The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton


Mum and Dad and the children are going to visit Granny. Dad drives out of their village and soon they are on the highway driving towards town. But just before they get to the town, Dad turns off along a quiet road and there is Granny's house.

Granny lives in an old cottage on the edge of a farm. Over her fence is a herd of cows. They are not Granny's cows but Granny can enjoy looking out her windows and seeing them. She likes to watch the cows come closer and closer to her house as they eat the grass. The children love visiting Granny especially in the spring time when there are lots of calves.

Dad pulls up onto the driveway and the van comes to a stop. The children all clamber out and go in search of Granny. They find her in the vegetable garden pulling out weeds.

Granny is very pleased to see everyone. "Time for a break," she decides as she pulls off her gardening gloves. "Come on everyone, morning tea time."

They all go inside Granny's house. It is very different to their house. The Nicklebys' house is new with big windows and lots of light. Granny's house is much older. Dad calls it a house with character. Mum calls it old, damp and musty. But the children like it. It is a strange little house which is the wrong way round. The front door is actually at the back of the house. No-one ever comes to the front door. Perhaps they don't know it is there. Granny doesn't mind having a back-to-front house because most of her windows face the fields. She can sit in the lounge and watch the cows while she drinks her tea. Watching the cows is much more interesting than watching television. This is just as well because Granny doesn't have a television.

Granny puts on the kettle and searches the pantry for the biscuit tin. Kate and Celeste spread the tablecloth on the table. Edward looks in the fridge for milk and Joe finds the glasses.

Then they settle down for morning tea. They have all been chatting around the table for some time when Lizzie suddenly shouts, "Look! There's a fire!" Lizzie is looking out the lounge room window. She'd been hoping to see the cows but instead she sees a fire.

Everyone rushes to the window and yes, across the paddock off in the distance a fire is burning.

"Where did that come from?" wonders Dad. "It's moving very quickly."

Everyone can see the fire front galloping across the horizon. As well as smoke, they can actually see the flames. The orange flames are rearing up high in the sky.

"Look!" shouts Joe pointing to the sky. "It's one of those huge fire fighting helicopters." He sounds excited.

Right in front of their eyes, everyone can see an enormous load of water fall from the helicopter. It lands on the fire front. Some of the flames die back but the fire continues to move forward. The fire is too large to go out after only one drenching. The helicopter has emptied its load. It rises into the sky. Soon it disappears.

"It's gone to get more water," says Edward knowingly. "It'll be back as soon as it has refilled its tanks."

Dad is a bit worried. The fire arrived without warning. Granny's house is probably safe because the wind is driving the fire across the paddocks and not towards Granny's house. But it is still frightening watching the fire burn up everything it meets. Dad hopes there are no houses in its pathway. Then Dad thinks of something else. He wonders if the fire has come from the direction of their village.

Mum decides to ring their next door neighbour, Mrs Kerry, to find out what is happening back at home. But Mrs Kerry's phone rings and rings and rings. No-one is home to answer it.

"I think we'd better go home and see if our house is safe," decides Dad. They all say goodbye to Granny and climb into the van.

Dad hasn't driven very far before he comes to a road block. Smoke is billowing all across the road. A fire fighter comes to speak to Dad. "The fire has just jumped across the main road," he explains. "We need to keep the road clear for emergency vehicles."

So Dad has to turn around and find another way of getting home. Dad is driving along a different road when all of a sudden there is a terrible smell in the air. It's a smoky burnt smell. It is very unpleasant and everyone wrinkles up their noses. Dad winds up the van windows. Then everyone can see where the smell is coming from. All the trees on either side of the road are black and burnt. The bushfire has passed this way. But the road is open. There are no fire fighters in sight. The fire must be far away from here by now.

No-one knows where the fire has gone but it is easy to see where the fire has been. It has left smoky black footprints all over the countryside before moving on.

"Look at that!" exclaims Dad pointing to a house surrounded by black ash. "The fire must have come right up to the front door. That water bomber helicopter must have saved the house. I bet a load of water was dropped just in time." The fire fighters have saved other houses too. It all seems rather remarkable.

"The fire has gone from here," says Dad. "I wonder where it is burning now. I wonder if the fire fighters have got it under control."

For the rest of the journey home, everyone is silent. Everyone is thinking about how dangerous a bushfire can be. A fire can flare up so quickly. Once it is burning, it can start running across the countryside before anyone can do anything about it.

