Ezekiel Fire - Biography
Ezekiel (Zeke) Fire grew up as one of 6 boys. His father, Nathaniel, was a fallen Christian preacher (probably something fairly on the edge, speaking in tongues and all that) from South Dakota - fallen because he'd married a "harlot", a working girl of the old west, Diana Ruben. He left his parish, moved far away to the wide open lands of Oklahoma, near Dacoma, and became a man of the land, establishing a modest self-sufficient farm raising wheat to make a living. For the shame the congregation heaped on him, he vowed never to return to the hypocrites though he always remained devout.
But all this was never shared with the boys. Diana genuinely never felt worthy of church, a feeling she passed on to her sons. Nathaniel never spoke in concrete terms of how he met their mother (ministering to prostitutes) nor did he even mention having been a minister. In fact the couple seemed all too hesitant to talk much or even be particularly affectionate with their boys.
Zeke, as he was known when he was young, was the oldest of the boys. He grew up with the typical big brother feeling of responsibility and helped his father do everything around the farm. He learned all the tricks of the farm trade, in many ways better than his father. In fact, as Zeke turned 13 his father seemed to turn colder and it became clear that he perceived the boy as a challenge, almost a threat. Most likely this came about as at about that time Zeke seemed to know farming better than his father, correcting him and advising him. Worse yet, the boy seemed more fluent with Bible verse, on more than one occassion correcting his father's minor quoting or reference errors.
As he got to the "mature" age of 14, like any teenage boy, Zeke didn't appreciate the finer points of his parents' feelings and began to grow both annoyed and arrogant in his relationship with them, particularly Nathaniel. One stormy night as they went out to lock the barn down, the two began to argue. It started over a triviality, an argument about species of chicken and which ones were better for eggs, for eating, etc.. Ezekiel knew he was right. The argument became more heated and the boy, latching onto some controversial "new" thing (for Oklahoma) he had read about in the papers, exclaimed, "You know, daddy, them chickens all just e-volved anyhow and the reason somes are good to eat and somes' good to lay eggs is all 'cause it's about natural selection, ain't the Lord who decided which ones'd be good for this particular what-not versus that particular what-not." He had thrown it in merely to show off; at his age he was exploring new ideas, anyway, and this seemed like an impressively bombastic one. His father didn't think it was impressive at all and the argument heightened. Nathaniel stuttered out Bible verse and Zeke just smiled condescendingly, correcting his father on the most minor of points. Finally Nathaniel blurted out, "Damn you and your blasphemy, boy, you just are not my son!" He stormed away from the barn as Zeke snickered. Just as the boy was about to yell some allegedly quick-witted retort, a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky, striking Nathaniel dead instantly.
The boy stared, then ran to his father. Paniced, he ran into the house and, literally, under the table, crying hysterically. Once he came to his senses, he never explained the exact last moments. A large part of him felt responsible and punished, and not suitably punished at that.
It wasn't long after that Ezekiel found himself in a wide open field on a sunny day, wishing he were dead, that he instead of his father had been taken away. He closed his eyes and wished that a lightning bolt would strike him dead. And it very nearly happened - a thunder and lightning storm appeared out of nowhere. Confused, the boy ran, wishing it would all stop - and just as quickly it did. He stopped dead in his tracks as the storm stopped and the clouds quickly dissipated. He looked around, blinked his eyes, pinched himself, and then simply ran home as fast as possible. And tried not to think about it again and told himself it wasn't right, anyway, to wish such black thoughts even upon himself.
It was midsummer, though, and as the land dried up around his family, the teenager couldn't help but to think about what had happened and how desperate he was, as the family provider now, to save the farm. It was 1927 and the climate for farming was getting worse, gearing up for what would be the Dust Bowl phenomenon in the early-mid '30s. In fact Ezekiel even knew about how to better rotate crops and mange the land, he'd absorbed the knowledge eagerly from scientific articles that would appear in the paper out of Tulsa every so often and from the rare newer books in Dacoma's school. But that knowledge comforted him little as it would have no overnight effects. Instead the boy one day walked out into the middle of the fields and dropped to his knees and prayed for rain - and it rained.
By now the boy was as impressed with this as he was afraid. He didn't tell anyone - but one of his brothers, Jacob, had watched him, and wondered about the suddenness of the rain coupled with his brother's activity. Then one day, on the third day of moderate rainfall (a rarity where average rainfall across an entire year is less than 20 inches), Jacob rushed in and hollered "The creek's overflowing and old man Johnson's gonna lose his pigpen!" Then he watched Zeke run out and duck behind the barn. Jacob discreetly followed in time to watch Jacob waving his hands frantically and saying "STOP RAINING, STOP RAINING!" Worse yet, Jacob had made their mother come out with him. Zeke turned and saw them as the clouds parted and the rain stopped.
