Episode 5 – My Father's Workplace
My father was a long-term and highly-decorated fireman; nearly a legend amongst his peers within Boston's inner city. Station 112 was where he began his tenure as a fireman, and that is where he would stay his entire career. It was something his blood was built from; a passion; an undying submission to; a part of his culture and entire character. There were times when I would feel the faint tingle of a kiss on my cheek around four in the morning, when either he was going on duty or coming off. He carried his dedication like armor; his duty around like a badge of honor. He believed credit was earned and not freely given. That to walk into a firehouse, become assembled into a group of individuals whose design and purpose was to help others and to become a life-saving team, was much of what he lived for. There was indeed love he held for his family. But his heart was there in that firehouse. From the soup kitchens and late evening meals, or early morning breakfasts that could easily be resoundly interrupted, he lived for the rush of being on that edge.
I was never forbidden to enter the fire station. In fact, it was often encouraged by my father for me to attend and be 'a man' amongst the group there. By the time I was born and of the age when I could make my visitations on him, he had become a sergeant and was quickly moving up the ladder, so to speak. He was always noted as unrepressed with his bravery. His skill was second to none and his instincts were far greater than any other which came out of his class of 60'. He knew danger and could smell it before he was at risk, or any others within Fire Station 112.
My visits were gradual and became more numerous as time went along. Before too much time I had met most of the crew in my dad's normal shift. There was Fred 'buckles' Willis, with those bright and shining gold and silver buckles he always liked to wear. I could never catch him without a smile on his face; regardless of the large gaps between his teeth. He loved coffee, a bagel, and afterwards, I never failed to find him sucking on his teeth to get the particles out.
There was Gerry 'grumble' Show; a big, brown-eyed, African-American man who was as large as my father, but with a barreled chest and thick forearms the size of Popeye's. He giggled incessantly when he laughed, which stood out to be often. His voice was as deep as the deepest ocean and how he could sing when he heard the old Nat King Cole songs hit the radio. He threw me in a roar when he made his grand attempts to swing dance and sing all in the same motion; and how he tried so hard to get me to be his partner when a 'catchy tune' was 'strumming' out over the airwaves.
"Come on little boy blue!" He would smile over me.
"No, no," I confessed my desire not to, as the others laughed on me, "I can't today Mr. Show."
"What's to it?"
He smirked and twinkled out those enlarging brown eyes of his. That grin grew to a hefty loaf when he smiled, "Oh comes now! You got the rhythm; I knows you do! The beat! The rhythm! We will make the firelights above us swirl and dance!"
Reluctantly I would give in and be his partner through his 'one-of-many' favorite songs. Needless to say his voice talents far exceeded his dancing abilities.
Next was Hank 'two-time' Hinkle. Why 'two-time' you may ask? He always repeated himself. But he could make the best waffles in Charlestown, being a marketable chef in his former life, and so deciding he would try being a fireman in his second. His salt and pepper hair, slicked straight back, stood out with me; along with his constant, habitual nature of primping in the mirror when he could get half the chance.
Then there was Captain 'Buck' Wilson; the eldest of the group and the one who held onto an old man's wisdom, worldly travel, and the acute ability to tell a great tale. He always found the best in everything, and he drew on his vast ability to spin a thought-provoking yarn. A yarn that was pulled from the reserve of experiences he had during his life. I felt him to be more of a grandfather figure to me than anything.
Joey 'lippers' Habershack was another; 'lippers' because of all the girlfriends he had calling the firehouse. A dead on look-a-like of Elvis; even sang as well. Lamar 'caps' Singleton forever had a hat on his head, due to the flaming red hair he was born with; which he preferred to hide as much as possible until he went to dyeing it a silver tint.
His body-tattooed freckles were a different story. For there was not a place on his body he did not have a freckle bulging from. Kelly 'baby' Foster worked the small and cramped office just inside the main corridor leading to the restrooms. She drew the most attention with her golden blonde hair, dimple smile, city-girl approach, and her classic dress style. Kelly always exuded confidence and knew how to keep all the guys at the fire station in place, including me.
There were nearly thirty men and two women working at fire station 112, with two full-sized fire trucks in active duty around the clock. And of course, not to be the least, was Skip, the black-spotted Dalmatian the entire fire station adopted.
I've been told Dalmatians are not very akin to children. But whenever I walked into that firehouse he would gravitate to me, and I to him. It was an instant and long-lasting friendship. I would be sitting in the eatery and I could hear the shuffle sound of his food bowl. A few moments later, after turning around, out crept that bowl around the corner and he just behind it; all the while he was pushing it by his nose. Once I saw him I smiled. He would bring himself to a full stance, drop his lower chin, flip out his tongue, and wag his tail so violently that he would nearly flop his 'behind' to the cement floor. There was never a doubt when Skip was hungry.