CENTER RIDGE — They lie together in a single casket beneath a single thick slice of smooth gray granite, just to the left of the gate. They lie together on a gentle hill in a territory of gentle hills. They lie together where the summer sun restores green to the turf, where harsh winter winds, which helped kill them, scatter bouquets left in their memory. They lie a short drive from the place where they died, a short walk from the church where they were mourned, where their priests and nuns tried to comfort their families, their friends, their neighbors, and one another. They lie among the headstones of other Paladinos, and those of the other Italian clans whose ancestors created Catholic Point almost a half-century ago; husbands and wives, mostly, interred side by side.

CENTER RIDGE — They lie together in a single casket beneath a single thick slice of smooth gray granite, just to the left of the gate. They lie together on a gentle hill in a territory of gentle hills. They lie together where the summer sun restores green to the turf, where harsh winter winds, which helped kill them, scatter bouquets left in their memory. They lie a short drive from the place where they died, a short walk from the church where they were mourned, where their priests and nuns tried to comfort their families, their friends, their neighbors, and one another. They lie among the headstones of other Paladinos, and those of the other Italian clans whose ancestors created Catholic Point almost a half-century ago; husbands and wives, mostly, interred side by side.

This marker is different, starkly so. Across the top of the memorial: Andrew Paladino Family. At bottom, the mason’s chisel encapsulates the awful night in its unfathomable horror: All perished January 15, 1962.

In the center of the stone are ten names. Fifty years later, not a person who knew them can recall the night without crying.

Fifty years earlier, thereabouts, the house had been built by Antonio Paladino, a community patriarch, an accomplished farmer and winemaker, a first-generation American, father of eleven. In time the handsome two-story colonial became home to his son Andrew (“Andy,” to everyone) and his wife Melba, and their rapidly growing family — eight children in nine years, a source of gentle ribbing by their peers, which they accepted good-naturedly. When Andy remarked one day that his mother had hung a picture at a different spot, a visitor shushed him: “Andy, it’s Melba’s house now.” Andy was not a large man, but he had the energy and strength of two, maybe three. He got things done, for his family, for others, and did them with a smile. He could fix anything. Melba was an angel to her children, who loved to cling to her, and to the community, and a queen in the kitchen — friends recall her ability with chicken, especially. Collectively, Andy and Melba and their progeny filled a pew at St. Joseph’s, regularly.

Andy’s cousin Vick and his wife, Dean, played cards with Andy and Melba that Sunday night, a frigid but still evening when they arrived. Dean was helping Melba with the dishes when the latter remarked casually that two fires had occurred since they had moved in, one near the fireplace, a second near the water heater. Both had been detected early and extinguished with only the slightest damage. What an odd thing, Dean thought.

Not unusual at all were Melba’s children, in flannel pajamas, resisting bedtime, though mother finally steered them upstairs.

The two couples watched the ten p.m. news before Vick and Dean stood to leave. It was even colder now, and the wind had revived, howling across the landscape. Melba insisted on loaning Dean a jacket. “You can bring it back,” she smiled.

The why of what happened in the first moments of Monday has never been officially established. A butane leak? A delinquent ember? A short-circuit?

In their farmhouse a shallow valley away, Frank Rossi shook his son awake, ordered him to throw on clothes and follow. They ran through the darkness to the source of the light, a pillar of fire, huge, angry, omnivorous. Desperate, Frank ordered Marion to check the barn; perhaps the family car was absent, a prayer that the family was away, safe. The car was there, all the vehicles were there. So all Rossi and son could do was stand and watch. The frame house, its only stones the foundation, was a massive fireball.

A brother in St. Louis took the call in his office and replaced the phone, unbelieving.

A sister in Houston took the call and, in total denial, kept an appointment at her children’s school, nodding numbly until a teacher pried the details from her and ordered her home.

Another brother, in North Little Rock, slammed down the phone with a howl of agony, and cried as his daughter had never seen him cry, and would never see again.

A fourth brother came from Subiaco, joining two other priests the following day at the funeral Mass. The pyre’s consumption had been almost absolute. There was no need of ten caskets, the siblings concurred. There was no allowance in their consciousness for ten caskets, let alone space in the little church of St. Joseph. A single coffin would suffice, would be appropriate. The last of the char has long disappeared from the knoll where stood the Paladino homestead. The only remnants, close to the ground and not easy to find, are an occasional few inches of rusted plumbing, some random bits of mortar.

In the granite, as beneath it: Andrew. Melba. Phillip. David. Beverly. Daniel. Carolyn. Ralph. Jan. Terry. The oldest, only 40; the youngest, not yet 4. They lie together.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.