One Tragic Night
Allie Edwards and Silvia McKinney
It all started at my little brother Mason’s first birthday party. All of our friends and family were coming to celebrate at our fairly new house. I was excited to get to see my grandparents again.
My grandparents lived in the metroplex but would come down to their ranch very often, stay there for the weekends, and come visit us. My Papa loved it at the ranch, so he stayed there almost full-time. My Grammie still had her job with the airlines and worked all week, but she would pack up every Thursday to come to the ranch to be with Papa. They had cows and horses on the ranch, which was about 50 acres of land. They always loved coming to the ranch and visiting their grandchildren. And I always loved going over to the ranch to be with my Grammie and Papa.
We had a wonderful time at Mason’s party. But at the beginning of the night, we had no idea how horrible the ending would be.
As everyone began to go home, I had this weird feeling that I didn’t want my Grammie or Papa to leave. I kept making conversation to make them stay. I didn’t know why I had this feeling. I remember being so upset because my parents said I couldn’t go with my grandparents to the ranch to stay the night with them. If it hadn’t been Mason’s birthday, they would have let me go. We had no idea how lucky we were that my mom and dad said no.
Once we said goodbye to everyone, my mom and I were talking, and I told her about my weird feeling. She said it was just because I loved my grandparents so much. She was right; I loved them so very much.
It wasn’t even 10 minutes later when the house phone started ringing. It never rang that late at night. My dad answered it, and my mom and I were sitting on the couch, anxious to know who was calling. Then my dad said, “Oh my goodness! I will be there in five minutes.” At that point my stomach just dropped. Once my dad got off the phone, he said, “That was Michael.” Michael was my grandparent’s neighbor by the ranch. He was also my Papa’s best friend. Then dad said that the barn had just exploded, they had called 911, and they were on their way. Both my Grammie and Papa were in the barn when this happened. I begged my dad to let me go with him, and he did.
I have never in my life seen my dad drive as fast as he did. I was bawling the whole way. My dad just had this look on his face that said, “Lord, help me.” I really don’t know how else to describe it.
You could see smoke from the barn about two miles away. We pulled up alongside many other cars down the ranch road—ambulances, fire trucks, and every kind of vehicle you could think of. Once we got there, it felt like such a rush. My head was spinning, and I just didn’t know what to do or think. My dad and I ran up to the ranch gate, but the fire department wouldn’t let my dad go to my grandparents or to the barn. Then my dad asked a friend to hold on to me until he got back. He went up to the gate and just ran right through the firemen and straight for my Grammie and Papa, who had already been placed in the ambulance. He was able to see them for a minute before the ambulance drove off.
When my dad came back up the road to get me, he said: “Get in the truck; we are going to Parkland Hospital.” As soon as I started to open my mouth, he said: “Don’t ask questions! It’s the best burn center in Texas.” After that, I didn’t say a word. Then we passed my other grandpa on the road, and Dad asked him to take me. I got in the car with my grandpa and we met my mom at the end of the road. We watched as Grammie and Papa were careflighted by helicopter from the pasture off the main road. Then my mom and I went home, and my dad drove to Dallas.
I didn’t get any sleep that night. I just kept tossing and turning and couldn’t get my mind over it. The next morning, we got up really early and went over to the ranch to see the barn. All the people had cleared out, but there were still some firemen putting out the rest of the fire. The explosion blew up everything inside the barn, including the car. Something really neat was in the car—a Bible. It was the only thing that didn’t burn in the car.
My Papa ended up dying in the hospital 63 days later. He was one of my best friends, and I know he is in a better place. He was a strong believer in Jesus Christ. I miss him so much. To this day, my Grammie is still alive and well. In the explosion, her hip was broken, and she has burn scars for life.
None of us will ever forget Mason’s first birthday.
Bliss and Blessing
Bob and I had known 20 years of happy marriage. We had worked side by side in the customer support division at Northwest Airlines for many years. Our children were all grown, and we had built a comfortable nest egg to enable us to fulfill our dreams in retirement. Both of us were Christians and members of First Baptist Church in Hurst, Texas, where we tried to use our gifts to serve others. Bob, especially, was the kind of person who was quick to put out his hand to help others or reach into his pocket to give when others needed it.
Our dream of one day living in the country led us to buy 50 acres of land outside the small town of Streetman, Texas. At first, we tried a stint with goats, which didn’t go well. Then we began raising cows. What an education two city people received as we tried to become “ranchers”! We moved a very old trailer onto the property, where we built some great family memories. Then we began building our dream house—a barndominium—a 60 x 60 ft. workshop/storage building with a house inside. After four years of struggling, saving, building, and doing much of the work ourselves, we were within a week of moving into our “new” residence. Custom cabinets for the kitchen had been put in that week, as well as a gas range. As the building progressed, we had been moving in our furniture and household things from the small house we owned in another city. The new place was already feeling comfortable and like home.
