A Fayetteville Christmas Story

_C1_9718 smallThis picture looks ominous, but believe me, the story I got to write for today’s paper to go along with this photo is a happy one.

That’s what remains of Paul Pannell’s car after a major fire destroyed most of his home Monday evening and Tuesday morning. All of those icicles are from fire fighters’ efforts to dispel the blaze.

Pannell is 92 and lives toward the northeast edge of town. His son-in-law, Bill Meissinger, lives next door.

From my story here (requires a subscription):

Meissinger said he grabbed an extension ladder and smashed it through Pannell’s bedroom window. Gray smoke billowed out and he couldn’t see, even with his flashlight. He hollered several times for Pannell but got no response, he said.

Then he said he remembered Pannell fought in the Battle of the Bulge and still dreams of it. Meissinger called out his rank: “Command Sgt. Maj. Pannell!”

“‘What, what’s going on?’” Meissinger said he heard immediately. “I said, ‘You gotta get to this light!’ As soon as I felt his hand the war was on.”

Meissinger was able to pull his father-in-law to safety, and he was shortly taken for treatment of minor injuries. Meissinger said nurses told him Pannell was likely a dozen seconds from death.

Just an astounding story from here, and it’s really a coincidence only that I got to be the one writing about it. I’m sharing it also because these are the first photos I’ve been able to take at my job here, though they aren’t much to look at. Meissinger’s on the left:

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Thanks for looking, and if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it was a merry one.


Welcome, Winter

_C1_9951There was almost a reverence to the muffled hush that a soft snowfall brought here, like when no one wants to whisper too loudly in the church. My breathing took the place of the earlier day’s wind. No one’s footsteps mingled with the crunches of mine. Police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck rolled past, their sirens silenced.

_C1_9959 smallYesterday brought the first wave of winter to much of the lower Midwest. Here it included a dose of freezing rain, more sleet than I think I’d seen in my entire life, then hours and inches of soft snow. The snow and cold are unusual here, and nearly everyone retreated to warmth. Even the highway was quiet when I took a stroll.

_C1_9940 smallNow and then the sounds of a few oddities broke the apparent solitude, like the beeping of the bulldozer backing up in the Wal-Mart parking lot (because why not?) or the sound of a ghostly flock of geese against the sepia sky.

_C1_9995 smallIn a nearby neighborhood, four deer darted ahead of me, quiet as the snow. They were fast. I only got their hoof prints.

_C1_0010 smallMany parking lots had that one car, that one single vehicle that surely must have carried some intrepid customer or stoic employee. Others were empty.

_C1_9975 smallAnd then there were the lights, shining on snowflakes that danced like sparks beneath them.

_C1_9996 smallFinally I came to a small graveyard near here, where the reverent stillness seemed most appropriate. The grave markers would’ve been invisible without the snow, but there they were, dotting a hill that overlooks the western edge of town. _C1_0016 smallMy nose and cheeks protested the cold, but I stood for a moment, thinking about all I didn’t know about these graves. The snow kept falling.