He walked through the front door, showed me the picture on his cell phone of a yellow dune buggy engulfed in flames, and I didn’t get it.
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “Wow.”
“Heidi,” my husband said looking me in the eyes, “that’s ours.”
I looked back at the picture on the cell phone and then again at my husband, “What?”
“It was a nice day. I drove the dune buggy to work. Figured you heard me fire it up this morning.”
“Then how’d you get home?” I asked, thinking he was joking.
“I got a ride.”
I could hear in his voice and see on his face he was not joking. I stood there a second still, only my eyes moving to look back at the cell phone he was still holding in front of me. Most of the photograph was flames.
“Yeah, I was driving down the road and some guy pulled up and was pointing and yelling. I thought he said flat, so I pulled over. He said fire. Fire, flat – sounds the same when you’re going down the road. As soon as I pulled over I could see flames.”
Eyes wide, my hand on my chest, I quietly gasped and shook my head. “You’re kidding me,” I said, putting my hand up over my mouth, my eyes welling up with tears.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, honey,” he said looking at me. “Come here, give me a hug.”
After ten years my husband knows me maybe a little too well. I wrapped my arms around him burying my head in his chest, squeezing him tightly.
“This is why I didn’t tell you what was going on when I talked to you on the phone.”
Remembering our call an hour earlier I pulled my head back.
“I didn’t lie,” he smiled, “I did not lie. I was near White Bear, and the voices were men on the road.”
Tilting my head to the side, I shook it and half smiled. It was true, he didn’t lie. He was near White Bear. He just left out the part where he was sitting on the side of the road near White Bear with the dune buggy on fire. And the voices were indeed voices of men on the road. My husband just failed to mention that they were voices belonging to policemen and firemen on the road trying to put out our dune buggy which was on fire.
“I knew I needed to tell you in person,” he said, hugging me again.
He was right. If he had told me over the telephone I would have . . . I just really did need him to tell me in person, standing in front of me so I could hug and hold and touch him being absolutely sure he was alright.
“So who gave you a ride home?”
“This kid who stopped to help me. When I saw the fire I jumped out and started hitting it with my sweatshirt trying to put it out. It wasn’t working so I grabbed a Gatorade from my lunchbox. This kid stopped and was trying to help me. I started to tell him not to touch the fuel line, and just then . . .” he shook his head and chuckled in disbelief, “as I was telling him not to touch the fuel line, he pulled it out. That basically fueled the fire and I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
My jaw dropped widening my eyes as I gasped again, “Oh my gosh. Honey . . .”
“What do ya do? He was trying to help. I grabbed my lunchbox, coat and keys. That fiberglass body, the magnesium from that engine – it was burning hot and there was no stopping it. So I stood there and watched it burn, and I figured I may as well take a picture.”
My husband and I had seen the yellow dune buggy in a gas station parking lot in 2005, the summer after we met.
“That looks fun,” I said to him.
“Should we take a look?” he asked, turning the truck around to head back to the gas station we just passed.
We pulled into the parking lot, looked at the dune buggy, discussed how much fun we could have, and out of curiosity Drew called to see how much the guy wanted for it. Next thing I knew it was sitting in Drew’s driveway and he was rebuilding the engine. The dune buggy became his “Tuesday boy night” project, and once he was finished, when the weather was nice we’d go for a drive.
My favorite ride in the dune buggy was the day of our wedding, just me and him, driving past the reception hall on our way for a toast at the bar where we met, me looking over at him smiling, him smiling back. Our first ride together as Mr. and Mrs. The beginning of a new chapter.
My husband, who I often describe as a “motorhead”, was proud of what he had done with the dune buggy. I was proud too. We smiled when our children would fight over who got to sit in the driver’s seat while playing in it in the driveway, and we giggled when our son would refer to it as his sister’s car – evidently she had made it clear to him that the dune buggy was hers (smile).
For all of those reasons and so many more I knew how devastating it must have been for my husband to stand on the side of 35 watching our dune buggy burn.
“Babe, I’m so sorry,” I said.
And like he has done so many times over the years he looked at me and said, “Eh, it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do.”
The guy who had stopped to help Drew, gave him a ride home after the police and firemen said Drew could leave because it would be a while before the fire was out – even using foam the engine was still smoking. They had already placed a call to a nearby towing company arranging for whatever was left of the vehicle to be towed once the fire was completely out. Since it was Fourth of July weekend, Drew would not be able to pick up what remained of the vehicle until Monday.
Standing in our dining room my husband asked, “Well, are we going to a carnival or what?”
“Yeah, maybe shower quick,” I suggested, smelling the gasoline fumes that had soaked into his skin and clothing. All I could envision was someone flicking a cigarette and my husband’s clothing starting on fire.
Drew smiled, “Oh what, do I smell?”
Always a jokester. I asked the kids what treat they were going to get at the carnival while Drew scrubbed up, changed his clothes, and put on some different shoes since his work boots were sweaty and the laces were burned.
Walking to where we were at the front of the house he asked, “Who’s ready for some fun?”
“I am, I am!” both kids yelled, running out the front door.
Pulling the house door closed behind us I hit the unlock button on my key fob and Drew helped the kids into the truck.
“I think I’ll drive,” I said.
“Probably not a bad idea,” he said with half a grin.
Then off we went to the carnival for a few smiles after some tears. Neither my husband or I wanted a “little” fire to ruin our Fourth of July fun. And it didn’t.
We cherish the memories and photos we have of our “yellow team” dune buggy, and we are thankful for the adventure it brought into our lives. And I am so, SO thankful for the stranger who pulled up and told my husband his dune buggy was on fire. A dune buggy is replaceable. My husband is not.