Take a deep breath, but don’t choke on the smoke

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By Becky Barnes

I am blessed.
I’ve never had a near death experience... no heart attacks like Angie Walker suffered at 44 years old; no car wrecks with life-lasting injuries; no cancer or major surgeries.
(Walker’s story of survival is on the front page.)
Still, I know what it’s like to hold my breath so long that when I realize I’m getting light-headed, I have to remind myself to take a deep breath.
Five years ago on Valentine’s Day, my daughter Erin had a horrific car accident. I was the first person to arrive at the scene.
It was nothing less than heart-stopping, breath-grabbing scarey.
Mothers, you know the feeling you get when you’re in a store with your children and one slips off?
It’s panic, pure and simple. That’s the feeling I’m talking about here.
Another one of those incidents was nearly 15 years ago when a school bus of Northside Elementary students crashed on the way to Mr.  Fister’s Pumpkin Patch.
I heard the call over the scanner and immediately my peachy skin tone drained to an ashen hue.
My youngest was supposed to go to the Pumpkin Patch. This is the same child that would slip off at department stores to hide between the racks of clothes.
Nonetheless, it felt as if I didn’t breathe until I arrived at the crash site and realized that Seth wasn’t on the crashed bus and there were only minor injuries to the kids who were on the bus.
And yet, none of these incidents prepared me for what I felt as I topped the hill above my house and saw red, flashing lights of fire trucks that appeared to be circled around my house like a wagon train hailed to ward off attacks.
Smoke was not gently billowing out of the chimney of my Antioch home in a romantic setting. No, it was belching in a black, smothering swirl of smelly smog.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Ernie. My dog. My stuff.
As I pulled along the highway and ran up the driveway, I saw that my sister-in-law holding my dog. (That’s one.)
Inside the house I met Ernie who cheerfully said “Hi Miss Bec.”
“Whaaaa?” (That’s two.)
Thanks to the fast-actions of Ernie, Pat and the Harrison County volunteer firefighters, what could have been disastrous, was not. A chimney fire was contained to the chimney.
Oh, my house stinks from the smoke that surged through crevices, and a thick coating of dust is on all my furniture and “stuff,” (that’s three), but nothing was damaged.
The fallout was nothing like Monday’s deadly eruption of the Bulusan volcano in the Philippines, but when I topped the Antioch hill about 7 p.m. Tuesday, it sure seemed like it was going to be.
I remain blessed and grateful to the men who responded, who climbed my roof in the dark, who carried ash and soot from my wood stove, who set up a fan to draw out the smoke, who stayed until the last ember was snuffed; but mostly, to those who allowed me to catch my breath when I forgot to breathe.