I saw surprised to receive an invitation to "Old-Timer's Night" at my old volunteer fire house a few weeks ago. When the invitation arrived, at first I couldn't imagine to whom it was supposed to be addressed, and then it dawned on me: I was the Old Timer.
Well. I joined the Providence Volunteer Fire Company at the age of 16, right after the Civil War and before the birth of commercial aviation. Not really, but it was 1967, and things were different then in the world and in the fire service. Firefighters rode on the back step of the engines, for one thing, and the science involved in putting out a fire, or washing away hazardous chemicals at the scene of a car wreck or leaky tank was more rudimentary: grab a hose and pour water all over it. We didn't know about air tanks for breathing in a smoky atmosphere, and hazardous materials handling, and so many other things, but we were there to do the best we could, the best way we knew how.
I was a member for six years, right up until the time I got married, and they were six of the best years of my life. Besides the avocational aspect of helping the community, putting out fires, standing by downed power lines and helping people with flooded basements, there is a social aspect, a brotherhood, that can't be denied. It's marvelously instructive for a young man to learn to work with others for a productive purpose, and to learn to follow orders and directions without stopping to think about one's own idea of what to do. At the scene of an emergency, someone has to be in charge, and that person's orders need to be followed, or you have chaos and disorder, and nothing gets done. This message is not getting through to a lot of young people, as I see it today, because schools, organizations, and far too many parents are more concerned with how young Earl or Mildred might feel about how to proceed, and if their psychic needs are being considered when the directions are being given, and whether or not the orders are in alignment with their wishes. It's not easy to learn, when one has been the object of personal veneration, that only a team effort can subdue a mighty opponent, and there is no "I" in "team."
There is "meat" in "team," however, and there were plenty of social occasions with the gang at the fire house. That's what I mean. It's good for young people to learn lessons and learn to socialize. A compatible group at a fire house learns to do both, and lifelong friendships are often formed there.
So, the reunion was great. It was held at the fire house, which has twice been rebuilt since my days there. Back in the day, the building had the architectural charm of a Texaco station, but now it looks like a spa in the middle of an elegant setting, all glass and brick and subdued lighting. I saw guys that I am still in touch with and guys that I haven't seen since bell-bottoms and platform shoes were all the rage. And the stories! Oh, the stories! Funny stuff that happened, funny stuff that people said, serious stuff that happened, serious stuff that people said...all retold, no embellishment needed, and recounted for the enjoyment of all. It was great. We're all doing well, and we had wistful thoughts of those who have gone on, and we know, each of us, that when we go to join them, we will take memories like this with us.