During this time, while Bob oversaw the construction of the barn, I was still working and living in Dallas during the week. But on weekends, I would be at the ranch, involved with the work. Though we often talked of getting the barn insured, we never seemed to find a place to stop work, get cleaned up, and get to town—procrastination! In all our years, we had never been so foolish. This time we were!
It was Friday, August 29, 2008, our grandson’s first birthday. We attended his party and returned to our barn home at about 10:00 p.m. I entered the house first and smelled a strange, awful smell. Bob said he would check it out, and I headed for the bathroom. I turned on the hot water to wash my hands (dispensed from a wall-hung tankless heater) and then…blank! The next thing I was aware of was rolling in the dirt with my clothes and hair on fire, but with seemingly no pain. I was screaming, and I could hear my husband screaming and calling my name.
Within seconds, the big electrical power box exploded, and the entire house blew up. The sound was so great that neighbors 20 miles away heard it. I was blown 20 feet away from the building, but Bob was trapped inside. One of the first people to arrive was a young man who ran inside and pulled Bob out. Fire trucks came, but the fire was just too much. When ambulances arrived, Bob and I were taken to a field nearby where helicopters could land. We were put into two separate helicopters and transported to Parkland Hospital. The last words Bob spoke to me were: “We’ve lost everything!” I could only think of how grateful I was that we were both alive.
We lost all our worldly possessions: the barn, equipment, furniture, and our car. Since we had cashflowed the building of the barn but neglected the important matter of getting it insured, we lost everything! However, material possessions have no value when compared to life!
A Home in Heaven
But life was not to be in Bob’s future. As it turned out, his injuries were very severe and took his life after 7-1/2 weeks of struggle in intensive care. He had 70 degree burns over a major part of his body, and the burns went deep into his lungs and kidneys. On October 23, he lost his fight for life on this earth and entered the gates of heaven!
I don’t recall much of what was happening during the 4-1/2 weeks I was being cared for at Parkland. Bob was in the intensive burn unit, and because of my own injuries, it was two weeks before I was able to visit him. Bob had had several surgeries and a tube was helping him breathe. He couldn’t speak. I became aware that Bob was in a precarious life and death situation. This “man’s man,” who extended the warmth of his love through the work of his hands, would not have wanted to live in a less-than-normal state. My prayer became: “God, please, Your will be done.” Bob’s faith was in the Lord. He depended on Christ for salvation and eternal life, and—in this earthly life—had lived life fully, experiencing the abundant life Christ had promised. So, in the end, we had to release Bob into God’s care.
Our families on both sides surrounded us totally with their love and support, as did our church family. We knew God was in control, and there was no answer as to why this had happened. In fact, the cause of the explosion was never determined. Our faith assured us that Bob was in a better place. The Bible defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). With Bob gone and the home he dreamed of destroyed, Jesus’ words in John 14:2–3 were especially meaningful to me: “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus had made all the preparations for Bob and had guided him Home.
A Stronghold in the Day of Trouble
After Bob’s death, God was my strength and rock. I felt His presence and encouragement every day. In many small ways, He showed me that He was with me. After many months of using a walker to get around because of a broken pelvis, one morning I got up and walked from the bedroom to the kitchen without the aid of the walker. It seemed like a miracle! It was as if God had picked me up and moved me there to show me that He truly was with me. As I struggled to gain strength to live again, God was the Healer of my mind and my body.
The Bible’s promises about heaven mean so much: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And today, after nine years, the words my pastor, Jeff Burnett, spoke to me at Bob’s memorial service still comfort me:
“Silvia, just as every Thursday you would finish work and drive back to the ranch, Bob would always come out to the gate to greet you. So he will again, when your work in this life is done. Because of your steadfast faith in Christ, I believe Jesus, as your Lord, and Bob, as the love of your life, will meet and greet you at heaven’s gate. The reunion will be sweet, and the adventure will continue. There’ll be no more separation because you will be home with Bob, and all will be well.”
The promise of heaven is for all who believe. It is our ultimate place of peace and security and joy. Our life on earth may be long or short, and we are never sure what tomorrow will bring. So, we should never take a day for granted. And we can be confident—even when tragedy comes—that God will carry us through every situation in life.
“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knows those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7).