My Name is Sarah

MY NAME IS SARAH. I am a quilt designer and the sewcial director of Sarah's Sewcial Lounge. I also have a business called Down Right Charming. I sell my quilts mostly on etsy and I make pillowcases to donate to patients in the hospital in memory of my friend Kristen Kirton. I am a young adult living with Down syndrome. I hope you enjoy reading about my life journey.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Chief and His Flag

The Day After...A message from Joyce
Most of my grandfather's days were spent in a hardware store that he owned in a small town nestled in the beautiful hills along the Susquehanna River. He was a man of the Bible, a kind soul. He was friendly and content. He knew most of his customers by name, and would allow them to take a tool or a bag of nails without paying if they were down on their luck. Each summer as a young girl, I would go to New York to spend a few weeks, sometimes even a month or more. I loved working in the hardware store. I would dust, rearrange merchandise and I even worked my way up to operating the cash register by the time I was eight or nine. I loved when my grandmother would pack our lunches and we would eat side-by-side in his small office in the back of the store.
But what I most loved, was watching my grandfather drop whatever he was doing the second the town's sirens started screeching. You see, for years my grandfather served as the Chief of the all volunteer Sidney, New York Fire Department. He was so proud of his department. He made sure the volunteer crew had the best and most current training. He worked hard to get funding for new equipment and when a new truck arrived he treated it better than his own vehicle. He was a great leader and demanded perfection. The Sidney Fire Department frequently took first place in the competitions they entered throughout the state of New York.
Unfortunately we lost my grandfather at the young age of 69. He fought a courageous battle, but the cancer was just not beatable. I had just started a new job in Cleveland, so I could not take much time off. My fiancee (now my husband) and I left right after work to make the eight hour drive for the funeral. I had only been to a handful of funerals at this point in my life and they had been typical, touching, but typical.
I truly was not prepared for an entire department of fire fighters to arrive, wearing their dress blues and white gloves, standing before us reciting a prayer. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed. The tears were streaming down my face and I remember having trouble catching my breath. The rest of the service is really a blur to me, until they prepared to carry his body to the pumper waiting just outside the door. As they hoisted the flag covered casket on their shoulders to place it on the truck, I remember thinking, job well done. My grandfather would have thanked them, as I so often heard him do after a parade, a fire call or at an appreciation barbecue.
In memory of Francis Richard Hillick
10/14/1916 - 5/22/1986

The firetruck made it's way down Main Street, driving the Chief one last time past his hardware store and then up the huge hill to the cemetery. Once at the grave site, they neatly folded the flag and presented it to my grandmother. That was the last time I saw or mentioned the flag for 15 years.
Grandma stayed in New York for a few years after Fran's death, then decided the winters were becoming too hard on her aging body and moved to Fort Myers. In February 2001, out of the blue, I had an idea. My father(Fran's oldest son), Sarah and I should go for a visit. On the day of departure it started to snow in Cleveland. And snow, and snow, and snow. Sure enough our flight was cancelled. The next flight did not leave until the following morning. I was ready to just scrap the whole idea. My father however, thought we should try to get on the next plane. Odd I thought, he wasn't even that enthused when I suggested we go to Florida.
Grandma was thrilled to see Sarah. After visiting for a short while, she told Sarah she had something special that she wanted to give her. I assumed it was something to do with a dollhouse she was building or something crafty she had done with pictures from my childhood. She got out of her rocker and walked over to her cedar chest and pulled out a triangle box. THE FLAG !!! " Oh grandma," I remember saying, "we can't take that. It belongs here with you." "No my child," she said, "flags are meant to fly." Here was my dear Sarah, my sweet angel with an extra chromosome being given her Great-Grandfather's flag. I was shaking just trying to get the camera out of it's bag, yet I knew I had to capture this moment on film. That night as I was getting Sarah ready for bed, I thought to myself, was my father's persuasion to take that next flight BY CHANCE or BY DESIGN?

Great-Grandma Hillick and Sarah, February 2001

September 12, 2001

Like most of the country, I was still in complete shock and disbelief the morning after. I wanted to just pull the covers over my head and pretend it wasn't real, yet as the Executive Director of the American Heart Association, I had an obligation to be accessible to my staff. I doubt that anyone really accomplished much that day, but we were together. About 2:30 my phone rang. It was TJ. Over the years, I've trained my kids to call me at the office only when it's something that can't wait until I get home, so I knew it was important. I answered and he said matter of factly, "Mom, President Bush wants us to fly a flag to show how strong we are. Can you stop and get one on your way home?" "No problem," I replied.

First I stopped at the local hardware. I loved going in there. It smelled just like my grandfather's store in New York. No flags. Then I went to Target, followed by Wal-Mart. No flags. Then I checked the yellow pages for flag stores. No flags. I drove home feeling deflated. I was going to have to tell my son, "No Flags." I hated not being able to come through for TJ. He never complained, but I knew he recognized his life was not like his friends. He was the sibling, not by choice, of a medically fragile sister with Down syndrome. He had to put up with the constant attention she required, the frequent hospital visits, even the 911 calls in the middle of the night.

And that's when it hit me. THE FLAG. We have my grandfather's flag. The New York Fire Chief's flag. I know my grandfather would have had his men on a truck heading for the city to help the minute that second plane hit the Tower. That's just the kind of man he was. So with the help of my husband and the kids, we delicately opened the case, unfolded the flag and carefully hung it on our house in support of the thousands of men and women our fine country lost that day. We hung it especially in support of all the families of the brave fire fighters who gave of their lives serving others.

That night we took a picture to show Grandma that indeed THE FLAG was flying. Was that BY CHANCE or BY DESIGN ?


Tara Marie said...

I believe that there is a reason for everything, so my thought is 'by design'

Thank you for sharing this beautiful and moving tribute to the Chief.

I wanted to tell you that your Sarah is such an inspiration to me and I am so excited that she has started a blog.

Peace and love, friends in New Jersey, Tara Marie & Emma Sage Hintz

Hi~I'm Alysha said...

Thank you for the comment you left on my blog, giving me a chance to find yours :) What a beautifully expressed memory. Thank you for sharing it. I have to say I'm with Tara Marie..everything indeed has a purpose. I'm excited to be able to follow along on Sarah's life journey :) What a blessing! Thanks again, Alysha~one blessed mama

Maureen said...

wow Joyce. I am just in awe of this re-telling, as I am of all of your stories. Thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I always knew you were a special lady Joyce. This highlights the details. It was always good to work with you and CISD. Now I understand your committment to us firefighters. God Bless you.