene felt in his pants pockets but couldn’t find his keys.

“Maybe we can push it away from the house,” said Mr. Taylor.

But Gene wouldn’t let go of Ronda.

Men materialized out of the dark—some of them headed to work, others who had gotten phone calls from Uncle Barney who lived up the road.  Sister Jessie, Uncle Barney’s wife, showed up with their teenaged daughter Cheryl. Randy and Ricky stood before them in nothing but underwear, trembling with embarrassment.

The Reynolds family would never know who all the heroes were because it was dark and there was a lot of confusion, but one they knew for sure was Floyd Jenkins.  He was the first man into the burning house, followed by several others.   They couldn’t put out the fire but they would save what they could.  They grabbed dresser drawers and boxes and clothes, anything they could get their hands on, and threw it into the yard. 

Violet was forever grateful that Floyd saved the family photos.

Randy and Ricky were forever grateful that Cheryl and Sister Jessie rushed home and got some bed clothes to wrap the children in. Randy and Ricky wrapped themselves in a single sheet and stood out of the way.  Eventually the volunteer fire department got there but it was too late for them to do anything.

As the sun rose, Ranger went running by.


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  • Desiree Waguespack Maestri  Wonderful story. I have tears in my eyes on this one. You need to write a book.
        1 hr · · 2

  •    Cheryl Clem     A night I will never forget.............Good writing, Randy...Good writing.
  •        40 mins · 3

    Jeff Salter  I see other comments posted at the site, but I still can't find a box or a button.
      Anyhow, fantastic story. Got my heart rate up as I read. Wow. I can smell the smoke!
      10 mins · Like

    Brittany Richard  All I can say is wow. And you really should write a book Mr. Randy.
      13 mins · Like


  Sharon Crow Brown Wonderful story and very well written!
     12 hrs · Unlike · 1



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