My Hero, My Dad

Shaunna Privratsky

Copyright 2002 by Shaunna Privratsky


Man pouring gas into lawnmower.

I remember it vaguely, as if it were a dream. It happened almost thirty years ago, in 1976. I was about seven. My Dad was 34 years old, the same age I am today. Our family had traveled fifty miles to Whitefish, Montana, for our monthly shopping trip. As a special treat we stopped for lunch at A&W Restaurant.

We sat near the back, close to an exit door. We were almost finished when my Dad jumped up without a word and tore through the door. We watched him out the plate glass window as he ran without hesitation toward a pillar of fire. We crowded outside with the rest of the restaurant patrons, our mouths agape. Horrifying screams frightened me.

The sky was a brilliant, hard blue and the summer air was redolent of the scent of freshly mown grass and a heavy, sickly-sweet smell that turned my small stomach. My slight bespectacled Dad raced across the grassy lawn, straight toward a flaming, screaming human torch. My unassuming Dad tackled the twelve-year-old boy and smothered the flames with his body. I remember them rolling together, the boy still screaming as my Dad patted frantically at the boy's legs with his bare hands.

My Mom herded my younger brothers and me back into the restaurant. We sat near a giant aquarium filled with iridescent fish. I watched through the glass as an ambulance came and took the boy away. One of the white-clad men shook my Dad's hand and clapped him on the back before the ambulance wailed off, blue and red lights strobing eerily through the undulating water. A burned, singed-hair smell hung heavy in the car as we drove home, even with all the windows open.

Remarkably, my Dad refuses to think of his actions as heroic. He simply insists he was in the right place at the right time. Although there were probably at least thirty adults in the restaurant, he was the only one to act to save the burning boy. I am positive the twelve-year-old boy, grown now, would fervently agree that the hand of fate put my Dad there that day. Here, in his own words, is my Dad's account of the day:

"...I didn't get burned, but he sure did. His sock was completely wet with gas, I'm sure, and I think he was putting gas in a lawn mower and then was playing with matches.  Or maybe he didn't turn the mower off and spilled gas on the spark plug. I really can't remember too well. He was about 12 and he had to have skin grafts on his foot andankle. I didn't stay in touch with him. I didn't hear anything, but I just caught the movement and flames out of the corner of my vision as we were in a booth at A&W.

Never thought about it, just jumped up and knew that I had to stop him to smother the flames, which I did by tackling him and smothering the flames with my body. My clothes or nothing was burnt on me at all. It worked OK because I tackled him on grass, and it was a soft landing for him I'm sure. The flame was out right away; anyway I don't remember any flames after tackling him."

All through my childhood, my teens and even today my Dad has been there for me. He taught me through example to always stand up for what I believe, to fight for my dreams and to selflessly help others whenever I see a need.

For over two years he steadfastly nursed my Mom through a long courageous battle against cancer. Her death deeply saddened but did not embitter him. At sixty years of age he thrives in his job, helping other seniors find fulfilling employment. In a recent e-mail he said, "I don't feel sixty- I feel much healthier and happier than I have in many years."

Outwardly my Dad is a genial, soft-spoken man. To me he is and always will be a quiet sort of hero.

Shaunna Privratsky lives in Fargo, North Dakota with her husband Wade and adorable children, Erica and Alex. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading, decorating, gardening and collecting teapots. Shaunna has over fifty published articles and stories. Check out some of her other storys at "The Writer Within."

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