Time was, Kokomo, Texas, was a surviving — if not thriving — community, with a post office, general store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, school, church, cemetery, and over 25 residents (according to Julius Dewitt Henley, in his autobiographical A BOY FROM KOKOMO). Who could ask for more? It was located a little over six miles northwest of Gorman (once called Peanut Capital of the World, then Peanut Capital of the Southwest, then Peanut Capital of Texas — before the goobers there petered out). I say was because Kokomo, the community, is no more.

New Year’s Day, 2006, in the early afternoon, a grassfire broke out north of Rising Star, and before it was finished, so was Kokomo, with what had remained of its public buildings — the church and school — and most of its residences and outbuildings in ashes.

Mr. and Mrs. Oren Webb were home when word came that the fire was approaching from the south.

“We stayed as long as we could, trying to wet things down, but they cut off our water so that they could fill the fire truck tanks. We’re on the community water system. We could see it coming. A 40-foot wall of fire. There was nothing we could do. We just managed to get out. We lost everything. And our church burned.” (Later, I walked around the Webb place and noted a little gathering of glassware they had collected at one corner of their slab. A single-barrel twelve-gauge, with a cooked-off round in the chamber, lay beside their collection, and nearby, on an unscathed picnic table, lay a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum, all six rounds cooked off in the cylinder.)

In one of many examples of the heroism of the day, Oren Webb drove around to neighbor Zelda Jordan’s place, just across a broad, grassy field, and wet down everything he could with her hoses. Luckily she was on a well, so as long as she had power, she had water. The fire raced across and destroyed every building the Webbs owned, but Oren saved Zelda’s house. She lost all her outbuildings, but her precious home was saved, thanks to Oren Webb. The dear lady was in tears as she expressed her gratitude for his heroic efforts.

She was worried about her church.

“A storm destroyed it in 1969, and we built it back. Now it’s burned. Lost all the buildings down there. Some of them built in the ’30s by the WPA.” And then she spoke of an elderly lady just down the road who lost her house. “Eight-six years old. Lost everything. She can’t build back.”

I found Larry Bryant, whose place is a couple of miles from “downtown” Kokomo, moving round bales with his big tractor. I never thought to ask him how the hell he found any, since I saw hundreds of little ashy lumps that had once BEEN round bales. He stopped and talked to me. He pointed to a hilltop to his left. “My sons had two houses up there. They burned.” He pointed to the highway and then to the right, where the remains of a brick house lay in the late sun. “Then the fire jumped this road and burned my daughter’s place.”

“What about YOUR home?” I asked him.

He pointed behind him to a house way out in the middle of a field, every outbuilding about it burned to the ground. “It made it. Lost everything around it, but we saved it.” He grinned. “A tornado blew it away a couple of years ago, and we lived in one the houses that burned up on that hill until we could rebuild.” He shook his head. What else was there to say? You do what you have to do. You DEAL with it. You GO ON. You don’t wait for FEMA, for the state, for the county. You, by God, DEAL with it.

Just as Joe Bond has dealt with it. After the Cross Plains fire, he mounted sprinklers on his roof and at the periphery of his lawn and daily soaked everything. When the New Year’s Day fire roared through, he lost almost every outbuilding, but his house was untouched by flame. And he lost a good portion of his herd of mostly Angus. Out of over 40 head, two cows and six calves were killed in the fire, and he had to shoot another 13 cows and 15 calves. The fire chased them up against a fence and roared right over them. Only 11 managed to escaped being burned in some fashion. Mrs. Bond drove me out to a pit where six or so cows lay ready for burying. They were a dusty black, with no hair left on them at all. A lone heifer stood near the front of their house, barely able to walk, all the hair burned from her legs and backside and underside. Joe probably had to shoot her the next day.

So the folks of Kokomo have had their baptism of fire, but my bet is that the community will rise from the ashes: Zelda Jordan will go right on, Oren Webb and his wife will rebuild, Larry Bryant’s kids will rebound, and in no time at all Joe Bond’s pastures will be green again, dotted with grazing cows and romping calves. The folks of Kokomo will DEAL WITH IT.

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