A week before Christmas, I headed to the Shelter for a little holiday celebrating with the kids...or the quilt kids as they like to be called. After a couple weeks of sharing Christmas memories and traditions with my Senior Quilt Groups, I knew I would need a different focus. Kids don't really like to reminisce like adults. And I didn't want to focus on the past anyway...or the fact that the kids were spending Christmas in a Shelter, not a home. Since there are lots of people every year who are away from home or family on Christmas I decided to put the spotlight on firefighters.
I shared a story first.
On Christmas Eve in 1963, my mother took the 4 kids to see Santa at NYC's Macy's. When we left the store it was dark and snowing. Before we reached the car, we paused to look in the window of a fire station and some bored or possibly lonely firemen, tapped on the glass and motioned for us to come in. My mother agreed to let us stop for a while and we had a giddy time exploring the fire truck and trying on the giant fire hats. After our short visit we thanked the firemen and wished them a Merry Christmas. We rushed to the car jabbering about our surprise visit to the station. We couldn't believe how nice they were letting us climb on the truck. My Mom smiled and reminded us that the firemen probably enjoyed our surprise visit too. "It's Christmas Eve and they aren't home with their families." Every Christmas my family would retell that story about visiting the fire station on Christmas Eve.
When I had kids of my own, I told the Christmas Eve story and we made it a family tradition to visit the fire station every Christmas Eve. Sometimes I just took Heidi and Scott, but sometimes we took other neighbor kids and we always took lots of Christmas cookies.
Cards for the Fire Fighters
I told the quilt kids I hadn't visited a fire station in a long time since my kids were grown up. I reminded them that today there are firemen and firewomen who have to work on Christmas and other holidays. We wondered what they did in the fire station if there were no emergencies. We wondered if they might like a surprise. I told the kids I would bake some Christmas cookies for the firefighters if they could help make pictures for a big card.
There were about 15 kids squeezed onto our quilt in a small room that day. But in no time at all, the kids were at work, sharing markers and scissors and construction paper.
I loved hearing their voices talk as they worked. "When I hear a siren at night, it's scary." "How do you spell protect?" "Will they like it if I make a star?" "Do you think they'll like mine?" "Can you take a picture of the fire fighters?"
A Little Surprise
Before I left I told them I had a surprise for them, too. The Seniors I had visited earlier in the week had made candy cane cards for the kids. I had been a little worried that they would fight over the prettiest ones or maybe not even care about these simple gifts. But the kids were delighted with the surprise and took turns picking from the collection. I left promising I would put their pictures onto the big card and take a photo of the firefighters!
I put their pictures in the big card and baked the cookies and gathered up the rest of the candy cane cards.
When my grown kids arrived home I told them of my plans to drop off the goodies on Christmas Eve and joked that they could come along like when they were little.
My son reminded me that his good friend is a firefighter and might be working Christmas. Sure enough, Steve was starting a 72 hour shift at 7:00 pm that night. Scott reminded me that fire stations often get a lot of baked goods at holidays, so that afternoon we whipped up an extra egg and sausage casserole to add to our load of goodies.
We arrived around 7 and Steve introduced us to the rest of the crew. We stopped inside to unload the casserole and cookies and headed out to the trucks to take a picture for the kids. It was obvious the group had a lot to do since there had been a shift change, but they took time to look at the kids' artwork and they seemed genuinely touched by the gifts. We wished them a quiet, uneventful evening. They laughed that they wouldn't be surprised to have a call or two about fires involving fried turkeys!
Getting in the Picture
Heidi and Scott haven't posed at the fire station on Christmas Eve for over 15 years. But with a little egging on from this good natured group, they jumped in for a quick pose. We didn't linger long. Suddenly there were flashing lights and the crew was needed. We dashed off with a Merry Christmas! A couple hours later, Steve texted Scott to say the breakfast casserole had not waited for morning. It was already gone!
What I learned:
I re-learned what most of us know. Giving is the good part. I grinned a huge grin when I heard the casserole was gone. The seniors who made the candy cane cards for the kids seemed almost honored to be asked to help with that project. The kids were eager when they got their candy cane cards, but they were glowing with pride when they handed me their artwork for the fire fighters. The old 'tis better to give than receive thing is so darn true!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.