I have an extremely distinct memory from my childhood that has stuck with me over time. It starts with me in our basement playing Super Tecmo Bowl (as too many of my memories do). My father calls me up as I’m trying to win 100-0 against the Minnesota Vikings. This was something I also did all too often. He tells me to hop in his truck, that we have an errand to run.
I pester him with questions of what, when, where? Because what could possibly be more important at this time than a stunning defeat to the Vikes. Per usual, my father says nothing. He prides himself on his stoicism and/or answering questions with questions.
Ten minutes later, we pull up to Terrell Street Beverage Center. We get out and buy two 30-packs of soda. Orange Crush and Sprite. All this is done in complete silence except for when he tells me to carry the 30-packs. Have I been brought along solely for the muscle? Given that I almost have to make two trips for the two cases, I doubt I’m there for my strength.
We drive to the fire station, this isn’t a surprise because my father is a fireman. Again, I carry the sodas into the station, up the stairs, past the smoking room (why in heck there was a smoking room in a fire station still eludes me to this day) and towards the kitchen. Just before we reach the kitchen, my father takes the sodas from me.
He carries them in and gives them to two of the firemen watching television. Honestly, I don’t recall exactly what he said to them, but it was along the lines of “Thanks for that thing, in that place, for the guy the other day.” “Sure thing, B.” they respond. And we leave.
When we start to drive home, my father finally explains this whole outing to me. Essentially, the two firemen had helped a friend of my father. No direct connection, just a friend of a friend. Most firemen have second skills. Plumber, electrician, mechanic, painter, carpenter, etc. A firehouse is almost a little commune that continuously helps each other out.
These two guys did my father a solid. Their time was worth far more than 60 sodas. But they would have done it for free. Because they know my father would always do the same if the situation were reversed. Yet it was critical to my father that I understood the true importance of gratitude.
And although I don’t recall what he said to those firemen in the kitchen that day, his stern “Ethan, always take care of the people who take care of you.” continues to stay with me.
At the time, I definitely didn’t think it was more important than Super Tecmo Bowl. But he had planted the seed. One that sat with me, silently, for many years. I can’t say exactly when it started to become a part of my routine, but it’s there now. And in this position at Williams, you can’t imagine the number of people behind the scenes helping take care of me, my family, and my team. There just aren’t enough 30-packs of Orange Crush to go around.