In January 1994, Marvel Barrick left her home in rural Kansas to travel to northern Michigan for the funeral of her aunt Thelma, leaving her husband, Doug, and twins, Dennis and Dorothy, on the farm.
"Doug felt he should accompany me," Marvel wrote in her report to the questionnaire. "But we were still keeping quite a few head of cattle and other livestock at that time, and it was just about impossible to get anyone who would watch your stock in the winter while you went away. And if there should come any blizzards, then someone just had to go out and bring the herd into the safety of the sheds and see that every other cow, pig, chicken, and duck got feed and shelter."
Also, Marvel pointed out, the twins were only four years old and weren't "the greatest of travelers on long trips." Plus they had never been on an airliner before and she didn't want to tackle that chore for the first time without Doug.
Marvel had intended to stay away for only a couple days, but then unwelcome blizzard conditions at both the Michigan and Kansas airports made travel hazardous and out of the question. Doug told her over the telephone that she should just make the best of her time away from the farm and spend some quality time with her mother and sister in Michigan. He promised that he and the twins were doing just fine amid the snowbanks, and that his younger brother Chet was helping with the livestock after he had gotten stranded there on a visit home from college.
"With my mind as much at peace as a mother's can ever be when she's away from her family, I decided to take Doug's advice and enjoy a nice visit with my sister Crystal and my mom," Marvel said. "The first night we sat up and talked and reminisced, laughed, and cried, until two o'clock in the morning."
The next evening, with cups of extra-strong coffee and a generous supply of Crystal's homemade pastries to shore them up, the ladies were still talking around the fireplace at 3:00 a.m. when Marvel suddenly jumped up from her chair to shout she smelled smoke. "Of course, you do, honey," her mother chuckled. "We just put another log on the fire."
Marvel insisted that it wasn't smoke from the hickory firewood that she smelled. "It's that horrible, acrid kind of smell that you get with rubber or cloth or electrical wires," she said. "I'm checking it out. Mom, we don't want your new place to burn up."
A few years after the death of Marvel's father, her mother had moved from the family's old five-bedroom home into a comfortable apartment, so it didn't take long for Marvel, accompanied by her obliging sister and mother, to investigate each room and declare it free of smoke and fire.
But Marvel simply could not get the awful smell out of her nostrils.
"Then, all at once, I was overcome with this terrible feeling of fear for Doug and the twins back on the farm," Marvel said. "Suddenly I knew with all my being that there was a fire in our farmhouse."
It was a few minutes after three--two in Kansas--but Marvel went right to the telephone and dialed her home number. Better to awaken Doug from a sound sleep and grumpily be told that nothing was wrong than to take a chance that her intuition was correct and have her family perish in a fire.
The telephone rang and rang. Four, five six rings.
"The smell in my nostrils was getting stronger. I was nearly overcome with nausea and lightheadedness," Marvel recalled. "Why wasn't anyone answering?"
Marvel hung up. Ignoring her sister's and mother's assurances that everyone was sound asleep there in Kansas and everything was all right, she dialed again and let it ring. At last she heard the receiver being lifted, then dropped, then lifted again. Her heart sank as she heard little Dennis coughing. "Hello this is the Barrick residence," he said, repeating the salutation he had been taught.
"Honey, it's Mommy. Is everything all right. Are you all right, Honey?"
Dennis coughed again, then his voice rising in fear, he began to cry. "Mommy, Mommy! There is smoke, lots of smoke!"
Marvel told her four-year-old son not to be afraid. "Go wake up Daddy. Go wake up Uncle Chet. Tell them about the smoke. Can you do that right away?"
Dennis coughed, then said that he could.
"Then hang up the telephone, honey. Go wake them--and tell them to call me back!"
Crystal and her mother prayed with Marvel during an excruciatingly long twenty-six minutes before the telephone rang. She breathed a silent prayer of thanks when she heard Doug's calm voice.
"I always knew you had some kind of superpowers, sweetheart," Doug chuckled, "but I didn't know they extended to your power of smell."
Uncle Chet had pulled Dennis and Dorothy on a sled while he did chores, and later, when they were back inside, he had set their wet mittens and his leather gloves on the wood box near the old cookstove that they kept fired up out on the porch to help heat the house during the winter months. Sometime during the night, a spark had popped out of the stove and landed on one of the woolen mittens. The mittens and gloves had smoldered until they had burst into flame and fallen into the kindling in the wood box. Although the wood had burned and smoked up the house, the metal box had managed to contain the flames until little Dennis had been awakened by his mother's telephone call.
"Probably about another ten or fifteen minutes and furniture and things near the blazing wood box would have caught fire and this story would have had a very unhappy ending," Marvel said, concluding her account. "I went to bed that night relieved that no real harm had been done to our farm home, but I know if I hadn't somehow smelled smoke where there was none and called home, the house could have burned to the ground with my loved ones inside. Ever since that night, Doug has teased me about my super sense of smell that could detect smoke all the way from Michigan to Kansas, but I just tell him that all mothers have superpowers when it comes to their family."