Jasmine lifts her head to look as I enter the room. Most of our cats have been with us long enough to know the familiar rustle of the plastic bag, but this is only the second time she’s seen it.
It’s kept wrapped in plastic from the cleaners and locked away in an unused closet. The urge to power-shed begins the moment they spot my dress uniform. It has a companion light blue shirt, which isn’t nearly as fun but still shows the fur better than my white ambulance shirts.
And tonight I’m wearing it again.
He was a retired chief from a neighboring department. He died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday morning, Father’s Day. The crew from my engine company worked him to no avail.
It’s raining lightly this evening, and it’s supposed to pour later. I briefly consider polishing up my duty boots and wearing them below my Class A, but I dismiss the idea. A retired chief gets the full patent leather treatment even if it means risking my shoes in a puddle.
One of my collar pins breaks as I attach it to the shirt; I substitute a smaller one from my EMS uniform and hope no one will notice. The black elastic band goes over my badge. Some days I wonder why I ever take it off. We only wear the badges on our dress uniforms, and it seems we only wear our dress uniforms for somber occasions. My new belltop seems too big, which is odd. It’s only six months old, and I doubt my head has shrunk. I must’ve needed a haircut when I bought it.
For years, funerals were an obligation I felt to brother firefighters. We buried retired members and a few old-timers. As time passes we bury colleagues, men I’ve actually worked with. It’s an odd feeling. It’s more personal now.
There’s a good showing from the local fire departments. Approximately 50 of us march the short distance from the firehouse to the funeral home in the rain, following the newest engine. The chaplains say a prayer and read the 23rd Psalm, and then each of us takes a turn in front of the casket individually. We come to attention, hold a salute for about 5 seconds, and then turn to leave. I’ve never learned to do it with military precision, but it’s the gesture that counts.
As we leave, the heavens open up.
And now I sit on the darkened screen porch savoring the rush of the rain outside and the cool night air. The cats have gone inside (in search of my uniform, perhaps?) but Cricket remains. She sniffs the darkness as I hoist a beer in memory of Chief Will, Bobby Bear, Smokey, Captain Ray, Arthur, and a few more men whose names will come to me later. Rest in peace, gentlemen, we’ve got the city covered for you.