Monday, June 7, 2010

Play the cards......

So while I am sitting here converting some of my CD's into my I-Tunes list to later import into my I-Phone (right now it's the soundtrack to "The Empire Strikes Back") I figured I would blog while I wait for the CD's to burn. And to open this one, sometimes you just have to blog about things other than antique firetrucks- for there IS more in life other than antique firetrucks. Hard to believe, yes I know, but true.

So about 20 years ago, a very close friend of mine (Joel Bain) was hired onto the City of Camden, NJ. Fire Department. Joel and I got to know one another through my father, from when he worked at Jevic Transportation as a driver. We hung out for a good while prior to him getting hired onto the CFD. So when he got hired, he was assigned as a proby firefighter to Engine Company 9, located at 27th and Federal Streets, quartered with Ladder Company 3 and Battalion 3. I would visit him at the firehouse often and hang out. I soon got to know most of the members of Engine 9 and Ladder 3 just as well as I knew Joel. One person in particular was Captain Joseph Gallagher, the skipper of 3 Truck on the same work group. Joe took an interest in me, as we determined through kitchen table talk that I took my Firefighter I and II at Burlington County Fire Academy, where he was an Instructor. He was not one of the instructors for my classes, but he was one of the "Burn Building Extras" brought in during live exercises. He remembered me as "the aggressive kid from Pennsylvania." So anytime I came to visit Joel, it turned into "visiting Joel and Captain Gallagher."

He and Joel taught me much about being a competent, aggressive, and efficient firefighter. Joe would often quiz me about building construction, and pour on the ball busting if I answered something incorrectly. In due time, Joe took the promotion exam, and was promoted to Battalion Chief. (Now importing the soundtrack to "JAWS") He was transferred to Battalion 2, at Liberty Station down on Broadway, quartered with Engine Company 8 and Rescue Company 1. Soon visits to Camden had to have 2 stops- one to 27th and Federal and one to Headquarters (where Joel had since been transferred to Ladder Company 1.) If I was in quarters and Joe got a run, he would throw me in the car, twisting my arm the whole time (yeah, right.)

Joe and his wife Sue were lovers of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they had a small house in Avon, which is on Hattaras Island, about 10 miles north of the Cape Hattaras Lighthouse. Invitations were extended to come down and sample some the "easy life" as they touted it. I soon accepted, and learned that visiting the OBX is like eating potato chips- once is not enough. Eventually, in preparation of Joe's retirement, they bought a bigger place just a few blocks from the small place they had at that time; and he and Sue sold their home in Riverside and moved down to Avon full-time. They both kept busy with various volunteer activities, the local VFD, the Park Service down at the lighthouse, the Church Food Pantry, etc.

(now importing Lonestar "Lonely Grill) There is no scale or standard to measure against Joe and Sue's sense of hospitality, or their generosity when opening up their home to guests. I cannot even use the word guest, as when you visit them, you are Family. The home that they moved into is large and spacious, so much so that guests have their own separate "wing", with 2 bedrooms (one having a king size bed plus a set of bunkbeds and a TV) and a bathroom. You never, ever feel like you are intruding. When you are ready to explore the sights of the OBX, they make sure you know where you are going, what you are doing, and how to do it. If you are going to the beach, Joe opens up his "beach storage closet" inside the garage, and shows you where all the beach chairs (pilfered from an un-named Jersey Shore town), boogie boards, umbrellas, towels, and other accessories necessary for a successful venture to the beach are stored.

When you return back to their place in the mid-afternoon, the air conditioning is always set at a comfortable level. You hose off in the driveway, and Joe is ready to help you re-pressurize the tires in your car with his air compressor and hose (did I mention you can drive out on the Beach?? You have to have 4WD and let some air out of the tires, but you can do it!!!) After you get the car all restored while the wife rinses off the kids and gets them upstairs, you retire to the guest wing, and take a hot (or for the sunburned a cool) shower. Then take a nap for an hour or two, and wake up to the smells of Joe's cooking. (I never did mention that Joe's cooking in the firehouse, although rare, ROCKED!!!)

So, in short, JOE AND SUE ROCK. GET IT??

(now importing the soundtrack to "Days of Thunder.) About two and a half years ago, in a cruel twist of fate, Joe was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. How in the fuck can something so cruel and inhuman happen to someone so good? I suppose all of the years of urban firefighting without SCBA finally caught up to Joe. However, Joe was never one to simply stand there and take shit, especially when he was always the one dishing it out. He decided to fight it. And an easy fight it would not be. Knowing where Avon is located will help the unknowing reader one of the huge problems of the impending battle- Avon is located on the OBX, without any specialized care of any kind, 70 miles from the closest (minor care) hospital, and 150 miles to Norfolk, Va. the location of the nearest (but thankfully a very good) cancer treatment hospital. A very close friend of Joe and Sue's, who has a little extra money and several places to live, offered the use of his apartment in nearby Virginia Beach, to save them from having to go back and forth or from having to dish out bucks for a hotel.

So Joe battled the Cancer, but not without getting his ass kicked. The radiation treatments caused a lot of damage to the soft tissues inside his mouth and throat. He had to have a feeding tube inserted into his abdomen, and "drank" nutrition formulas through the tube. He also had a traech tube in his throat, and between the damage from the radiation and the traech, when he talks he sounds like "The Godfather." (Side Note: he grows tomatoes in pots out on his back deck, so when he tends to them, of course Don Vito Corleone jokes are tossed at him, resulting in his sly smile....) Joe beat stage 4 cancer. What more can you say? This August, god willing, he will be cancer free for 2 years.

(now importing the soundtrack to "Saving Private Ryan") We recently returned from a long Memorial Day weekend to visit Joe and Sue. We needed a long weekend getaway, as our official family vacation (DISNEY!!!) does not come until late in September. The last time I waited that long for a vacation, I went batty. Almost 2 years after finishing his treatments, Joe is doing extremely well. He has lost a tremendous amount of weight (expected) and recently had the traech removed. While we were there, he was still not able at the time to eat anything in his mouth, but as of the other day, my wife received an email from Sue advising that Joe had eaten some ice cream and oatmeal!!!! THIS IS HUGE!!! (side note: he had tried, at my Nurse wife's insistence the last time we were down there in July of last year to eat some soft foods, but it didnt work too well.....) But apparently he ate and reported no problems. He does have a Doctors appointment in Norfolk later this week to have the ENT doctor look at his throat.

The cancer knocked him on his ass for quite a while, however, as soon as he was able, he jumped right back up. One of the most amazing things to me, that really blows my mind, is the fact that even though he cannot eat, Joe insists on cooking for his guests each and every night that they are in his home. What this man does in the name of hospitality is just priceless. And the treatment my children get from he and Sue- to say that they are like a second set of parents is an understatement. One thing that Joe loves to do is to take the boys down to the dock behind his house, and check out the scenery (a bit different from when we would sit on the front bumper of Engine 9 and check out the sights on 27th Street so many years ago.....)

Ok, enough. You get the picture. Good people overcame. Now importing Billy Idol "Rebel Yell."

1 comment:

  1. Very heart warming blog ;) Joe is certainly an inspiration!! You made me want o be a house guest of theirs LOL!!!~~Suzy