He took a box to work today. When I asked what for, he said, “So I can clean out my locker.” Oh. That.
The next day, we stopped by the station to visit. “Hey, Benjamin, I’ve got a job for you! Come help me clean the engine,” the engineer called to our oldest child. As Ben helped Jason hose the fire engine down, the one his daddy has driven his entire career, I snapped a picture with my phone thinking “This is the last time he will get to do this here.”
“I turned in my resignation letter today,” he quietly told me later, as the boys played in the ladder truck. I looked at my husband, watching for signs of sadness, regret, hoping he didn’t see it in my own eyes. Only one of us can mourn at a time, in order to boost the other up. We are a team, so I try to keep my heartache in check until I can read my husband’s emotions. He always gets first dibs, considering that it is he that is leaving a job of fourteen years, not me.
At his going-away party last weekend, I was overwhelmed with pride and sorrow as I watched Nathan try to keep it together as he spoke to the group. How does one put into words almost half a lifetime of experience and gratitude and growth? He was only 17 when he started working for Atascadero Fire Department, just a boy on the verge of adulthood, searching for his future. In one season as a high school cadet, he found it.
“I’m a firefighter for Atascadero,” he told me the night we first met. He was a mere 19 years old. “Currently, I’m a seasonal, but in a few years, after guys retire, I’ll have a chance to be full-time.” I was in awe of this man-boy, who was so confident who he wanted to be, where he was going to go. He spoke in such a way I had no doubt he would get there. Sure enough, three years later he was a full-time, permanent employee, just like he said he would be.
I thought about all this as I watched my husband. His co-workers spoke about his time at the department and lamented how much they were going to miss him. The precious thing about small departments is that the men that make up the department are more than just co-workers. They live together for 48 hours shifts, and work as a team and depend on one another in crisis situations they encounter every shift. They play practical jokes on each other and cook together and train together. Holidays and birthdays are celebrated as a shift, should that day fall on a work day, and it is not uncommon for families to join the crew for dinner some nights. The guys work on each other’s houses, loan each other tools and vehicles, vacation together, and watch each other’s kids. When Jason stood up to speak, he said it perfectly: “Nate’s my brother. We’ve lived together for six out of the eight years that he’s been full-time. I’m really gonna miss him.”
After Nathan thanked everyone through the lump in his throat, it was my turn. As I faced the group of people that had been our extended family for the past fourteen years, I had a flashback to the first summer we met. We had only been dating a month when AFD hosted a Fire Muster, which is an event for fire departments from all around the state to come and compete in friendly games related to the fire service. After the competition was over, the traditional BBQ and dance took place. The after-party was held in the streets in front of City Hall. “Do you want to dance?” Nathan whispered in my ear that evening as a Faith Hill song began to play over the night air. I will never forget slowly twirling in the street under the stars, as well as the watchful eyes of the bemused firemen and their wives, a young girl falling in love right there in that moment. Four years later we danced our first dance as husband and wife to that same song, in front of the same firefighters and their wives. Now Nathan’s firefighting family was officially mine, too.
Fast forward three years, to the birth of our first child, followed by our second son two and a half years later and my heart is full of images that will never leave me:
· Keith Aggson greeting my infant baby with a fist bump and the classic “Hey, Buhh-dy! What’s happen-in?”
· Jason Smith teaching Benjamin how to simulate bodily function noises, a rite of passage for all boys apparently.
· Matt Vierra showing my boys where all the snacks were kept at Station 1 and telling them to help themselves, anytime.
· Benjamin sitting in the chair next to Bill White’s desk at Station 2, both of them doing “work.”
· Andrew Luera whipping out a pencil drawing of a train during one of our visits, which still has a place of honor on Benjamin’s bulletin board.
· Paul Netz teaching Benjamin how to back up the engine, who in turn taught Brayden. Now both of them can motion their arms and cross them when the driver has hit his mark. Brayden even makes the air brake noise at the right time.
We will never forget Atascadero Fire Department and all the people that encompass it. They watched Nathan and I transition from teenagers to adults, from a dating couple to a married couple, from a family of two to a family of four, and AFD will forever be a part of our history. While we may be moving to a new department, Nathan will always consider himself an Atascadero Firefighter and I will forever be an Atascadero Firefighter’s wife. Because that’s how family works…it’s never really “Goodbye,” but more like, “See you later.”
So to all the people of AFD who have helped shape our family into what it is today, we say “Thank you…and see you later.”
B-Shift through and through.
July 2002, coming home from first Out-of-County assignment
Swearing-in Ceremony, 2005
Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Arizona, 2002