The fire started in the night on October 5, 2012. Linda, her husband Tom, and their dog Rex were asleep in their home on the Cook family homestead in Somerset, Wisconsin. Rex woke first. He nudged Tom’s arm then Tom woke Linda. Their house was on fire. Linda saw flames going up a wall. She went for the fire extinguisher. It was empty or broken. The fire spread fast. The century-old house turned out to be a tinder box ready to burn. Linda saw Rex through the smoke. She followed him outside. Her feet were bare. She wore pajamas. She looked for Tom. Linda thought he was behind her. “I turned around and he wasn’t there.” He was inside, somewhere inside a house filled with flames and smoke. He was somewhere in the house where he was born and where he spent most of his nights.
Linda met Tom at the old Stardust Room in Osceola, Wisconsin. “He went there every day. For our first date we went to the fair.” They married in 1974. “I said I’d never marry a trucker or a farmer and I married a man who was both.” Together, they raised five children. For years he worked as a local mechanic and farmed the Cook land with a horse-pulled tractor. Years earlier, in 1968, he lost a hand in a corn picker but he managed, choosing prosthesis for a working arm over a re-attached limp hand. He was no stranger to fire. A barn burned in 1991. Tom and Linda lost horses, cows, pigs, a dog and hundreds of hay bales. Linda baled hay too. “We worked side by side.”
Tom died in the fire. Linda says he will be remembered as a caring, loving guy. “He loved everybody. He loved his horses.” Tom was known in the area, Linda says, for his horses. They were regulars in the local parade. “We’d get the horses and away we went!”
During the funeral services, Tom’s ashes were held in a wooden box that his son Scott handmade. Farmers, truckers and others from around the area attended the services. Around 200 people paid their respects. Linda received hugs, many hugs. “My shoulders hurt from all the hugs.” Starting soon to rebuild her life, she wants to put a trailer on the farm. “I don’t want to leave the farm. Tom always said, if something happened to him, stay on the farm.” Red Cross emergency relief has helped to get her going. The Red Cross has been great, she says. “I didn’t know there was a Red Cross out here. I don’t even know how they got my name. I didn’t expect anybody.”
Wherever she goes and however long it takes to recover, Linda plans to have her dog Rex by her side. “Rex got me out. He’s my hero.” Seven years go Rex was a puppy offered for free at a farm auction. Now he’s a hero to everyone. To all those–Rex, too–who save and comfort our neighbors during great times of need, we express our heartfelt gratitude.
Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. Photo descriptions: (1) a baking pan survived the fire; (2) the remains of the Cook farm house; (3) Scott Cook’s handmade box for his dad’s ashes; (4) Red Cross nurse Vonnie Thomas hugs Linda Cook where she’s staying with family in New Prague, Minnesota; and (5) Rex, 7 years old, canine hero and beloved family member.