I’d like to step back from socio-political commentary this week to relate a personal tragedy.
On Monday afternoon, our phone rang. The person at the other end of the line was sobbing so hard I couldn’t understand her. I finally recognized the voice of our former neighbor, Susie.
“Pray for Dallas!” she sobbed. “He can’t get out! He can’t get out!”
I had no idea what she was talking about.
Late last year, we downsized from our old home of 17 years to a new location in North Idaho. We left behind a wonderful rural homestead and some of the best neighbors we’ve ever known – including our dear friends Dallas and Susie, who raised horses and cattle a short distance away.
Unbeknownst to us – since we now live many miles distant – a fast-moving wildfire had broken out below their home. The fire roared uphill and endangered the “peninsula” – a tongue of land jutting into a canyon, where a close-knit group of neighbors had spent years living, helping each other out and enjoying weekly potlucks until the COVID lockdowns interrupted the custom.
Dallas and Susie were almost the first people we met back in 2003 when we first moved to the peninsula, and they’ve remained our firm friends ever since. Their small home perches on the edge of the woods before the peninsula drops into the canyon.
They are literally the kind of people who will give you the shirt off their backs. Dallas is an old-fashioned larger-than-life cowboy born about 150 years too late. He taught us most of what we know about homestead veterinarian work. We joke that he knows practically everyone in the county, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. Susie is the quiet rock that anchors the more exuberant Dallas closer to the ground, a woman of plain common sense and sweet disposition. (Behind her back we call her Saint Susie.)
Our children and we consider this couple to be members of our family. For 17 years they joined us in celebrating Christmas, and we’ve shared more cups of coffee and casual visits than we can count. They’re good Christians, good friends and good neighbors. In a rural setting, you can’t get a higher recommendation than that.
After God, family and friends, what this couple loves above all other earthly possessions are their horses. When the fire broke out, everyone was evacuated within minutes. But Dallas – against Susie’s wishes – sprinted back to their home to try and release the livestock into the pasture farthest away from the forest in a desperate hope his beloved animals would be spared. It was at this horrible junction that Susie called, sobbing that her husband couldn’t get away from the flames.
I can’t tell you what personal hell my husband and I went through in the next half-hour as we prayed our neighbor would make it. We finally reached Susie again and learned to our relief Dallas had been able to get away.
They were not as fortunate with their home, however. It’s gone. The fire took everything they own – except their livestock, which Dallas was able to save by releasing them to another pasture. Their dog was also spared. But their small house was totally destroyed. They lost everything down to their clothing.
My husband called Susie the morning after the fire. She sounded grim but resigned about their loss. “Everyone’s safe,” she told him. “That’s the important thing.”
She said people had been rallying to their aid – securing them a temporary place to live, donating water tanks and hay for their livestock, offering prayers and consolation. “We’re truly blessed,” Susie concluded.
It’s frustrating living as far away as we do now. Our ability to physically aid our friends is hampered by distance, so we set up a GoFundMe page to help them put their lives back together. While they had homeowner’s insurance, their house was still unfinished, so the coverage was minimal.
This summer has been horrifically challenging for everyone living in the West. Drought, heat and raging wildfires have destroyed the homes and livelihoods of thousands. Our friends now number among the casualties.
As the community rallied around Dallas and Susie, helping with their immediate physical needs, they seem almost dazed to be the recipients of so much outpouring of love. But they’re simply reaping what they’ve sown after so many years of being good friends and neighbors.
“We’re so blessed,” Susie keeps repeating, and she means it. It’s not easy to count blessings when faced with a devastating loss, but that’s precisely what’s happening. But it will take more than the combined efforts of our small peninsula to help them rebuild their lives.
And so, dear readers, I am asking you to join us in helping these fine people. While you don’t know them as we do, I’ll bet you have friends who are just as wonderful. If your friends lost everything and needed a hand, you’d help if you could. If possible, we humbly ask you to donate whatever your heart leads you to do. Even a few dollars can help. We’re trying our best to turn their tragedy from a curse into a blessing.
Our friends are simple folks who’ve helped others selflessly over all the years we’ve known them. If you can’t help them in any other way, please say a prayer for them. Thank you.
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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.