Fire at the Littleville Grill
I’m driving down highway 80 heading out of the South Toe River valley when I see two firemen in the middle of the road – without a fire truck.
“You headed Littleville way?” the first asks. He is about my height and has a just-outta-bed pinkness to his face. It is, after all, only a little after 8am on a Sunday morning.
“Yessir,” I say. “Where’s the fire?”
“Down there in Littleville, you know. If you don’t mind, you might go by way of Blue Rock instead.” He points to a side road and nods his chin. I know the way, though it takes me a few miles the wrong direction. It’s essentially the only other way to go out of the valley to end up at least somewhere near where Littleville.
“Littleville? Is it the Littleville Grill?” I ask, thinking of the icon of Littleville just eight miles down the highway from my house.
“Yeah, that’s it. It’s about gone now, burnin’ down to the ground.” He says this with a slight smile on his face, which at first confuses me and then I realize: He is the scout and this is the news. He’s the first the share the news, an act that has a sense of pride and duty to it. That’s where the slight smile comes from. But it’s that same news that causes him to lower his chin when he finishes speaking, a gesture also reflecting this pride and duty of his service.
“Thank you sir.” I wave goodbye and turn east onto Blue Rock Road, which dips down to the riverbank and cuts back south for a few miles before climbing again out of the valley.
I can see and smell the smoke about a mile before I get to Littleville via the detour. I’m in dad’s truck today and higher off the ground than usually. Pressing through the dense smoke, it feels as though I am floating through the sad cremation of someone’s dream. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A distinctly plastic and fried smell fills the air, hardly mistakable for a woodstove fire. Nearing Littleville on highway 19 I can see clearly through the wintered trees onto the roof of the Littleville Grill. A box of deep smoke rises in a fast moving tunnel above the ground where the Grill used to stand. Not an inch of building is visible in the smoke and I can count at least five fire trucks from my view on the neighboring highway.
The fire trucks are positioned strategically cornering off the hazard and protecting the other buildings of Littleville: our post office, the barber shop (closed in winter), the antique shop (where sometimes you can buy baby chics), and the make-shift lumber yard which stores at least 12 cord of wood (for sale, $3 per bundle). Houses dot the hillsides and families stand in their nightwear, covering their mouths and noses, watching from porches and roadsides as the icon disintegrates. The cremation of someone’s dream.