This is my Mom. She died 16 years ago on April 15, 1997. April 15 is a big day in the US. It’s tax day, and for many years, my father and I joked that she died on that day so that we would never forget to pay our taxes. You know what they say about death and taxes…
On Facebook, I posted about her anniversary before the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. On that thread, there were a few references to the “firetruck story” and I planned to respond with a quick quip. But, then the news was filled with pictures of the first responders, many of whom were firefighters, and I felt that the response needed a bit more than I could tell in a FB update. So, for those who are interested, here’s the Firetruck Story:
When we found out that my mother’s cancer had moved to her brain and spinal fluid, and only had four weeks left to live, Lyman and I moved up our wedding. I’d always known that my mother would never meet my children, and that I would live with that regret forever, but you can’t speed up having a baby. You can speed up a ceremony and I knew that I couldn’t live with the regret of not having Mom at my wedding. So, we scrambled around Boston, and thanks to the help of many people, we were able to plan a celebration in under a week.
Mom declined rapidly, and a few days before the rehearsal dinner, she lost the use of her legs. We didn’t know how we could get her from the 2nd floor to a waiting car. On a whim, I stopped at the local firehouse around the corner from their apartment in The Back Bay. I explained the situation to the Fire Chief and asked if I could hire a few firefighters to carry her down. He was kind and compassionate and said that I could not hire anyone because it would be their pleasure to help. He asked for the address and the date and time we wanted them there.
The day arrived and the doorbell rang. We were expecting some off-duty firefighters to walk in. Instead, six men in full uniform came up the stairs, picked up her wheelchair and carried her down to the street level. Mom always had a mischievous glimmer in her eyes, even while dying, and people were constantly drawn to her natural charm. One flight of stairs down, and she’d made friends with all of the firefighters. She was dying, and she had them laughing. As they brought her outside, she saw the FIRETRUCK. The huge hook and ladder truck they’d used to get to us was parked in front of the building. Her eyes lit up and she said “I’ve always wanted to ride in a firetruck!” The unbelievably kind and gracious firefighters responded with “where are you going Ma’am?”
They put her in the front seat of the firetruck, turned on the lights and sirens, and drove (the wrong way on one way streets!) to the Somerset Club on Beacon Hill. The joy on her face was indescribable. Because the cancer in her brain had begun to effect her cognitive abilities, she had become more childlike. She clapped her hands, giggled, and kissed them all on the cheeks. She said it was a highlight of her life. These men took 30 minutes out of their lives and created joy and happiness where we were surrounded by death and sadness. I will forever be grateful to them.
Over the years, I’ve visited the firehouse several times and thanked whomever happens to be there for the kindness they showed our entire family. The pictures I’ve seen in the past few days, of firefighters carrying children, pulling down barriers to get to the victims, consoling civilians, don’t surprise me in the least. I’ve known for years that these gruff and brave men and women have hearts of gold.