Monday, July 10, 2006

Firsts ... Part Two


The next day the Smallwood Volunteer Fire Department held it’s annual 5K race and Independence Day Celebration. There were hot dogs and beer and soda, a DJ playing mostly oldies and country tunes, a big inflatable room for the children, in which they could bounce around until they were goofy and there were fire trucks - three bright yellow fire trucks and one old red 1955 model in need of major repairs. The community really comes out for this event, to support the firemen and to have a good time, drink some beer on a summer day and meet with their neighbors, many of whom are summer residents and have only recently arrived.

His Holiness and I showed up early and stayed a long, long time. I wasn’t even thinking about the 5K race when we set off that morning in the stroller for a little ride around the block but as we approached the intersection at the end of our road I noticed runners passing by and remembered the race. Everyone was out, including our neighbor Joe, recently retired from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (known to all New Yorkers as the MTA) and a resident of Brooklyn. I noticed Joe last summer but never had the occasion to speak with him. Earlier this week when HH and I were out walking we met Joe and his cats and stopped for a beer and a chat and now we are fast friends. HH has a way of melting the ice in almost any situation and Joe is a pretty gregarious fellow anyway. It was a little eerie actually when I finally met him and he told me his name, eerie because since the first time I saw him I knew he reminded me of someone I had known a long time ago, they could have been brothers but they aren’t. They bear a remarkable resemblance; both are tall, broad men with long (formerly) blonde hair that falls almost to the middle of the back and both wore a full handlebar moustache. Their personalities are strikingly similar as well, outgoing and confident, almost to the point of being brash and they are both the sort of guy who would offer you a beer on first meeting, listen to what you have to say and make you feel at home. The Joe I knew long ago was married for a time to a close friend of mine. It didn’t end well for him and he was found one night by the side of the road; young, dead and alone. Smallwood Joe may have been like my old friend Joe when he was younger, but he managed to pass through that zone of fear, confusion and self-destruction that many of us experience and came through to the other side of it alive.

I have digressed yet again. This is a story about firsts and on July 2nd at the Smallwood Volunteer Fire Department event, HH took his first ride in the front seat of a real fire truck. This may not sound like a big deal but in our small world it was an event of major significance. HH is a lover of all thing mechanical; trucks, tractors and cars are fascinating to him, but on a plateau all by themselves are fire trucks, those bright loud machines covered with pipes and dials and hoses and hats, which now and then can be seen flying down the highway at high speed while all the rest of us pull off to the side of the road to let them pass. Nearly every day we make a pilgrimage to the old red fire truck that sits in the pasture across the street from the fire station. HH sits in that rusting truck and pulls at the steering wheel and struggles with the gearshift knob. On this July 2nd all the fire trucks were on display in front of the firehouse. HH put on his small red plastic fire hat, because he saw the other firemen putting on their fire hats, and proceeded to wander over to where the firemen had congregated and then lurked just outside the ring of beefy men, wanting nothing more than to be a part of whatever it was they were doing. Eventually one of them crawled up into the front seat of one of the trucks and noticing HH staring up at him, asked him if he was ready to go. HH didn’t miss a beat, not a second, and he was struggling to climb up onto the truck. One of the other firemen helped him into his seat and shut the door behind him. Just before the truck left the driveway he turned and gave me a quick wave good bye and he was off. It wasn’t a long ride, just down the road to where the other firefighters had set up the hot dog grill, but it was the ride of a lifetime for HH. For much of the rest of the day he spoke about “his” fire truck. We ate hot dogs under the tree just behind the truck and late in the day he got back in the front seat and closed the door and surveyed the scene from his perch high above the festivities. I wish there was some small window I could open to understand what goes on inside his head at moments like these.


Blogger Sharon said...

How wonderful that the fireman recognized the need in HH at that moment! He will remember that ride for years!

3:33 PM  

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