In spite of what must have been a frantic night, the town was quiet as I crossed the city limits and drove to Main Street. At the corner of Mill and Main, I could see what used to be one of the few restaurants in Edgerton.
From the front, it was still a recognizable version of itself, twisted and blackened, but from the back ally, no clue was visible in the burnt rubble to help identify what used to stand there.
I made the same trip a month before, heading west to do an interview with a well-known Edgerton family. That time, unhindered by a barricade of fire trucks and yellow caution tape, I pulled in front of the restaurant just moments before my grandpa did.
I had called him up the night before to see if he wanted to grab lunch with me and was glad he was able to squeeze me in before heading over to Sioux Falls for an appointment at the VA to get his hearing aids checked again.
“They still don’t work right,” he complained.
When we got out of our cars, he came over to give me a hug and as we walked past the newspaper vending machines, he proudly pointed out my name on the Globe, just visible above the fold.
“I keep thinking I should get that paper delivered to my house” he said.
As we ate, we talked about the small, trivial things that make up life, updating each other on the latest pregnancy, vacation and engagement news within our more than 75 member family.
We talked about what I had been doing and then what Grandpa had been doing — helping my uncle on the farm and taking care of Sadie.
“She is the smartest dog. She even tells me when she wants to eat,” he said.
And we talked about my grandma, who grandpa visits three times a week, even though she doesn’t remember her life anymore and sometimes doesn’t know him.
“She hasn’t had a good day since your parents visited last month.”
In between telling me stories about times when fields were plowed with horses and soldiers took trains home from war, he kept looking over his shoulder for people he knew, greeting old friends and commenting on the weather or mutual friends.
“Say now,” he’d say if he didn’t know them, “Who are you? You look familiar.”
Then he and his new acquaintance would launch into a complex game of “Six Degrees of Separation”, skimming over family lineages, friends and neighbors until a connection was found and each was able to place the other into the appropriate category of family, occupation, religion and politics.
We left as the restaurant started to fill up, families laughing and neighbors greeting each other with a firm handshake before launching into a conversation about the weather.
As I took photos for the newspaper a couple weeks later, I gave the building wide berth and it was hard to believe it was the same place I had lunch in.
The building was still drawing people together, but this time they were firefighters, talking in clusters as their peers tried to put out hot spots that stubbornly remained, hours after the blaze had been contained.
As they told me briefly about the hours they had spent there and all the area firefighters that had responded, I couldn’t help feel gratitude for what they did.
While I was growing up, my family experienced two fires on our farm, both in the same building. The first was able to be put out before the building was lost, but the second time, no one woke up until the building was consumed. All that could be done was to let it burn out.
I remember what it’s like to breathe in air heavy with the smell of ash and look at the remains of a building that used to hold memories and contribute to a family business.
I also remember what it’s like to move on after a fire, figuring out what do to with the space once the ruble has been cleared.
Whatever the future holds for the lot at 950 Main, I hope it can once again be a place that draws the community together and cultivates conversations about wonderfully ordinary things.