Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How It All Started, part two

Well, throughout junior high, I was sure I would one day become a firefighter. One day my mother showed me a huge article in the local newspaper about Eileen Hodges, Tacoma Fire Department's first female firefighter. WOW! I was thrilled to see her sliding down a fire pole, smiling. I read the article over and over. As it has been MANY years (who's counting?) since that day, I do not remember what most of the article had to say, but I do remember that Eileen had a passion for helping other women train to become firefighters and the article focused on that quite a bit. I found this to be very encouraging and after much thought, composed a letter to her. I was painfully shy and very intimidated by the uniform so this seemed the best way to find out more about this whole firefighting thing.

Once I wrote the letter, I didn't know how to get it to her. My mother suggested the only practical approach, bring it to Station 8 and ask them to get it to her. Well, while it was practical, it was nearly impossible due to my shyness and uniform indimidation factor. Finally, I convinced my innocent little brother to go with me to take it to them. I carefully went for a walk around the block, so that I would approach the firestation from behind. Looking up to the second story I could see the windows to the day room were open and as luck would have it, a firefighter was staring out the window as we were walking up the hill on the sidewalk toward the station. I don't know if I intitially got his attention or if I made my brother do it, but somehow it happened and he came downstairs to the front door of the firestation to meet us. One of us gave him the letter for Eileen and then, blushing, I thanked him and hastily made my get-away. I don't know which firefighter it was we enlisted to help us that day, but he probably found it rather amusing.

A week or two later, I was on one of my customary walks around the block (I always walked around the block in hopes to glimpse fire engines and firefighters outside of the station house.) when a firefighter leaned out of the window and said, "hey, are you the girl that sent the letter to Eileen?" GULP!! I was all by myself. (little kids didn't count and I had a few small neighbor kids with me.) Now I had to talk to a uniformed firefighter with no back up! AAAAACCCCKKKK!

"Yes!" I kind of squeaked, sheepishly. (I still remember what I was wearing, but I won't embarrass myself further with a description!) He told me that he had a letter for me from her and he dropped it out the window hollering, "airmail!" I made one of the little kids go get it for me and made another hasty escape.

I all but ran home to read my letter. I don't remember what it said except that it was encouraging and she had answered my questions. I had mentioned in my letter my extreme shyness and the uniform intimidation thing and she had recommended cookies to break the ice. But if I make cookies for the firefighters I have to deliver them. OH NO!!! Ok. I'll be brave. Maybe. That's what unsuspecting little brothers are for. (Evil grin) I made a big batch of peanutbutter cookies and wrote a thank you letter to Eileen. I made my brother help me deliver them. The firemen were grateful for the cookies. I was grateful that was over with.

Eileen and I corresponded by mail for a year or so, I think. During this time I started to get to know the guys on B shift and a few other guys. The ones that come to mind are Mel Smith, Milt Nelson, Joe Stiles, Dave Jones, Vern Heller, Cornelius Winsebury, Jeff Hokensen (whose very blue eyes were unsettling) and Lonnie Hampton.
Gradually it got easier to talk to them and I occasionally went jogging with one of them (I don't remember which one). Joe Stiles always made me feel particularly comfortable and would answer all kinds of questions for me. My brother started spending more and more time at the firestation as well, with and without me. At some point Eileen got married and became Eileen Lewis. I went to visit her at a firestation one time and Larry Lewis was the one who answered the door. When I asked for Eileen Hodges he gave me a very bad time until I figured out it was Eileen Lewis I needed to ask for.

I continued over the next few years to bring cookies, brownies and other goodies regularly. I brought half of my sixteenth birthday cake to them (which probably didn't make my mother too happy because she had knocked herself out to please me with a special cake, but I was young and in love with all things firefighting!) I even brought them my first home made pie, it was cherry from the tree in my yard. After I delivered it I was eating someof the sour pie cherries and talking with my big sister. She and I were pitting cherries for another pie. Suddenly, she noticed a tiny worm in one. She started checking others. They all had them. She told me and I didn't believe her. I COULD NOT believe her. I just gave a wormy cherry pie to the firemen! I was mortified!! I was totally beside myself in a near panic. (I rarely panic, so that is saying something!) My sister finally got me settled and convinced me that what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. She said they would never know and besides, it just added protein and firemen needed extra protein. I decided to let her be right. This is the first time I have ever mentioned it when there was even a remote possibility that one of them would ever find out. Sorry guys, I really didn't mean to give you worms!

Stay tuned for part 3.