Living with ALS: Superheroes Gigi, William and Charlotte’s Firefighters
CHARLOTTE, NC: This week’s superheroes are Jr. Fire Chief, William Taylor, age 6, and Gigi, his grandmother, ageless. And a tremendous group of Charlotte’s finest Firefighters. It’s a story about determination, perseverance, and love, and it all began innocently, unceremoniously and without warning, as so many great stories do, one Saturday morning on the way to breakfast.
I have always been a breakfast lover. On most mornings during the week, I go to the same table in the same restaurant to join the same group of guys that have been gathering there for years.
A serendipitous breakfast
It’s a serendipitous occasion which has been happening so long that nobody can even remember how it all started. Of course, the gang has modified through attrition over the years, and nobody really knows how many members we have, but it compromises one of the greatest eclectic collections of thinkers in the world today.
We are known as the “romeos”, which is an acronym for “really old men eating out”, but the body of work we have accomplished over the years is truly remarkable. We have ended the Vietnam War, brought down the Berlin Wall, resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis, captured Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and succeeded in countless other momentous events, all while drinking coffee and eating eggs and hash browned potatoes while never leaving our table.
On this particular Saturday however, we were taking a break from the “romeos” to check out a new place, just in case we ever needed a back-up.
While we were en route, we passed a renovated building that apparently been converted into the headquarters for the Charlotte fire department. Knowing my grandson William’s penchant for any vehicle with flashing lights and a siren, my wife, Gigi, speculated out loud,
“I wonder if they will let visitors come for tour? That would be so cool. William would love it!”
As it turned out, William did do his tour and, in the process, returned with maps, pictures and badges that became the genesis of an unanticipated marathon project.
When they got home, William’s enthusiasm had run amok.
“Peabod, Peabod,” he shouted, barely able to contain himself, “did you know Charlotte has 42 fire stations? Forty-two! That’s a lot. Do you think we could print out a picture of each one and make a book?”
Peabod is what my grandchildren call me.
Asking a non-computer nerd like me to print pictures from a website was like trying to build the Eiffel Tower using an erector set. Four hours, and who knows how many reams of paper, later, we had our book. Little did we know, it was only the preface.
The following day, William had another idea.
“You know, Gigi,” he said matter of factly, “we should visit all the fire stations to see what they’re like.”
To which Gigi responded,
“Well William, that’s a lot, and Charlotte is a big city. Maybe we could see one or two to get the idea since they are probably all alike.”
“Ok,” William replied, but his resignation was only momentary.
After an all too brief silence, William made another point in his defense.
“Gigi, I think we need to find out if they’re all the same. I think they’re different. It would be good for my education, you know. And yours too.”
Unyielding six-year-old logic.
The debate continued, but Gigi was outnumbered, and so the quest began.
On any given day, the goal was to journey to two or three fire stations, meet the firemen on duty and learn about the history of the facility.
William was, indeed, correct, each station was different.
In the process he found out; the oldest station, the newest, and that one-two had boats. There is the firehouse called the “White House.” And ironically, one station caught on fire while the Firefighters were away on a call. Then there is that that airport engines were much larger and painted yellow and on and on.
Among his adventures, William squirted the hoses, drove on the runway tarmac at the airport to follow a jet after it had just landed, helped raise a hook and ladder, refueled the airport engine with water, operated the jaws of life and, in the process, experienced just about every procedure the Firefighters could perform while on duty.
About a quarter of the way through the project, Gigi showed the collection to her oldest who simply remarked,
“You’re gonna need a bigger book!”
“It has to be red, Gigi. Be sure it’s red,” demanded William.
At one station, a fireman saw William approaching and shouted,
“Hey, William, I know you. Your picture was on our in-house network!’
By then William had become a firehouse celebrity throughout Charlotte.
About a third of the way through the challenge, at each station one of the firemen would ask William which station he liked best. Ever the diplomat, the budding firefighter would lower his head and point to the floor.
Just after school started, William and Gigi completed their marathon task after making me the biggest shareholder in Shell Oil. The completed book is about five inches thick and filled with badges, buttons, stickers, photos, and memorabilia from William and Gigi’s odyssey.
For Gigi, it was serendipitous labor of love.
For William, it was a project that transcended being a fire firefighter because he also learned communications, self-reliance, and confidence, how to interact with adults, respect and how to show kindness to everyone you meet.
William doesn’t see himself as a role model or example of how persistence can pay off. He’s just a little boy with the same little boy passions most children his age possess, curiosity, a love of cars, trucks and any type of large earth-moving vehicle.
For Gigi, it was yet another labor of love demonstrating her unlimited boundless energy for her family and the people she cares about most.
You see, William and I share the same caregiver, Gigi. Proving once again that most heroes aren’t even aware of the gifts they so generously and anonymously bestow upon others.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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