August 12th, 1988. I was ten years old at the time and living with my mom and siblings in Port Orchard, Washington. I think I remember that exact day easily because it was the day after my brother Jeff celebrated his eighth birthday and I had spent my own money that year buying him an “ALF for President” poster with a depiction of the character from the then popular television sitcom. I also remember that day well because it was the day that our house burned to the ground and we lost everything… even my beloved baseball card collection. There is a peculiar smell that accompanies a house fire that I have found never leaves the memory banks of those who experience them, and brings back a flood of memories even decades later when smelled again.
Interestingly, even after all these years, there is still one face that emerges clearly in my mind’s eye when I think back on the days that followed our house fire. It’s not the face of one of the many brave firefighters who responded in our time of need, or the countless family and friends who offered places to stay, warm meals, or clothing – sometimes right off their backs. No, the face that emerges is that of an old man who lived down the street from us at the time and whose financial situation was obviously far below our own. I still remember him sheepishly knocking on the door of the place we were staying a few days after the fire, the dirty clothing he wore, and even the few hairs on his head and even fewer teeth in his mouth. He held out a brown paper bag while offering words of sympathy to my mom, and ended with – as I remember, “I’d give you more if I could, but this is all I had.” Upon opening the bag after closing the door, I was disappointed to find only two cans – green beans and dog food. My 10-year old disappointment was obvious as I turned around and saw tears streaming down my mom’s face. Not tears of disappointment, but tears of heartfelt appreciation for a man who, observing a need, went out of his way in offering of his own want in order to serve our family.
Since moving to Melba eight years ago, I have been reminded of that man’s face countless times as I have witnessed members of our wonderful community go out of their way to serve their neighbors. Consider the following that have all happened very recently:
A few great women in our community have gone out of their way to open a Bountiful Baskets co-op site here in town. The personal and family time commitment to get trained and operate this site have been significant, but the benefits have already been seen throughout our community.
Many citizens have inquired about the feasibility of opening a recreation center in Melba. City council members Cory Dickard and Chris Hinderliter have volunteered to lead an exploratory committee in seeking out the best options to make this a reality.
Through the tip of a concerned neighbor, and the generosity of the Melba Community Auction committee, a family was able to receive propane in a time of great need.
Matt Stapleton, brother of council member Parkie Stapleton, observed that we needed a new clock in City Hall, and offered his great talents in handcrafting one for us. Unfortunately, Matt and his mother lost their lives in a tragic car accident before that clock was completed. Through Parkie’s skilled hands, that unfinished clock now hangs in the Council Chamber as a beautiful token to Melba’s recent centennial celebration; a wonderful gift indeed.
To those who go out of their way, often at much personal sacrifice, to make Melba such a great place to live, I thank you. You may never know the lives you touch for the better, or the people who are observing – and remembering – the acts of service you offer.