The Fire Hat

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I believe the New Year is a good time to take stock of our lives and where we are headed.  The other day while waiting for a class assignment at Golden Peak, several of us old-timers were talking about our youth and where we had grown up. 

I grew up during the 50’s in a middle-class neighborhood of row houses on the west side of Chicago; with “gangways” between each house and alleys between each block.  I remember when one of the neighborhood kids moved away (Wisconsin or Iowa as I recall) and returned for a visit with his parents.  He told the gang that where he now lived there were no alleys, gangways or sidewalks—few of us could even imagine such a world—in fact, from our vantage point, Colorado was little more than one of those rectangle states “out west.”

Ours was a neighborhood full of kids, we all watched the Cleaver’s and the Andersen’s on TV, but we knew that they couldn’t be real.  After all, who had a father who wore a tie on a weekday, or a mother’s who wore those freshly pressed print dresses?  We assumed that “our world” was the way the entire world was because the Cleaver’s and the Andersen’s lived only on black and white TV. 

The kids in the neighborhood either attended St. Celestine’s Catholic School or John Mills, the neighborhood public school.  Back then, the worst thing you could do at school was to chew gum, cut in line or run in the halls (or for those of us who attended St. Celestine, to talk in church!)  And being sent to the principal’s office was nothing compared to the fate that awaited a misbehaving student when he or she arrived home.

When we played games we used our imagination.  Your index finger and your thumb were the weapon of choice in our never-ending battle between the Cowboys and Indians.  The good thing about that is that you could just point and shoot and would never miss or run out of ammunition.  

Like all neighborhoods, there was one exception, and that was a little boy across the street on 76th Avenue.  His name was Larry M.  He had everything.  He had cap pistols and a bow and arrows.  He had a cowboy suit with real boots, and an authentic Indian war bonnet.  Whatever we played he could dress for it.  If we played cops and robbers he had a policeman's uniform with toy handcuffs.  He had a football jersey with shoulder pads, and he even had a baseball uniform before Little League.  (Little League didn’t find it’s way into our neighborhood until I was about 11, and to tell the truth, it took a lot of enjoyment out of playing ball—back then baseball was not a psychological group learning experience—it was a game to be played for fun!)

When we played war, (which was just about every other day) Larry M. had a soldier’s uniform with a toy rifle.  He had an aviator’s leather helmet with goggles and a fireman’s suit with boots, gloves, a toy ax, and a fire hat.  He had it all.

The rest of us played in our regular clothes and just pretended.  As I recall there wasn’t any jealousy, besides it was much easier for the rest of us to play because we didn’t have to dress for the occasion.  It was a wonderful time of life, filled with tree climbing and fort making, backyard shows

and lemonade stands, and of course playing with our dogs, which were never purebred. 

One-day a great event took place on our block; a house down the street had a small kitchen fire.  Two huge red fire trucks appeared and all of us rushed to see the excitement as the firemen positioned themselves and the police kept the neighbors (including us kids away.)

Such excitement, it seemed as if everyone in the neighborhood was there.  All except Larry M, he ran home to find “the right gear.”  He put on his fireman’s suit and his special boots and gloves but he couldn’t leave until he found his hat.  He looked under the bed, in the closet, in his dresser.  He searched high and low, and finally found his fire hat.  Ready and prepared with his hat firmly in place and his toy ax in hand, he raced to the scene, but alas, the fire trucks had gone. 

There is a lesson in this story for all of us and it has nothing to do with sartorial accoutrements.  The truth is that many of us spend far too much time doing unimportant things and when we do, we miss seeing the fire trucks. 

How many of us spend our time in the pursuit of stuff?  The fire hat and the toy ax are now the bigger SUV, the perfect lot for our home, or the latest skis; but all too often the fire trucks leave and we have no idea where our lives have gone, who our children are, or who raised them. 

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if we “re-thought” our endless pursuit of toys and “stuff,” and instead watched the fire trucks when they came to our block.

 

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