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Editor's column: If people make the neighborhood, Elm Street is set

September 22, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

It took Sheena Schons all of two minutes to utter the words we all hear on the news about once a week:

"You never think it could happen here."

She said it in an interview I did with her Saturday afternoon as Schons, her little daughter and I watched firefighters from the Tracy Fire Department wrap things up after putting out the house fire after the explosion on Elm Street that morning. She was right, too.

We never think things like that can happen in our quiet little towns, to people we borrow a cup of sugar from. But they do. All the time, actually. Kinda makes you wonder when people will stop saying that and will change it to, "Well, you know, it was bound to happen here eventually."

For now though, each time something major happens, something big enough to shake up an entire community - whether it's a small town or big city - the locals always react the same way. Me included.

I grew up about a block from that house, although I can't remember who lived there when I was running the streets of Tracy. Elm Street isn't any different than your average small-town street. It's lined with big, old trees, well-kept homes that look way too small from the outside, nice middle-class families, toys in the front yard, the seemingly never-ending barking of dogs kenneled in the back yard breaking fleeting moments of silence. It's also a popular street on Halloween, not just for the obvious reason that it's Elm Street, but because the people who live on the street are all welcoming to children. There's one surefire way to tell if people on a certain block like kids - just look for the number of porch lights on the last night of October. The Elm Street house that made headlines last weekend was home to an 8-year-old named Kaylee, who was severely burned in the fire. This is where it hits home for me.

My daughter Olivia and Kaylee are buddies. I've picked Olivia up at the house before, and as her dad, I can only count my blessings that she wasn't hanging out on the front steps there that morning.

Kids like my daughter are drawn to Elm Street in Tracy. It's a thoroughfare to the Tracy Aquatic Center, so it usually has more bike traffic than auto traffic during the summer months. It seems every other house on each block has at least one kid living there.

It's a block party waiting to happen.

Olivia hangs around on Elm Street a lot during the summer, and seeing something terrible like what happened last weekend happen in a place where your kid spends a lot of time really puts things in perspective and, as I said, made me count my blessings.

Saturday's events showed us the best a neighborhood can offer, as the Schonses proved. As bad as it can be to have lousy neighbors who spy, spray grass clippings onto your yard, and borrow things and forget to bring them back, it's good to have good ones.

As much as I love living in the country, it would be nice to be part of a neighborhood like the one on Elm Street, where it seems people really like each other. And it also became clear last weekend that they care for each other, too.

Sheena's husband, Matt, as you know by now, became the hero of Saturday morning when he ran into the smoke-filled house and rescued a two-month-old baby. He didn't have a helmet on, wasn't wearing protective gear and didn't have training to pull off what he did. But he had guts. And because he did, he likely saved a life. Sheena helped, too, by holding the baby en route to the hospital.

I went back to Tracy on Saturday night and had the chance to hang out with Sheena and a few of her friends again while waiting for Matt to get home from his job in Balaton. I had never met him, so I didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, he's exactly the kind of person I had hoped he would be - affable, accommodating, courteous.

Pretty humble, too. Given the day he had, I wouldn't have blamed him if he had told me where I could stick my note pad, but that's not what I got. I got a smile and a handshake from a complete stranger on a block that has no strangers.



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