by Terry Hargrove
When we first married in 1995, Nancy and I put our unattainable romantic crushes out on the table. I told her that I had a thing for the figure skater Dorothy Hamill. True, I’ve never met Dorothy Hamill, nor have I ever talked to her. Still, she’s been my dream girl since 1976. I was afraid Nancy might laugh at this juvenile crush, but she understood perfectly well.
“It’s funny you should mention that,” she said. “Because I also have a secret crush. Oh, it’s silly. Let’s talk about something else.”
“No, it’s not silly at all,” I countered. “I mean, knowing who we admire says a lot about who we are as individuals. Dorothy Hamill has such grace and style. I know it sounds childish, but there’s a part of me that will always love her. So who is your secret crush? Dennis Quaid? Ronnie Howard?”
“Firemen,” stated Nancy directly. “Would you pass the peas?”
“What? Would you say that again?”
“I said firemen,” she repeated. “All women like firemen. Ronnie Howard? Opie from Andy Griffith? You are a case. Peas, please.”
“No, no, no,” I muttered. “Firemen? I thought we were talking about unattainable people. Firemen are very attainable.“
“I guess that’s true,“ she said. “That’s something to think about.“
“Is there a specific fireman you pine for?” I asked.
“I don’t pine for anybody,” she laughed. “What’s wrong with you? I didn’t scoff at your ridiculous infatuation with an ice skater who cuts her hair like a boy. How old is Dorothy Hamill now?”
“She’s a year younger than I am,” I countered.
“Oh. I thought we were laying it all out there. You asked, and I answered. There‘s nothing wrong with liking firemen.”
“There’s a lot wrong with liking firemen,” I stammered. “First, there’s only one Dorothy Hamill, so the chances of me ever meeting a Dorothy Hamill are almost nil. But firemen are everywhere! Every town has firemen.”
“That’s true, too” sighed Nancy. “So many firemen.”
“Stop! Stop,” I begged. It was time to negotiate. “I’ll make a deal with you. If I break my solemn vow to love Dorothy Hamill forever, will you stop liking firemen?”
“Will you quit being president of her Tennessee Fan Club?”
“How did you know about that?” I asked.
“They call here all the time,” Nancy replied. “Turn over the reigns of power to your vice-president, and I’ll stop checking out the firemen. Probably.”
What choice did I have? I had all but forgotten about the whole firemen thing until last week. It was Tuesday evening, and after a hard day of teaching, I had put on my golden comfy pants, the ones that make me look like a genie. I couldn’t find the matching shirt, when I noticed a fire truck had pulled up in front of our condo. Then another truck, and another one and another one. Joey was ecstatic.
“Look, daddy!” gushed Joey. “Fire engines! Mommy has a thing for firemen, but I’m not supposed to tell you about it.”
“Yes, fire engines. What?” There was an urgent knock at the door. I didn’t want to answer it, being shirtless and wearing genie pants, but it was the kind of knock that threatened to become more violent until it got a response. So, I opened the door and was face to face with a member of our local fire department. There he stood with his fancy hat and ax and his professional firefighting garb. He took a quick scan of my outfit, then spoke.
“Sir, we have to evacuate this building,” he said. “Would you mind moving your family to the inn across the street? You can bring your lamp, if you want. Do I get any wishes?”
“Is our house on fire?” asked Joey.
“Just a little chimney fire, son. Nothing to be worried about. What’s your name?”
“My name is Joey.”
“Well, Joey. This won’t take us long. We are firemen, after all.” Then he turned back to me. “Five minutes, sir.”
So I yelled upstairs. “Honey! The firemen say we have to get out of the house. We have to evacuate!”
“What? What?” she screamed. In three micro-seconds she was down the stairs and beside me. “Is the fireman still here?”
“No, he left. He said we have to get out in five minutes. Put your coat on.”
“Don’t just stand there!” she screamed. “Clean up! We have to get Joey’s toys off the floor. Lord, why does everything he own have so many little pieces. Grab that snow shovel and get to work.”
“But the building’s on fire,” I stammered. “You want to clean up now?”
Nancy grabbed my face and squeezed. “Lots of Joey’s toys have wheels. If a fireman stepped on one and fell, how could I ever live with that? Don’t argue with me. Just pick up as many toys as you can.”
“But I just took the chicken out of the oven,” I said.
“Stop arguing with me,” she screamed. “Pick this stuff up. You’d do it for Dorothy Hamill!”
Ten minutes after being told to evacuate in five minutes, the floor was clean and Joey and I were bundled up. Snow had started to fall, and the flakes and the flashing lights gave the night a dreamlike quality. We were ready, but Nancy wasn’t. I went upstairs to get her.
“We have to go now, honey! Let’s get mov… are you putting on makeup?”
“Just a little blush,” she whispered. “And some eyeliner. OK, I’m ready. Is Joey dressed? Are you going out in those pants?”
“I didn’t have time to change,” I said. “I was cleaning the floor, remember?”
And so, finally, the Hargrove family left the condo and stood for a while watching the firefighters debate the best technique to fight the blaze and generally be professional and efficient. They really did a first rate job. Nancy didn’t get to see it as well as Joey and I, since she was often falling in the snow.
“Why didn’t you wear your snow boots?” I asked.
“Because these are the best shoes I own, and I am not going to lose them to a fire,” she snarled.
“Let me help you up, miss,” said a fireman extending his hand. “My, what nice shoes you have. Size 5?”
“Daddy and me are going to make snow angels tomorrow morning,” said Joey. “He won’t have to go to school because it’ll be a snow day.”
“I think this snow will turn to rain by tomorrow morning,” he said. Nancy disappeared again, right off the curb. He helped her up a second time.
“How do you know it’s going to turn to rain?” I asked.
“I know about the weather,” and he turned his steely eyes toward me, “because I’m a fireman. Did you ever decide about my wishes?”
“I’m making a wish right now,” I said.
Thirty minutes later, they let us back into our condo. I found a note beside the stove that read: “This chicken needs some basil and oregano. I know about cooking. I’m a fireman.”
Now you probably think this was upsetting to me. Not at all. I’m bigger than that. All genies are. The next day, as I made the long drive to work in a foggy rain, I was wondering who I should contact to get into the Connecticut chapter of the Dorothy Hamill Fan Club.