Sliding down the Brass Firepole


There was a swelling of pride in Gator’s dad. His son, in the firehouse, sliding down the brass pole he had come down so many times before. Seeing all the turn out gear below him, Gator Jr. made a few adjustments to his drop and came down right by his Dad. It was an old brick firehouse in the cities. Located just south of ‘The projects’ and ancient by today’s standard.

A ticker tape in the office transmitted where the fire was and there was a very loud bell that rang to awaken the men upstairs and also signal how many alarms the fire was. Two or three rings meant a big one. Gator’s dad was a ‘smoke eater’. Apt nickname as this was way before Scott Air packs. They men just had some sort of filter box and a hose to a mask. Sort of like having a T Shirt on your face at a campfire. Not too effective. Many were the calls late at night to Gator’s home telling them Dad was in hospital again with smoke inhalation.

Like most city men who put their lives on the line, the firemen were hard drinkers. Sometimes they even drank with their brothers in arms, the cops. Rivalry and military barracks demeanor. There was already trouble brewing in the somewhat fashionable stucco home the Gator’s lived in. Jack adored his dad, even though Jack would get ‘whipped’ now and then with a dowel rod from Dad’s basement workshop. Much later in life, Jack realized his Dad loved him too. There were just too many half empty bottles in the joists above the basement shop that helped ease the pain of Dad’s life. One night there was a scream that woke Jack up. Dad had made a mistake with the gate on his table saw and cut off a couple of fingers. Another trip to the hospital for a firefighter. One of Dad’s good friends was a neurosurgeon and Dad got the fingers back. Working.

Gator got into Ham radio rather young, fifth grade. Dad, the old ladder climber, put up a “long wire” from the roof to a tree out on the boulevard. Jack contacted Russia one night and had his room’s south wall covered with QSL cards. Neighbors were a little prickly about the standing waves coming off of the antenna. Their Jackie Gleason program got scrambled. A few semi-polite knocks on the kitchen door from across the street.

Jack and Dad went up north to Wisconsin now and then. They built a cabin on Gull Lake and except for the resort next door, it was the only cabin on the lake. Fishing was pretty good and Jack would row out to the edge of the Lilly pads and using a popper on a fly rod, limit out on big sunfish and paper mouth’s. Twice a day. Lunch and supper. Dad Gator was really good at cleaning and Jack loved the sound of a swirl at the edge of a pad.

Dad taught Jack how to survive a fight and at fourteen succeeded in Knocking Dad out for a minute or two. Special move when grabbed from behind. All in all, Jack and Dad had a good time there in the woods. One time Dad sawed off an end of the ridgepole and it dropped down on Jack’s head. “Are you OK?” Jack was OK.

A few years later, Jack’s mother had an affair with a city fireman that lived nearby. Different firehouse. There was a bit of a battle one night and soon after, Dad came down from upstairs with his suitcase. Jack ran into the bathroom and sobbed. His mother and sister were laughing with joy right outside the door. They didn’t know how much Jack loved his Dad, they didn’t know this imperfect man like Jack did. The other fireman soon moved in and he wasn’t much fun. He smelled odd and didn’t belong in Jack’s life. Never did.

Jack found his Dad out in California after the Navy. Jack was rescuing an old school bus after putting a new piston in the engine. Dad’s neighbor adjusted the valves while it was running and the neighbors in the ritzy neighborhood were not thrilled. Dad was overjoyed to see his son and it went well. It was pretty good. Jack

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