Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 3 | Fall 1984 (Seattle) /// Issue of 24 /// Master# 57 of 73

II1ly .rather iJ a FIREMAN Wy father is a fireman, a volunteer for 25 years in the department in our little home town. When I was a little girl, I rode the pumper truck in the county fair parade, waving proudly to envious friends. The fire department was responsible for the 4th of July fireworks, and one year my father took me, in the big dark, to the field where the explosions were born. I stood behind the rockets, seven years old, and watched them fly to their destined glory. I could dimly see the men moving round me in the night, hear their heroic murmurings., I wanted to be a firefighter, too. He told me girls didn't do that. I embarrassed my father — who in his more ordinary moments was head of industrial arts for the high school — by petitioning to let girls take shop classes. I was his student for mechanical drawing, the only girl in a room of boys, and earned an A. His grades and comments were drawn meticulously in the corner of my assignments. He was concerned with being fair, but still no girls could be firefighters. He suggested half-heartedly that I become an investigator, and sift the wet ashes for clues after the men had conquered the fire. I became a nurse. My father is in his fifties, an indeterminate age, still tan and strong and pot-bellied. His hair grows gray. He is and always was brilliant, prejudiced, angry. He can build anything and fix anything, and has always prided himself on the complex of buildings behind our house. The only one I was allowed to know was his shop, a crowded and mysterious place smelling of oil and sawdust. He drew outlines of each tool on pegboard, and that is where it hung, beside the pinup calendars of decades past. Overhead a balsawood plane turned slowly each time he brushed by. In his time he has made me many things: a cage for lizards, neat and tight and smelling of fresh-cut wood; a pair of water skis, darkly-stained; a sandbox big as a swimming pool. He taught me to pour cement and chop wood, and made me cry by criticizing the way I hammered a nail, “like a girl." He has a rage that — to a child — seemed of epic proportions. I sat in the dirt outside his shop on hot, dusty days and caught grasshoppers to feed my lizards, and after knocking, entered to watch him sculpt wood at his lathe, swift and sure. Behind the shop were other buildings, narrow walkways and locked doors, little dusty windows that revealed nothing. I rarely was shown the inside of those other sheds, full of boxes of plumbing hammered a nai he a y supplies and lumber, electrical equipment and old magazines. Last December, while I slept 350 miles away, my father was awakened by the fire alarm outside his bedroom. Many times I came out of a young sleep to hear its high-pitched squeal, then the crackling static as the dispatcher tersely described the fire over my father’s shortwave radio. Within seconds he was out of bed, jumping into hip boots and pulling the suspenders over his pajamas. I could lie upstairs in the dark and hear him bound out the back door and into his pick-up, to go whining down the street to the firehouse. My sister and I would •ayn! me l<> pour cement and chop wood, ami cru Ly criliciziny H made me le way count the trucks that screamed away and guess at the direction and size of the fire. We wondered what would happen if he never came back. Last December, with no one in the house to listen but my mother, he bounded out the back door and saw his own garage and shops on fire. He stood a second, at four in the morning on an icy winter day, and then leapt across the snowy yard to his workplace, his tools, his inventions, his life. My mother heard him yell and followed. I am told he jumped first into his truck to move it out of danger, and kept yelling. The firetrucks arrived, inching down the narrow driveway to the fire. The drivers and riders were my father's friends, men in their fifties and sixties, the butcher, the barber, the undertaker. My father ran into the fire, to save his life. His friends knocked him down and held him. Paint cans exploded, more than sixty of them, the fire heaved itself on the years of seasoned firewood locked carefully away. But it was subdued, as was my father. For days afterward he hardly spoke. I had only seen my father cry once, when I had hurt him very badly. Here was a force, a fate, as cruel and unfair as a daughter’s betrayal, and he could hardly bear it. Four months later, on a warm and sunny April day — my birthday — he gave me a tour. He spoke like the teacher he is, a lecture given many times before, pedantic and factual. He didn't follow the leading questions I asked about his emotional state, my therapy. He simply showed me where the fire began, started by foolish teenagers in the yard behind. On the wall of the ruined garage were the remains of thirty years of patiently catalogued National Geographic and Popular Mechanics. They fell to dust with a touch. Hung in the charred rafters was my blackened bicycle, the one with the purple banana seat and high-rider handlebars. He led me from room to room, rooms I hadn’t seen in many years. Boxes of his childhood photographs, letters, and diaries were lost. He showed me also how the heat burst his thermometer, and drew patterns in the wood. His horseshoe, hung upside-down so the luck wouldn’t run out, had melted into the door. My father will build it again, after waging (and winning) a long and bitter fight with the city zoning committee. His old shops had overgrown property lines, were out of date with ordinances. But it s a small town, and they’re friends of his. He’ll improve the design and pore over blueprints. He’ll rejuvenate the dusty corners and replace the paint and firewood. My father’s shop will be a model of detail and skill, a phoenix. But I still picture him slowly sifting through the cold, wet ashes, a mere investigator, after others had conquered the fire. Sally Tisdale is a Portland writer whose work frequently appears in CoEvolution Quarterly. Fay Jones is an artist living in Seattle. S2.00 OFF any small or medium pizza S3.00 OFF any large pizza WM 11 design jewelry creative clothing specializing in earcuffs piccolo s Seattle's Finest Gourmet Pizza a£2 & the unusual 79 YESLER WAY PIONEER SQUARE E (206) 682-8145 FIVE - 0 ■TAVERN LIVE MUSIC Weekends NORTHWEST ART New Shows Monthly 507 15th Ave. E. Next to Matzoh Mamma 322-9693 NORTHWEST DRAFTS Hales Special Bitter Grant’s Imperial Stout Smith & Reilly Ale Grant’s Scottish Ale Henry Weinhard IMPORTS Bass Ale Labatt’s Blue Clinton St. Quarterly 27