As teenagers, Howie and I and some of our friends organized a car club, the "Lug Nuts." If any one of us needed roadside assistance - a common occurrence with the cars we drove then - one of the other members would respond with a can of gasoline or jumper cables. But the "Lug Nuts" club was really just an excuse to hang out at the Mobil station in Centerville and work on our cars.
One afternoon in March of 1966 I accompanied Howie on a mission to Sweed's auto junkyard in Wallingford. Howie needed a hood for a 1960 Plymouth. Sweed's had one, but they wanted five bucks for it and Howie was five bucks short.
On our way to Sweed's, Howie pulled onto the front ramp of the Mt. Carmel fire station. His dad was working there that day. I waited in the car while Howie went inside. Two minutes later he came out of the firehouse with the five bucks.
As he got back in the car Howie shoved a card in my hand. It was an application to join the Mt. Carmel Volunteer Fire Company, where young Howie had been a member for the past year. "What the hell," I thought, "this could be interesting." After several quorum-less meetings, my application finally took "the usual course" and I was admitted.
Over the course of the past four-and-a-half decades I have often thought about how that one chance episode changed everything for me. I think about my loves, my children, the friends I have met through the fire service, and everything I have done as a career (and more) since 1966. They all resulted from that little card being shoved into my hand that day – the reason I will always be grateful to my old friend, Howie.
Rest in peace, my friend. And thank you!
November 29, 2013