A Driving Story

Posted: July 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

6:00 or so, my son Vincent came home from attending two, back to back funerals in Bridgeport, CT. Two firefighters lost their lives this week, doing what they are trained to do. What my son is training to do.   Enter burning buildings and bring people out alive and safe. Dangerous work, life threatening work. I was very proud that Vincent chose to pay his respects to these two fallen heroes.

Vincent wanted to spend the weekend at our summer campground place and needed me to drive him up there. It takes just under an hour, in low traffic. He was wearing is suit, black with a blue shirt. The suit we bought together for one his fire department dinners. On his lapel, he pinned his silver and red badge, defining what department he is affiliated with and that he is a junior member. It’s a beautiful badge and looked very nice against the black of his suit.

Vincent was very tired, having gotten up just after 5 a.m. this morning to be ready for his ride which arrived at our house at 5:30 a.m. I was awake as he got ready and he needed some help with his tie. I’m not that great with ties and he gets a little impatient if I’m fussing too long to make it perfect. We tied the tie last night and it was all ready for him to just slip over his head. I must have messed up some how because the skinny part was inches below the fat part. Anyway, he asked me to help straighten it out. Bleary and tired I fumbled with the tie and eventually got some kind of knot in it and the skinny part was where it was supposed to be. He then wanted to put a pin on it and decided on his very special, commemorative 9/11 pin. Trying to get the sharp stem of the pin through all those layers of silk, proved difficult. The stem of his special pin broke off. He got pretty agitated with me at that point. I had to walk away. He said something pretty harsh, I don’t react well to harshness, I find it better to walk away and let the air clear. I did say something to the effect, that I didn’t appreciate being spoken to like that at this hour of the day.

He must have nixed the whole tie pin thing and chose his badge instead. I was in another room when he walked out the door to his ride, waiting in the driveway. He yelled out, “goodbye Mom”, and I yelled back, “I’m proud of you Vincent, I love you”, and off he went.

In the car, on the way to the campground he was very quiet, not unusual. He’s at the age where he likes to do the talking, the listening…not so much. We chatted a little and I told him two little stories about our families history with the fire department. His great-grandfather was a member of the Schwamgunk, NY fire company. It’s a small fire department in upper state New York. I believe my grandfather was the treasurer and I plan on writing them soon to get more historical  information and to let them know that my son is now a volunteer firefighter. I described my grandfather’s funeral to Vincent. I was 11 at the time and shared with my son the fact that his great-grandfather’s casket rode on the top of a fire truck to the cemetary. Even at my young age, I thought it was special and was very proud that my grandfather was honored in such a formal and respectful manner. I believe Vincent found this fairly interesting and maybe filed it away somewhere in his tired brain.

I told him one other story, about my dad. My dad wasn’t a fireman, he was a salesman. He was also a Merchant Marine at one time, but I don’t know all that much about that, other than a black and white photograph, aged with time, of my dad, most likely 3 sheets to the wind standing and grinning next to a beautiful Jamaican woman. He may have learned some life saving techniques while serving his time or maybe he was just a quick thinker, a doer, a hero. The story I told Vincent was the one when my dad was sitting in a nice restaurant, maybe a business dinner, maybe for pleasure. You know how these stories are, the details meld and change through the years. Here’s my dad, most certainly in the middle of a conversation, meal and drinks when out of the kitchen comes the chef…..in flames. Here comes my favorite part of one of my favorite stories. My dad ripped the table-cloth off the table and tackled the flaming chef to the ground and put him out. Out of all the people who were dining that evening, it was MY dad, Vincent’s grandfather who reacted, in a very dramatic and heroic way to save a life. Personally, I consider my dad an honorary fireman for having done that, and always will.

Vincent didn’t ask any questions as I told him of his generations past. He may have been too exhausted to process it. After I finished his history lesson, I looked over and his head was bent forward, eyes closed, nodding off from a very long day. I told him to recline his seat and just sleep, which he did.

I drove in silence, feeling proud of Vincent’s dedication. Feeling a little bit unsettled that I am supporting and encouraging his choice to learn to be a life saver. A fireman. I looked over at my sleeping son in his black suit and had a very scary and unrealistic moment. I saw something that wasn’t there, that will never be there!  He was just sleeping and would awaken very soon as we were almost at our destination.  A mind can play hideous tricks on a mother’s eyes.  I shook it off and whispered to my youngest son, “we’re here honey, time to wake up”. Kelly the dog, who rode with us, started licking his beautiful face and he woke up.

