Thought I’d run a different sort of post to celebrate a special day. A version of this story was published eight years ago in a children’s magazine that has since gone belly-up.
Raymond’s Fire Engine Whir, whir went the siren on top of the fire chief’s car as it sped onto the main road. Young Raymond Sorensen watched with excitement. Ray lived across the street from the town fire chief. Whenever the fire whistle blew, he would race to the window to watch the chief jump into his car and drive off with lights flashing. At that time back in the 1930s, Raymond had no idea that seventy years later a fire engine would be dedicated to him, his name boldly inscribed on its side.
Early Fire Chief Practice
As a child, Ray spent hours playing a homemade game using a map of a large city. The city had three fire stations. He studied their locations and the list of engines and ladders that were assigned to each. He made flash cards with different types of fire emergencies on them. Raymond would flip a card over and then decide how many fire trucks were needed, and which ones he should dispatch from each fire station.
Following a Dream
Raymond knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. By the time he was sixteen, he was a volunteer firefighter. He says, “I was so proud. I wore my badge on my belt so everyone could see it.” He put a red light on the front bumper of his car. A few years later, and after serving his country, he was appointed to the permanent force. His parents weren’t sure he was making the right choice. He already had a good job with the telephone company. But Raymond didn’t like his job, and his dream of someday being the fire chief was too strong.
Hard Work Pays Off
After a few years, a town official gave him the best advice ever. He said, “Ray, you’re just another firefighter now—just one of the crowd. If you want to get your head above the rest, the only way to do it is to go back to school. Take every fire course you can. Study hard and make yourself stand out.” Raymond did study hard and got excellent scores. Soon he was promoted to lieutenant, then captain, and finally, chief. The above photograph shows him in action. At forty-one years old, he was the one getting into the red car and racing off to fires. A bell was installed in a closet at Raymond’s house. When it rang in the night, Ray would leap out of bed and throw on his fire outfit. He’d listen to the number of taps on the bell and know just where the fire was. Raymond accomplished a lot during his nineteen years as fire chief. He started many fire prevention programs for the children in his town, such as—“Stop, Drop, and Roll” and “Junior Fire Marshals.” He retired in 1986.
Every year, Ray’s town celebrates Town Day in September. He was told that on September 15, 2001 there would be a dedication ceremony for his many years of hard work. After a few speeches by important people of the town, the crowd parted. What a surprise! A brand-new shiny red, American LaFrance Eagle Rescue Pumper truck pulled up in front of the town hall. Chief Ray was asked to remove the little flag that was taped to the side of the truck. Under the flag was an engraved plaque with his name spelled out on it. For many years while cruising through his favorite town, he’d spot his fire engine rushing past, give a wave and say, “There goes my truck!” Since my story above, Ray has continued to keep busy on several committees and also with his own writing. His autobiographical book: Strike a Third, Big Things Happen in Small Places, about his days on the force was a hit around town and beyond. He gets up at 4 AM each day and still volunteers at the hospital, sometimes bringing in homemade baked goods for the group. Ray is an ardent reader, quite computer savvy, loves a good jigsaw puzzle and has many other hobbies and activities. He also enjoys going to bookstores and out to breakfast, as well as family events with his wife of 66 years. This week the hospital volunteer staff surprised him with a special cake and party. Nurses and patients alike joined in to sing “Happy Birthday” and even the president of the hospital wished him well and bought him lunch.
Born during a major blizzard 90 years ago today, I really just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Dad!
Call Me Amy chosen for 2014 Best Books of the Year!
