The Fire Next Time

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Logging onto my computer, it almost hurt to type my password. For now, it is the name of a small town fifteen miles away from the Montana cabin where my family has spent every summer since 1970. The experts tell you not to choose a password that people might be able to figure out, but there's no reason anyone would know of my fondness for this quirky spot that grew up even as my family grew up and out. And now it is surrounded by fire, and my parents have fled the cabin that has been a safe haven for so many seasons.

On Sunday, the news cameras were set up by the giant cow outside Clearwater Junction, the truck stop where I worked behind the counter one summer, which now is the point where the highway is closed to the north because of the worst fire in the country.

Yesterday, I spoke to my mother as she was deciding what to pack up and stash in Bucky, the ancient station wagon so named because its ride is worse than any you'd ever get on a bronco. "Take everything you've made," I said. (They couldn't take the things my dad had made, because they are all buildings -- including a new room he and the grandchildren just finished this summer). "Take the photo albums. And the Kennedy Game."

That's a board game that was already ancient when I picked it up at a yard sale decades ago, Looking at the Camelot-era Kennedys on the cover always gives us a laugh. And even the mention of the game gave my mother a laugh this time, because it shows just how quirky sentiment can be, how the most unusual items can have meaning, how memories are almost impossible to keep concrete -- but you can still hold them tight.

This morning, I talked to a sister in Boston who'd spent a month at the cabin with her kids and just returned home a few days ago. She'd talked to my mother yesterday, too, and had also advised her to take all the things she'd made, as well as some momentos from a cabin that her own parents had in Canada.

"I told her to take the Kennedys Game," I said.

My sister was silent for a minute. "I hope she's not still there looking for it," she finally confessed. "Because I have it. I stole it. It really belongs in Massachusetts."

Another quirky memory made. -- Patricia Calhoun


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