By William Hrdina
It started with a church fire.
No one was hurt, thank the Lord. But the church was leveled to the ground. Officially, the fire was blamed on a candle. The report said it fell over and caught a hanging tapestry on fire. From there, the entire building went up. Ironically, the tapestry depicted Moses and the burning bush. Despite the "official" story, at Peggy's lunch counter, the scuttlebutt was Mrs. Marningham started the fire.
She was working late, giving the organ it's once a year cleaning, when she accidentally knocked the candle over with one of the long organ pipes. The reason the accident was a scandal, was due to the source of her bad reflexes. She was said to have made repeated visits to the sacristy- to sample the altar wine.
Mrs. Startling thought she was being perfectly reasonable when she started this rumor the day after the fire. After all, when she was 15- didn't Mrs. Marningham get drunk on whiskey from her papa's still and make a fool out of herself at the town fair? Sure, some would point out Mrs. Marningham was now 63, but once a drinker, always a drinker, that was Mrs. Startling's opinion.
The church fire marked the first time the Volunteer Fire Dept. of Porno County, Iowa (named after the venerable Claude Porno in 1897) was called into action in almost five years. The last time, in '05, was when Jerry Pepard started his garage on fire when he knocked over a turkey fryer on Thanksgiving. Jerry suffered a pretty nasty burn on one of his legs and people still were known to gobble when he walked by.
In retrospect, the firemen were quite proud of their response time to the church fire, only 13 minutes from first call to water coming out of a hose. But it wasn't enough. Dave Reynolds, the ladder-man on the county's only firetruck, knew before he put his boots on the ground the church was going to be leveled- you could see the flames flickering up into the sky from a quarter mile away. They gave their best though- and successfully prevented the fire from spreading to the Post Office located just 25 yards away.
At a hastily planned, but well attended town meeting after the fire, it was universally agreed the church would need to be rebuilt as soon as possible. Pastor Pat Flannery gave an impassioned speech about how the church was the moral center of their small community and everyone agreed it was quite convincing. The problem was- there wasn't enough money in the town coffers to rebuild the sandbox- never mind a whole church. There'd been cutbacks.
So while everyone agreed the church was a vital and necessary part of town life- they were at a loss to find a way to get it rebuilt.
When anyone asked, 16 year old Scott Slatherin insisted his name was Jim, after Jim Morrison. Problem was- no one asked Scott his name because he lived in a town with only 754 people. Everyone already knew his name.
So then, Scott tried correcting them when they called him Scott. But that didn't work either.
"Oh Scott," They said, "you're such a goof.