Vincent said, “I love you Mom” as he walked away and I said, “have a good time, see you soon” “love you”. I watched him, just for second, walking away. My heart was so overflowing with love for that child, I had tears in my eyes. Then I turned around and headed back home.

This should end here, but I have to admit to something. Something I didn’t get caught or killed doing. I’ve been driving back and forth to the campground for 17 years. I could do it blindfolded, but tonight for some reason I drove right through a red light. I have NEVER done this before, I saw the red light, but like I described above, sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. The red of the light held no meaning to me at that moment what so ever. I don’t understand why or how something like this could ever happen to someone. There was a car going through their green light, as I drove through the red. I swerved and woke up as if I was dreaming. There’s no need to expound on what may have happened tonight because of the very wrong and inexcusable thing I did. I still remain baffled and ashamed that I almost caused great harm.

You see, I come from a family of live savers, for this to have had a different outcome, it would have gone against the very core of who I am and the tremendous, heroic examples that were set for me. The example I’m trying to set for my youngest son.

I drove the rest of the way home carefully, thankful and relieved very, very relieved, wiping the tears from my eyes until I pulled into my driveway, Kelly the Dog and I, safe and in one piece.

July 30, 2010

Coventry, CT

  1. Caroline says:

    I love when you write. What a great story, full of heroes, emotions, history and love. Thank you for sharing Joanne. p.s., we are all very grateful you and Kelly made it home safely. xo

  2. joannefirth says:

    Ahhhh, Joanne. I’ve been pondering for hours how to express to you my appreciation….A. For finding this little blog and I. B. Remaining such a true friend and person of grace and class whom I admire. C. For your kindness, support and very generous enouragement for what I’m trying to doing here.

    Last night, when I arrived home from my “drive”, I almost bent down and kissed the ground. If it weren’t for neighbor’s possibly thinking they needed to call the folks in the white coats who carry that big net, I would have. I was THAT shaken!

    In all my years of writing, I’ve never written stories. It’s been mostly poetry. There are a few chapters floating around one may call an unfinished autobiography. Key word, unfinished and shall remain so.

    Last night, I was truly happy to have this little blog, as I was just overflowing with powerful emotions that I felt needed to be captured then and now. If I had attempted to use pen and paper, the jumbled up thoughts and feelings channeled through my handwriting would have been at best difficult to transcribe.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen to this little blog down the road. For now, it is what it is, just me trying my best to articulate and “weave” together some words that may hold meaning, bring a smile or teach a small lesson to someone else on this big planet. Also, a single place where my words can reside and be safe and sound. Yeah, I big on safety you know. 😉

    Don’t worry about spelling “heroes” wrong, I’m sure if I now look back on this story, I’ll have to re-edit for the 101th time. Thanks for pointing it out. Thanks for the visit and you kind comment, thanks for being someone very special in my heart and in my life. ❤

  3. Joanne Schiffbauer says:

    I spelled “heroes” incorrectly! That word is too important to
    spell incorrectly!!

  4. Joanne Schiffbauer says:

    Joanne, you are a really wonderful “Story Teller!” Your
    stories, whether funny or sad or both at the same time,
    are wonderful!
    From skinny and fat parts of ties, to stories of heros, you
    weave them all together…so very well!


  5. Dani H says:

    Beautifully written, Joanne. Please, please do not feel ashamed for what happened ~ you weren’t someone drunk or texting or speeding or otherwise being negligent. You were experiencing the very real stress of that unrealistic moment and the emotional state that sharing the family stories could not help but take you to. It is impossible for a human being to be 100% attentive 100% of the time when driving. You have much to be proud of when you look at your son, bunny. I’m grateful nothing did happen at that intersection and that you made it home safely. Love you! *Big Squishy Hugs*

    • joannefirth says:

      Thanks Dani, I appreciate the “exuses” you made for me doing something so stupid.

      The scary part is no matter where my head was at the time, my body and brain didn’t react to something it always does, automatically. A red light at a 4 way intersection is not the appropriate place to be “somewhere deep in thought”. I too am grateful that nothing happend. It was such a nice ride with my son, whether he was awake and listening to my stories or not. I think something may have gotten through to him, something more than he knew before about why he is who he is.

      I still have a slight doubt in my mind about what happened to me at that red light, I must have really scared that driver who WAS paying attention. It will remain a mystery to me.

      I will recite, until I pick up my keys again, “RED MEANS STOP!”

      Thanks, as always for the time you took to read the story and for your love. ❤

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