I live next door to an honest-to-goodness, bona fide hero.
His name is Jackson Lindstrom and he is the grandson of our longtime friends and neighbors Roy and Betty Miller.
For all my regular readers – and I appreciate you more than you will ever know – you might recall that Good Friday of 2013 was one of the most depressing days of my life.
We took our wiener dog Marley to the vet because she cried out in pain any time we picked her up.
The vet thought she had pancreatitis, but when we arrived to pick her up after her examination, we received dome devastating news – she was paralyzed.
She needed immediate, and costly, surgery and the only place it could be performed was located off Quivira Highway and Interstate-435 in Kansas.
The surgery was unsuccessful and I spent Easter Weekend with the covers pulled over my head crying my eyes out like a 7 year old watching “Old Yeller” for the first time. The surgery crew kept her for two days of observation then said they would determine the next step in the process.
But the weekend could have been worse – much, much worse.
Despite all the grief we experienced, my wife Stacy wanted to prepare an Easter Sunday meal, so she worked her magic on some barbecue chicken on the grill.
I pulled myself out of bed, ate the meal – all the while wondering what would become of Marley – and retreated to my office, where I tried to get some work done.
We had a brand new grill, a Christmas present from my mom, and we never imagined anything going wrong following a grilling session on our deck.
That’s where Jackson enters the story.
It was dusk, and he and his grandma were outside walking their two dogs, Charlie and Blondie.
“That’s when I noticed fire on your deck,” said Jackson, a 14-year-old eighth grader at Grain Valley South Middle School. “If it would have been lighter outside, I don’t know if I would have seen it. But the sun was going down and I knew something wasn’t right.
“At first, I thought it was just fire on a grill, but then I noticed your deck was on fire, it was below the grill.”
Our deck is on the second level of the house, right off the kitchen. Stacy was back in her craft room, I was in my office and our deck was ablaze. We later found out that the house would have caught fire in a matter of minutes had Jackson not seen the smoke and flame, and run to our front door.
“I saw the fire and said, ‘Grandma, we need to get over to Bill and Stacy’s,’” Jackson said. “’That fires not on the grill. THEIR DECK’S ON FIRE!’”
Somehow, a spark from the grill had fallen on a plastic wheel, igniting it like a Fourth of July firework.
After putting their dogs inside, they both ran to the front door and frantically began to knock and ring the doorbell. While Betty was at the front door, Jackson ran back across the driveway to check on the progress of the flames.
“They were getting bigger,” he said, “I knew we had to do something.”
Stacy met Betty at the front door, yelled for me to come out to the kitchen and I saw flames dancing across our deck and the front left wheel of our grill ablaze and dripping a lava-like mixture on the wood deck below.
Not only was our upper deck totally on fire, the lower deck was also on fire because of the burning residue from the wheel.
Luckily, my garden hose was connected by the deck and I was able to douse the flame on the upper deck, from standing on the lower deck. The water then gushed down and took care of the flame on the lower deck.
“I was really worried when I went out on the driveway and saw that both decks were on fire,” Jackson said. “And I thought, ‘What if Grandma and I weren’t out walking the dogs? Would Bill and Stacy’s house caught fire?’
That’s when Grandpa Roy answered: “It would have in about four or five minutes. It was so close to the house, and I saw something about fire on the Discovery Channel that said it spreads 20 times its normal size depending on weather conditions and the condition of the wood.
“I know that Jackson saved your deck, and probably your house. I know that he never told anyone at school but about it, but I told everyone out at Country Creek (Golf Club in Pleasant Hill, where Miller is a marshal).
“So many kids might have seen it, and not thought much about it, but not Jackson. He is a hero, and we’re so proud of him.”
So are the Boy Scouts of America, who presented Jackson with one of their highest honors, The Heart of America Council Certificate of Merit for “meritorious actions demonstrating Scouting’s best tradition.”
He received the award at Troop’s 763 Court of Honor in Blue Springs with many family members in attendance including his mother Susan Kattner.
“His stepfather, Bill Kattner, is involved in scouting and began the process for Jackson to get the award,” Roy Miller said. “I think that being involved in Scouts was a big reason he noticed something was wrong and reacted the way he did.”
Stacy and I were finally able to get to sleep that Easter Sunday instead of dealing with the tragic loss of our home. Marley - thanks to Dr. Patricia Perkins, an amazing veterinarian in Lee’s Summit who uses acupuncture, electronic stimulation and herbs - is walking again and we all get to enjoy our home and the security of having such wonderful and caring neighbors.
We could have lost our house and our little Marley all over a nightmarish span of 48 hours. Instead, we are now able to take Marley for short walks around the neighborhood while boasting to everyone we live next door to a hero.