Traveling Men – Honoring My Brother’s 50th

My Grandfather "Smokey", my sister, and Smokey Bear.

My Grandpop “Smokey”, my sister, and Smokey Bear.  Smokey Bear is to the right. Grandpop: “Prevent forest fires, dammit, or I’m going to beat you with this child.”

This is the continued countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to my brother, Brian, the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.

I hate to hop around, but our life together really does have some interesting twists and turns that bring us back together.  One of the things I can say Brian and I got to do a lot of over the years was travel. Even after Colleen was born, we would take a summer trip to Michigan to see Mom’s family.

To be honest, I don’t even know where Colleen slept on those journeys because Brian and I had the back of whatever station wagon we happened to own at the time all to ourselves.  I guess that meant Colleen was in the middle with all the luggage where she wouldn’t get thrown out the back window, like I did to Brian’s fire helmet that time.

The Vista Cruiser was one of our all-time favorites.  Dad would throw the sleeping bags in the back, Brian and I would get in, and that was our place, along with the cooler.  We would always leave for anywhere in the pre-dawn hours and to this day, I can remember that feeling of driving through the Poconos on I-80, the sun starting to wake up, the fog hanging low and shrouding the hills like lace.

Or going places with Smokey and Grandmom, like to Reading, where there were a few holy sisters we’d visit (Were they related to us? Or friends of Grandmom?) and Brian and I would always struggle to see the Pagoda as we passed through.

Or to Oreland, where Grandpop was good friends with the Supplee brothers and we would go play on Oreland’s Macks or sit on the deck with Grandmom drinking lemonade. As we got older, when Dad was building air systems or servicing Survivair packs, or later when he was selling Pierce fire trucks for Jim Eisenberg, Dad would take us on any out-of-town trip. We spent a lot of time checking out apparatus in fire stations in places like Bangor, Honesdale, Runnemeade, and even helped sort specs, or carry pamphlets, whatever we could do to feel like we were part of C.E. Mayers and Sons, Inc.

Once Dad took us to the Pierce dealers’ convention in Appleton, WI.  We were maybe 11 or 12 and while Dad was at meetings, Brian and I hung out at the indoor pool in our hotel and played ping-pong, or snuck outside to look for beer cans nearby.  One of the days, we were by the pool and looked over at an older gentleman on a chaise lounge nearby.  Brian looked at me and said, “Hey, that’s Joe Fishelson.”  Joe Fishelson was the CEO of Red Head Brass, a major coupling and fire appliance manufacturer.

His trademark was a crooked cigar, and in every fire service trade mag, his ads included a picture of him with that cigar. In the one time in our lives when Brian did the talking, he went right up to him and introduced himself.  When the man confirmed he was indeed Joe Fishelson, he was incredulous.  “You recognized me from my cigar?! You guys are some smart boys!”  We explained to him who our father was and why we were there and he was just amazed at all of this.  “I’ll tell you what!” he said, “Come out to the plant anytime and I’ll be your host!”  Unless Brian snuck out there at some point, I know I never took him up on the offer, but maybe we should have.  It would have been a cool trip. As it was, he made a point to meet Dad and tell him how impressed he was with us both and if memory serves me right, our steak dinner that night in the fancy hotel restaurant was on him.

The best travel story of them all, however, was in the year after 9-11.  Our department elected to send a contingent to the Fallen Firefighters Memorial, which that year was going to be held in DC at the Sprint Center. I meant to meet up with Brian, but our schedules were crazy and honestly, I think we spoke once that week. Well, the venue was packed, with overflow into the streets and large monitors set up for the crowd out there.   I happened to get inside and at one point, had to use the head.  So here I am, standing at a urinal in a totally empty bathroom in this huge building, when I hear someone talking, obviously reassuring a child saying: “It’s okay, I’ll just wait out here until you are done…” I couldn’t believe it: I said, “Brian?” (As you all know, I’m pretty loud). I looked down at the far end of this Men’s Room, and there was Brian in his dress uniform.

He was selected to escort the family of one of the fallen FDNY brothers. The very young son needed to use the potty and Brian, the extraordinary dad that he is, helped the child so the family could continue at the service.  Out of hundreds of thousands of people, in this huge facility, with any number of bathrooms, and at any given time, here I was, face to face with my brother, who I hadn’t seen in almost a year.  Anyone who doesn’t believe we are connected somehow just needs to let go and understand. The connections we have are stronger than we can ever perceive.

Here’s to you, Brian. This is the countdown to March 17, and a happy 50th to the best brother anyone could ever want in the whole world.

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