The day broke sunny and hot. Even so, my father put on his fire department dress uniform with his badge on the jacket front and his formal stiff dress hat. His badge had a piece of black tape across the numbers. Mother set out my good shoes, a dress shirt and a clip-on tie. The sunlight came through the Venetian blinds into the bedroom as I dressed. Mother actually kissed me softly on the cheek as I walked out the front door of the apartment into the cool marble hallway and down the stairs into the street. “What a handsome young man you are,” she said
We got into my father’s old Plymouth with the soft upholstered beige seats and drove east along the residential streets and apartment houses that are the Bronx. In less than twenty minutes we parked the car somewhere near Pelham Bay Road and walked to a building with an awning in front where lots of other men in uniform were gathered. The building was very quiet, notwithstanding the many people milling about it. My father signed a book when we went inside to a set of rooms filled with lots of cut flowers and soft purple velvet curtains and velvet covered chairs. My father shook hands with many of the men.
“Hey Marty,” the firemen say as they shake his hand. Or “Hello, brother. Who’s your assistant?” Or “who’s the new fireman?”
“Good to see you,” my father answered. “This is my boy, Sam. Son shake hands with my friend,” my father would say and I would reach out and shake the hand of one fireman after another.
“What do we have here, Marty,” a man named Captain Bannerman asked. “Looks like a fullback, or maybe a tiller man,” he said with a wink to me.
I shake the captain’s hand too.
My father holds my hand and walks over to a sparkling velvet open box. A flag is draped over part of it. Inside is a handsome man lying on his back in a fireman’s uniform. His eyes are closed.
“Son, meet Eddie Farrelli,” my father says, looking down at the face of the man in the casket. “The bravest man I ever knew. Just fought one fire too many. Eddie, this is my boy,” my father said.
I looked down into the casket at the man named Eddie Farrelli. “I’m pleased to meet you, sir,” I said. My father squeezed my hand a little tighter. I looked up into his face. He was crying.
We walked over to a woman seated on a chair against a wall with two children on either side of her.
“I’m Marty T,” my father said, shaking the woman’s hand. “I knew Eddie well. He and I had some good times together. He was a brave man. He talked very highly of you and your children.”
“Thank you, Marty” says the woman, “Eddie told me all about you too. And thank you for coming to pay respects, son,” she says to me.
We walk outside the funeral home. The city air is delightful, the sky bright. A cluster of uniformed firemen stand outside on the sidewalk. Some smoke cigarettes. Others brush and scuff the top of the sidewalk with the soles of their shoes looking down at the pavement.
“Life sucks,” says a big man with an immense moustache.
“Life sucks,” echoes a couple of the men.
“See you at the funeral,” says my father.
“See you around,” say a couple of the guys.
“I’d rather feed him than clothe him he’s growing so fast,” says one of the men ruffling my hair.
“Be good,” say a couple of the men.
“Yeah. Take good care of yourselves,” says my father.
We walk back to the car. We get inside. My father sits at the wheel for a while saying nothing.
“Let’s not go home yet,” he says as he starts the engine. “Let’s take the rest of the day off. Okay? Let’s stop somewhere and get some ice cream,” he says. “What do you like? Vanilla?” He looks at me. He rolls down his window. He looks to his left, and pulls out into traffic.