From there things changed rapidly for the Fires. Jacob couldn't keep his mouth shut and their mother Diana was too tired of being poor and too scared of being alone to not promote the oldest son's amazing abilities. In just days they'd been given a neighbor's large wagon (in exchange for a few well-placed raindrops - Zeke was getting that good), and were on the road, going from tiny town to tiny town and making it rain in each locality.
That is, until, "big city" reporters caught wind of him though articles in the Tulsa World, Wichita's Broom Corn Review, and the Wichita Beacon. In the town of Columbus, Kansas, the seat of Cherokee County, columnists came to watch the boy wonder. Ezekiel wrote a letter to the brothers who'd stayed on the farm boasting of how they'd all see better days thanks to him. The crowds gathered, the sun beamed down through the hot and hazy day, and Ezekiel stepped to the stage. He'd learned in the preceding months the crowd appreciated a show, so he made a couple of cornball jokes, which people laughed too loudly at, and he waved his hands, shouted some mumbo jumbo, finished with "And praise the Lord!" And nothing happened. Zeke looked around, a little confused, then smiled nervously and made a joke about Kansas having "'specially hard weather". He tried again and again, until the crowds were not laughing at the cornball nervous jokes, but him. Then he heard something he didn't understand - a voice from the crowd saying "What - he's a Jew boy? Born of a WHAT?? A WHORE?? Prob'ly works with Satin hisself!" Then there were boos and hisses, his mother grabbed him from the stage, and before he knew it he was in there wagon as they beat a hasty retreat.
His mother explained to him that in fact she was of Jewish background and apparently one of the reporters recognized her from when she worked in the hospitality business and met a number of traveling gentlemen. At that time, she explained, many knew she was Jewish, including Nathaniel. Of course not only Zeke heard this news but so did Jacob, who had tagged along on this trip.
But Zeke knew there was more to it, a lot more. Not long before this incident, he had met a young lady, Rachel, after making it rain. She seemed to like him a lot and took him to her "boarding house". They embraced and things got rather heated, not so much that he was breaking a commandment but so much so that he thought of it. While still dressed he had an unfortunate accident, the kind young over-anxious men are apt to have when appropriately inspired. Rachel was nothing but kind, and they went back to talking at just the moment his mother burst in, yelling and screaming, grabbing him and pulling him out. As they got out Ezekiel complained, and she slapped his face, surprizing both of them. Then she cried, and simply explained the "facts of life" and that the kind of men who go to those places are hurting women and the kind of women who work there don't have love in there hearts for such men, only use for their money. In his heart Zeke felt Rachel loved him and it wasn't like his mother described, though there was little doubt, as he thought about it, that the so-called boarding house could be anything but a bordello. That or Rachel had an unusual interest in scandalous lingerie (it was hanging up in her room) and the boarding house was very lax about men visiting women.
His mother's explanation of having been in the hospitality business, the fact he heard the word "whore" clearly from the audience, and her reaction when she came across he and Rachel told him there was more to his mother, and probably his father, than he had ever thought about.
It was in the midst of this mental turmoil that Zeke returned to Dacoma where he was belittled by the public for his failure - a failure made worse by the broad brush of the papers' portrayal of a hoodwinking family and gullible hicks. Privately he tried to change the weather again but to no avail. Thankfully the papers only printed about his failure and at least word didn't get back to Dacoma about his family's half-Jewish background or his mother's early history. But Zeke couldn't stand much more anyway. Jacob was no better than the rest of the populace, belittling Zeke and even whispering he must have gotten the "Jew blood" though Jacob was sure he himself had not. Shortly thereafter Jacob took off with no explanation, though his sudden distance from his mother . The other brothers pitched in on the farm and one day Ezekiel announced he couldn't stay in Dacoma anymore. No one was surprized and in some ways his family was relieved - maybe with Zeke gone they would be spared the jokes and looks.