Dad comes to the road that leads into their village. He sighs with relief. There is no sign of a fire. There is not even any smoke or ash. "The fire didn't come this way," he says.

Later Dad gathers everyone around the kitchen table. He has something important to say. "We were very lucky today," he says. "We should thank God that our village and our home weren't in the path of the fire. But there may come a time when we won't be so fortunate. We are surrounded by bush. If we want to live safely in this beautiful place, we need to be prepared."

Dad has some information he downloaded from the Internet. "Prepare. Act. Survive," he says. "What we need to do is prepare our house in case there is a fire. We need to have a fire plan too. We all need to know what we will do if a fire is approaching our village. And then we must put our plan into action."

Lizzie feels a little bit frightened at the thought of a bushfire coming close to her home. Dad tries to reassure her. "We will be quite safe as long as we are prepared and know the best thing to do. But we now have some work ahead of us."

First Edward and Joe are going to help Dad prepare their house. "We have to make sure that there is nothing close to the house that will burn," he says. Edward gets out the ladder and Dad climbs up to clean all the leaves out of the gutters. Then Dad and Edward make sure that all the firewood is a long way from the house. Trees and bushes are trimmed back and the grass is cut short.

Meanwhile, Mum has gone to town with the girls. They have some bushfire fighting equipment to buy. Everyone needs long cotton shirts and trousers, thick boots, gloves, hats and face masks. Mum is going to put the clothes in a special place where they can be found quickly. The clothes will protect their skin from the heat and smoke of a fire. Mum also buys some extra long hoses.

That night at dinner, Dad says the house is prepared and they have all the equipment they need to fight a fire. "Now we just need to decide on our action plan," he says. "If the fire is not too ferocious and we have water, we should stay and defend our home. We can't expect the fire fighters to do all the work for us. If the fire is too fierce we will leave the house and go to a safe place in town. People are much more important than buildings."

Mum thought the children would be frightened talking about the possibility of a bushfire. But Dad says there is no reason to be scared if they are prepared. "We are all ready in case of a fire," says Dad. "We all know the best thing to do if a fire comes our way. Prepare. Act. Survive. Now we can relax and enjoy the summer."

That evening, Dad and Mum are watching the news. There are pictures of the bushfire that roared so close to town that morning. No-one knows how the fire started. It suddenly took off across the countryside and the fire fighters had to hurry to catch up with it. They chased it with their fire trucks and attacked it with their water hoses. Two huge water bombing helicopters joined the fight and eventually the fire went out. Not one single house was burnt down. Not a single person was hurt. Dad says they must not forget to say some prayers of thanksgiving.

Some days later, Mum is driving home from town. She has been shopping by herself. She is driving along the road that leads into the village. Mum is looking forward to getting home. She is dreaming about a nice cup of tea.

Then Mum glances into the rear view mirror. She forgets all about the tea. Suddenly she has much more important things to think about. Mum can see a fire truck, with its lights flashing, coming along behind her. She looks frantically around but there is nowhere to pull over to let the truck go past. A rocky cliff rises up on both sides of the road. Mum watches the truck get closer and closer and wonders what to do. Then, to her relief, she arrives at the village.

Mum turns off the main road expecting the fire truck to go sailing past her but to her surprise, it is still right behind. The truck has also turned off. By now the siren is blaring Wee! Waa! Wee! Waa! Mum pulls over and screeches to a stop to let the truck go first. But then she sees the truck go into the road where the Nickleby family lives. Her heart starts to pound. What if there is a fire in their street? What if the bush at the end of the road is alight? What if their house is burning down? What about Dad and the children? Then Mum realises that the truck has stopped. It is not outside their house at all. It's outside someone else's house. The fire fighters jump out of the truck but then they stand in the road and just stare at the house. "If there is a fire there, it can't be an emergency," thinks Mum and she continues home.

Later Edward takes a walk up the street to find out what all the fuss was about. "Someone was having a backyard burn-off, Mum," he reports. "I don't think they had a fire permit and someone reported smoke. They were awfully embarrassed when all the fire fighters turned up."

Mum admits to Dad how, just for a moment, she was worried that their house was burning down. "It wasn't so much the house," she says. ""I was more worried about you and the children."

"You know we prepared the house and made our fire plan," says Dad. "We did that so we wouldn't have to worry about fires. If there was a fire I would keep myself and the children safe."

Mum starts to feel a bit silly but then Dad says, "But in a way, I'm glad you worried about us. It makes us feel very loved and very special," and he leans over and gives Mum a big hug.

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