U is for Ululation…

(Author’s Note: …defined as a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound, resembling a howl, usually with a trilling quality. Mournful. Could it be used to describe the wail of a siren? Maybe. With so many fires ravaging California and Australia, along with other parts of the world, I reflect upon how lucky it is to live where I do. Our fire team has the highest rating in response time, training, and effectiveness as a team can earn. This is a story about celebrating with those men and women who tirelessly fight to keep us safe.)

Mercy tilted the cooked vegetables back into the cooking pot and reached for the butter. A siren’s ululation stopped her heart. Jaw clenched, she followed the sound, marking her mental map of the little city. It wasn’t going toward Mother’s house. But, she knew this.

Her mother passed a few years ago. Yet, Mercy’s body responded, like it did each time a siren wailed, preparing to leap into the car and race across town to meet emergency personnel trying to save her life. She supposed that ten years of awakening in the night to be with someone suffering from congestive heart failure set up a pattern.

Was the sound closer? She froze again and listened. Oh god, where was the fire? And at this time of year? What a shame. It seemed like every week another fire broke out in California.

Her thirty-three year old daughter, Jenna, who came weekly to visit and wash clothes, was in the living room folding them. Suddenly she yelled, “Santa!”

Santa? Oh my word. Of course. The ululation grew louder. Underneath it was a familiar Christmas tune blasting from loud speakers.

“Santa is here.” She appeared in the kitchen, then, she was gone.

Mercy followed, carrying the hot pot from the stove. “Oh my gosh! I have to get the butter on the vegetables while they are hot!”

“I can’t see the lights yet,” said Jenna. “I think you have time, Mom.”

She watched Jenna throw on her coat. It was too big, but it was the only coat hanging over a chair in the living room. She slipped her bare feet into her mother’s warm, cozy boots as well. Mercy shook her head. Kids.

“You want a candy cane?” said Jenna.

“Sure,” said Mercy, taking the vegetables back to the kitchen. She could add the butter later and zap it in the microwave.

“I see the lights,” Jenna yelled from the front porch.

The ladder truck was pulling into the neighborhood. As it approached the corner, it slowly edged around the turn, ridiculously decked out with hundreds of lights wrapped around its frame.

Santa sat on top, directing the parade of firemen and women with a “Ho, ho, ho.”

Mercy reached through the open door and grabbed a comforter from the back of a chair to wrap herself with warmth.

Her daughter skipped down the stairs and waltzed to the street, where she met a firefighter following the spectacle that passed right in front of their house. Children following their brave parents waved up at her. Santa waved. Mercy waved a small thank you back to them.

As the woman passing out candy canes and her daughter exchanged friendly words, Jenna nodded. With a huge grin on her face, she came back to the porch, two canes in hand.

Mercy looked around for her neighbors, feeling the spirit, wanting to wave to everyone. Where were they? Why were they ignoring this lovely display of riotous lights? Couldn’t they hear the joyous racket, a blasting siren, Christmas carols echoing off their houses? Didn’t they want to see the children of courageous men and women marching in a Christmas pageant with their parents? She waved at another child who was lagging behind as he waved at her.

Mercy gazed fondly at her daughter who continued to wave at Santa and his crew. She was glad they dropped their tasks and stepped out to enjoy the merriment. The brave firefighters of the city spent a lot of time preparing this conspicuous visual feast. They obviously wanted to share joy instead of terror with the community they so willing served. Mercy felt that to witness it and share a different kind of giving was the least she and her daughter could do.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa as the ladder truck pulled out of sight.

Happy 2020 to all of you.


Thank you to all of the firefighters who battle around the world to save lives and property!

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