So in 1929 at 16 Ezekiel Fire struck out on his own. Where'd he go first? Straight to Rachel in Enid, Oklahoma. She was still working at the same bordello and not only remembered him but seemed genuinely sorry for what had happened to him. Their romance blossomed, though Ezekiel vowed to remain chaste. She seemed to like that in him though their very different lives did cause frustrations. Meanwhile, Zeke took odd jobs and eventually a desperate farmer, after pleading unsuccessfully pleading with Zeke to make it rain, simply took Zeke's advice on a number of things he could do on his farm to increase efficiency. Those ideas worked and soon Ezekiel became an under-the-table consultant for area farmers (no one wanted to admit they were taking advice from the "rain swindler"). So he made a decent living, and he offered to Rachel the opportunity to marry him and get out of her situation. To his shock, she refused. For reasons he could not understand, she said this was what she wanted. In fact, to his shock, she turned the tables in a sense and said she'd marry him but on the condition he let her continue her profession. He couldn't fathom this - in fact she gave him no explanation that would allow him to. Eventually he decided they couldn't go on and he had to get out, taking his small savings, and moving on to Texas.
His first major investment en route was an old Model T, one much abused. He had to figure out how to repair it - several times over in fact. Along the way he eventually laid his hands on a comprehensive book on auto repair and eagerly dove into it. Soon he not only had his car fixed but, after acquiring the odd spare part here and there, had it running well enough to get it up into speeds over 100 miles per hour. He also found out he had no career in racing after wrecking the car twice, narrowly avoiding serious injury each time.
After considering where he should end up, he decided on Amarillo, where an international airport had been opened in 1929 and a helium plant was in operation. In fact a lot of excitement had been generated as in 1930 air mail service was just starting in the progressive city. He drove into Amarillo with just enough gas to get to a hotel and just enough money to afford one night's stay. He scoured the town that day and found good mechanics were needed desperately. An application, along with carefully showing off the engine of his reworked T, got him a job as a grease monkey in the U.S. Bureau of Mine's helium plant. His job was just to keep the vehicles and heavy machinery running and generally keep out of the engineers' way, but within a few months his mechanical and increasing electronic skills became evident and soon he earned an apprenticeship in the young discipline of dirigible-building. Through that he became involved in the effort of building parts for the USS Macon, which flew in 1933 and was manufactured by Goodyear-Zeppelin but with military oversight. As such he participated in remote proof-of-concept activities and component prototyping.
This exciting period found Ezekiel meeting all sorts of people, from travelling young Nazis, essentially spying on the US helium industry, to cowboys and ranchers to US industrialists plotting a future of scientific/industrial dominance. Based on his own experiences of being "different" he appreciated meeting whomever and experiencing whatever life had to offer, soaking it all up like a sponge.
As the USS Macon went on-line, he was approached to join a top secret project team, more hush-hush than the preceding effort. Even he wasn't entirely sure of the nature of the craft, but it was basically a more experimental Zeppelin. Ezekiel quickly learned not to ask too many questions and remain quiet about it. He also learned to cut off all contact with the Nazis who had previously approached him with job opportunities in Germany; his bosses were quite clear that they didn't want to see him associating with them and even pointed him to a few informative articles on Nazism. Ezekiel's role on the project had a lot to do with the flight and lift mechanics. His age and lack of confidence held him back for a time but after a few months the other engineers began to look on him as a valuable consultant and he became deeply embedded in the design process, as well as involved enough in testing to see his ideas work. While he lacked the experience to lead any of the teams, he became widely respected for his good attitude and deep knowledge.
Despite his enjoyment of his job and increasing status, as well as Amarillo in general, he became intrigued in the notion of moving on and seeing more of a world that seemed to get bigger to him everyday. One day as he walked home he became soaked in a freak downpour and unthinking declared "Stop it right now, I tell you whut!" (he enjoyed practicing his own version of what he considered to be real Texan accents). And it did - forming a hole in essence, about 25 feet in radius around him. He chuckled a bit at first and shook his head. His life had gone too far for him to fixate on this aspect of it and he really didn't desire to still have the weather-changing ability. Still, this made him think more about it and its nature - if it were a gift from God, why would it kick in on his measly selfish whim just that moment? And how could he get it to keep working?
His mind drifted. Often he'd though it'd be great if he could change the weather for his poor family back on the farm. But he wasn't all that worried about the farm - he was sending them a tidy sum and they surely weren't going hungry. In fact his main worry for them now was that he'd heard that the community knew his mother was Jewish and things were getting bad. He tried to convince her to move, maybe come to Amarillo which was a little more cosmopolitan and besides which, no one would know anyway. But she insisted on staying and at least 3 of the brothers were still with her (Horatio had died from the measles). No one knew where Jacob had gone to.
Ezekiel's mind turned back to Amarillo - and to leaving. He knew he really couldn't leave during this project, but wanted to move on. Europe was appealing or, for that matter, working for Goodyear in the midwest would also be a nice change.