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Great Reviews for CALL ME AMY
“Well-drawn, sympathetic characters and the developing spark between Amy and Craig combine to create a pleasant, satisfying read.” –KIRKUS
“Strykowski lovingly captures seaside Maine and the travails of adolescence in her quiet, sweet-natured debut novel.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Strykowski ably depicts Amy’s insecurity and self-doubt, Craig’s bravura and pain, and Miss Cogshell’s wisdom with a deft, convincing touch. In essence, Amy comes of age as she fights to find her voice in the outside world and shed some of her debilitating insecurity. Readers will cheer her on, and her splendid team, too.” –BOOKLIST
"The protagonist grows throughout the story, from a shy loner to having two friends and speaking her mind in front of her adversaries at school as well as to the whole town. …Amy is a reliable narrator and easily relatable.” –SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
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“To do a good deed, we can find friendship in the most curious of locations. “Call Me Amy” is a novel from Marcia Strykowski following the struggles of Amy Henderson, who finds an injured seal and seeks to nurse it, with the help of a scorned aging woman and an unusual youth. Set in the early 70s and exploring the essence of loneliness, “Call Me Amy” is a powerful read that should prove so very hard to put down, highly recommended.”—MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
“This is a wonderful YA tale for the simple fact that it shows one and all that the power and courage to stand up and be heard in this life comes from within. And that no matter who you are, you have that toughness inside your soul. Craig has a lovely heart that hides behind that sarcasm he aims at the world, and he will remind every small town girl about that quiet boy she fell in love with long ago. ‘Old Coot’ brings the fun and humor along with her, and Pup is the sweetest creature in the world. Having all the ingredients of first love, faith, loss and strength makes ‘Amy’ unforgettable.” —FEATHERED QUILL
“For Amy, 1973 has been a lonely year, her only friend moved away and she feels awkward around her classmates. Until one day Amy discovers that Craig, another classmate, has rescued an injured seal pup. Amy agrees to help him and together they hide the pup at Miss Cogshell’s house, the odd old lady most kids call “Old Coot.” Amy learns that people aren’t always what they seem to be, and she forms a friendship with Craig and Miss Cogshell. A great story about friendship and doing what you think is right.” —KIDSBOOKSHELF
“For those ages 8 to 12, Call Me Amy by Marcia Strykowski will resonate with familiar themes of growing up. The year is 1973 and for Amy Henderson, it has been a lonely one with too many awkward moments to count. When she finds an injured seal pup, she rescues him to rehabilitate him. In the process she forms an unlikely alliance with Craig, a boy around her age, and an older woman in town. With their help she discovers that people aren’t always what they seem despite what others may think of them. This is a story filled with many elements that will appeal to younger readers and I highly recommend it.”—BOOKVIEWS.COM
"A wounded seal pup propels 13-year-old Amy Henderson into an unlikely alliance with an unusual older woman and a mysterious boy in a small Maine fishing village. Readers will cheer for Amy as she protects Pup, gains confidence, faces challenges, and comes up with an idea that could change not only the future of her village, but also, her own life. With a skillful hand, Strykowski introduces us to a small town with memorable characters and the girl who could bring them all together." ---Anne Broyles, award-winning author of PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS
"In a small town in Maine in the 1970's, Amy is standing on the brink of becoming a young adult. The events that will force her to discover who she is, what she is made of and how she wants others to perceive her are sweetly told through awkward teenage moments, the triumphs and sadnesses of that age and ultimately, Amy's discovery of her own beliefs, strength and courage." ---Kathleen Benner Duble, acclaimed author of THE SACRIFICE
“Call Me Amy is exactly the type of book I love. The characters are relatable and likeable; they are individuals that the reader enjoys getting to know while watching them change and develop. The setting of the small Maine coastal town is idyllic, and the reader is quickly and completely immersed in this community. Although the novel takes place in the 1970s, it feels timeless. Young readers will readily associate with Amy’s struggles and triumphs with her relationships with family and friends, and mature readers will be gently nudged back to this period in their life. These universal qualities make this novel a perfect choice for many types of readers. As a Youth Services Librarian, I would enthusiastically recommend Call Me Amy to our young patrons as well as to a more adult audience. Because it can be enjoyed on so many levels, this novel would be an ideal source of discussion for an adult/child book group.” ---Patty Falconer, Youth Services Librarian
"I just finished CALL ME AMY and I think it is wonderful with beautiful descriptions. I love the characters and their story. It is like having seen a good play or movie and later, while you are doing other things, it comes back to you and you think about the characters again." ---Peggy Arnold, retired teacher and avid reader.
For 13-year-old Amy Henderson, 1973 has been a lonely and uneventful year in her small Maine fishing village. With the help of a wounded seal pup, she gets to know Craig, who slinks around in an oversized army jacket. A new law against handling wild marine mammals brings suspense to the story. Where can they keep Pup until he heals? Their only hope is to trust Miss Cogshell, an elderly woman keeping to herself amidst jeers from the local kids, who catches them sneaking Pup into her woodshed in the middle of the night. Throughout the book, small challenges prepare Amy for her greatest one of all. A challenge that leads her to discover that everyone, herself included, has a voice worth hearing.