John A. Broussard
"If you don't do something about that damn donkey, I'm going to call the police. I haven't had a decent night's sleep since you people moved in with that animal."
It was about the tenth phone call from our charming neighbor, and now Judy was really worried.
I came through with my usual reassurances. "Look, we're in an agricultural area, we can keep any kind of animals we want to here. We bought this place to raise donkeys, and I don't care how much Sam brays, I'm not about to get rid of him just because old man Ferguson doesn't like the sound of Sam's voice and is threatening to sue. Hell, his house is a quarter of a mile away. He should just consider himself lucky we didn't decide to raise peacocks and guinea hens."
"I know, Wayne, but we don't want trouble. I don't want to get rid of Sam any more than you do, but we're going to live here for a long time, and we should try to be good neighbors."
"How can there be any trouble? Do you think the police are going to do anything about it? We're perfectly legal. We could build a slaughterhouse here if we wanted to. Hell! I might do just that. If he doesn't like the sound of donkeys, maybe he'll think twice about it when he starts smelling dead cows and pigs. And I wonder what he'll say about dozens of cattle trucks going by every day with animals making ten times the noise that Sam does."
The argument would have gone on if I hadn't stormed out of the house. And there was Sam with his nose over the fence, waiting for me to come up with a carrot or at least a good ear-scratching. I'd started off with a fascination with miniature donkeys, and Sam had turned fascination into affection. He nuzzled my hand and insisted on attention. I knew that if I gave him half a chance he'd come right into the house behind me. No! I wasn't about to let Old Ferguson intimidate me.
Even so, I had to admit Judy had a point. We might be in the right, but how much of those nuisance phone calls could we put up with. And feuding with one's neighbor wasn't my idea of the idyllic rural existence I'd planned for my retirement years. Besides, as Judy had pointed out earlier, old man Ferguson might not be beyond poisoning Sam or even shooting him if he got mad enough.
The subject didn't come up at suppertime, but it hovered in the air around us. We talked about the weather. It's amazing how rain or snow or even blue sky can serve as a refuge from any unpleasant topics. Actually, on this occasion it wasn't a particularly pleasant topic, since the forecast was for thunderstorms, and we'd had more than our share lately.
A predicted one showed up after nightfall, just as I was dropping off to sleep. It was one of those occasional treacherous ones the Midwest is famous for. Lots of lightning, crashing thunder, and not a drop of rain. I took some satisfaction in knowing Sam's braying couldn't measure up to the deafening thunderclaps, and that Ferguson was probably wide-awake cursing the source of tonight's sleeplessness. "Sue Him," I thought.
While the storm was incredibly loud, it didn't last long. Still, I was grateful for all the rods attached to our old house. The way the sky had lit up, and the nearness of the lightning strikes, convinced me this was one night when we really needed them. I was almost asleep again when I sat up and began to wish the storm would come back. Sam was at it with a vengeance!
Not only was he braying up a frenzy, worse than I'd ever heard him going at it before, but I could tell he was over at the fence line blasting away in the direction of Ferguson's house. The phone rang. I didn't have to guess who it was. The sound of the voice was as loud as the thunderclaps. "If you don't do something about that damn animal, and do it damn quick, I'll . . .oh my God!!!" The phone slammed in my ear, and that's when I became aware the sky was aglow, and it wasn't lightning doing it. I dialed 911.
Judy and I barely had time to throw on some clothes and climb the fence over to Ferguson's before Chief Martin and a half-dozen of his volunteer firefighters showed up in their brand new engine, unrolled a couple of attack hoses and quickly covered Ferguson's house with foam. They couldn't save the garage and attached woodshed that had been struck by lightning. Those structures were now mostly a pile of ash and charred timbers, but the house came out of it with only scorched siding.
As the firefighters were rolling up their hoses, the Chief announced to us-the crowd of neighbors who had gathered to help-"We were lucky with this one." Turning to me, he added, "If you and Ferguson hadn't seen the fire and got us out when you did, the house would be looking like the garage."
I checked around for Ferguson, and that's when I saw him. He was over at our fence line feeding Sam a carrot.
Sam and Mr. Ferguson
(after the fire)