When my grandfather was a young man in a small town in Michigan, the United States was at war. He wanted to join the Navy or the Air Force and serve his country, but he was rejected. He decided to find another way to help people. He became a volunteer fireman. He learned how to drive the fire truck, to coil the hose, and to don his boots, coat and hat lickety-split. He also learned to be a leader.
During the day, he worked as a mail carrier. He had a wife and a child to support after all, and fighting fires didn’t pay the bills. But when the call came, even if it was in the middle of the night, he went out to battle flames.
One time he was the only one available to drive the truck and attack the fire. Later, another fire fighter arrived at the scene. He had to carry the hose into the burning building by himself. These days, fire fighters must go as a team, but back then the rules were different.
The biggest fire my grandfather fought was in a lumberyard. The stacks of wood burned for hours and hours. Sometimes, he would be called to a house he’d brought mail to earlier in the day. He wondered if the letters he’d delivered had burned up in the fire. He wondered if the people who lived in the house would remember the words on the pages.
He rode the red fire truck to blazing fields, cars burning at the side of the road, piles of garbage that had been ignited. Sometimes, he was called to the house of a friend. If the friend didn’t make it out in time, he would feel an ache in his heart, but he would stick to his job and put out the fire. It made him sad to see his friends’ things burn down to ash.
My grandfather retired from the Post Office, but he kept on working. He worked as a fire fighter for 42 years. He put out a lot of fires. He helped a lot of people.
(I wrote this awhile ago, but I’m posting it today in honor of my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep last night at the age of 95.)