April 2010
Through the Fence

Barn Burning Has Unexpected Outcome

Marrying into my family was probably a bit intimidating for my husband. He had heard about them for years through our mutual friend who eventually introduced us. To most of the people who knew my father, he was truly "larger than life." He was a successful entrepreneur as a tire dealer in downtown Dallas, a pioneering Charolais cattle breeder when that business was in its infancy and later as a residential land developer. Despite all that, his kindness and generosity, particularly on an anonymous basis, endeared him to all who knew him. Any young man would want to do everything just right after he had married this imposing character’s youngest daughter.

But that desire seemed doomed one weekend about a month after we married. My parents were out of town for a few days and we decided to clean up around one of my dad’s barns and burn some old pallets stacked nearby. One thing we failed to take into consideration was how close the barn was to the trash pile we’d be burning. But that little detail was overlooked in our youthful zeal to finish the job.

We worked for an hour, dragging feed bags and scrap lumber to the heap of old pallets that had once supported a barn full of hay bales. When we were satisfied all burnable trash had been rounded up, we sprinkled on an ample dose of diesel. We didn’t notice the wind had picked up, so we tossed the match.

It didn’t take long before the ten-foot mound was engulfed in flames. We were watching the flames, when we realized that maybe the pile was a little too close to the barn. We also noticed the wind was whipping the flames dangerously close to the structure. Normally, that would not have been a big deal, since the barn was all metal, but my dad had finished out a small office and an apartment in the front of the building with traditional wood and drywall construction.

We didn’t say anything to each other right then, but we were both really nervous about the proximity of the fire and about the showers of sparks and burning debris being carried by the January winds. Suddenly, the office window burst and the curtains were set on fire. Black smoke started billowing out of the sheetrock walls.

In those days, cell phones were unheard of and we didn’t feel we should leave to drive to a neighbor’s to use a phone. So we just stood there helplessly and watched the flames consuming my dad’s office in horror.

Thankfully, the puffs of smoke had been noticed in the nearby town. In a few moments, the local volunteer fire department’s trucks rolled through the gate to our rescue. Soon the flames were extinguished. The barn was intact, but the interior rooms were soggy, smoldering ruins. We thanked the firemen for their help and then turned to each other and voiced the obvious question: How in the world were we going to break this news to my parents?

We had to wait a couple of days, fretting over the wording, until they returned. There was no delicate way to say we’d almost burned the barn down. With no excuses, but with lots of regret and humility, my new husband told my parents what had happened.

We waited anxiously for the inevitable fallout. Instead, my dad just started grinning. Confused by this unexpected reaction, my husband asked him what was so amusing.

"I have maintained the insurance on that barn for the last few years, even though I no longer use that office and apartment. You’ve just done me a tremendous favor!" he told us.

Our immense relief was palpable. My dad just laughed and slapped my husband on the back and assured him he had nothing to worry about. In that moment, their special relationship was cemented.

I’m sorry they only had another couple of years to enjoy it.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..