This morning on our way to the barn there was an accident. Two cars smashed by the side of the road. By the time we reached the accident scene the ambulance had already left for the hospital. One of the cars was being loaded on a flatbed truck. A group of police officers was standing in a circle next to the other car talking. My daughter and I softly murmur, “I wish you well.”
While we are waiting in traffic a childhood memory floats into my consciousness. I am six or seven years old, sitting in the back seat of our Buick with my sister and aunt. My mom and dad are up front. Dad is driving. We are headed for Disneyland. This is our second trip since the Grand Opening. We drove down for that event when I was five. I remember walking across the huge parking lot, holding my mom’s hand. I can still recall the monorail, the sun on my new shoes and the dress I wore for the occasion.
This time my mother’s sister decided to join us for the trip. Our plan is to drive from the Bay Area to Fresno and then stop for the night. My sister and I are thrilled. This means we get to stop at our favorite motel. It has a pool and we can swim until it gets dark. In the morning we can order waffles with strawberries and whipped cream for breakfast. That is a real treat for us. Something we are never allowed to indulge in at home..
It’s late afternoon. We are somewhere near Fresno. The sun is starting to sink in the sky. All of a sudden my dad pulls the car over on the side of the road. He opens the door, jumps out, and runs across an open field. My mom says, “Look!” and points to the train tracks. Flames are shooting up out of one of the train cars.
My dad was the Fire Science Coordinator for northern California. As a kid when I would ask him what that meant, he would say, “That means I train fire fighters to be fire fighters.” He loved his job. He traveled throughout the northern counties teaching classes. Before my sister and I were born, my mom would travel with him. When I became a teacher he shared his favorite teaching strategies with me. He was a real proponent of experiential learning. So am I.
As I watch my dad sprint toward the burning train I feel so proud. He is focused on helping put out a fire and saving lives. He is doing the right thing. I might be six or seven but I know that he is acting like a hero.
We sit in the car watching the action for a couple of hours. I can see fire trucks, ambulances and lots
of people moving about. When it’s all over I see my dad walking back across the field. He is covered from head to foot with black soot. He’s moving in a way that lets me know he is in a thoughtful space. It’s the same way he walked up to our front door on the day he learned that his father had died. He slowly opens the car door and sits down.
His shirt is ripped and dirty. His head is covered with black marks. He answers our questions, lets us know that everything is OK, and points out the fire chief. The fire trucks pull away. He turns his attention to the road with a look of satisfaction on his face. I reach for my aunt’s hand, look out the window, and drink it all in. The world seems like a better place. Why? Because my dad has just done the right thing. He pulled our car over, ran across a field toward a burning train, and pitched in. I want to be just like him when I grow up.