Sometimes the most unexpected things come from sewing.
We went out for First Friday this past weekend. First Friday is when all the art galleries open their new exhibits, plus there's sidewalk art, jewelry, vendors, live music, and people everywhere. For one reason or another, we haven't gotten down there since sometime last summer, and this past Friday was a clear, warm evening and we had no plans, so that's where we ended up.
We did all the galleries on the west side of 2nd Street, and crossed over to the east side. At the far end of 2nd Street, just past the galleries, is Fireman's Hall, which is the Philadelphia firefighters museum. I've never been there.
And my dad was a fireman. Shame on me.
So we go in. We wander around, looking at all the old fire engines, equipment and photographs, and I end up - of course - in the gift shop. When it hits me, something I've wanted for years, and I'm in the perfect place. I approach the woman at the counter and ask my question. She doesn't know the answer but says, "Try the fireman who's greeting everyone at the front, if there's a way to find it, he'll know."
The fireman at the door, a big, burly, blondish guy, is talking to a few people, and I wait until he's free. Then I say it. "My dad was one of you guys until he retired in '72. My mom got rid of most of his stuff after he died but I got a few of the silver buttons from his dress overcoat, and I'd love to use them on something for myself, but I don't have enough. I was wondering if you had a source for those buttons."
He looks at me, then looks down, sees my dad's ring and grabs my hand. "Little sister! That's a nice one," he says approvingly, and gives me a fist bump with his near-matching ring. "I've got a box of those old buttons upstairs somewhere. What do you want, like 10 of them?"
I get a rush of blood to my head. That would be more than enough. I've held onto my buttons since I saved them from my mom's cleaning rampage in 1973 or thereabouts. Only in the last year or two have I felt confident enough in my sewing to want to use them, but there weren't enough.
He gives me his card, asks me to shoot him an email, and the next time I'm down there he'll have them for me Then he asks if I have my dad's photo ID or any of his paperwork. I say no, that he died when I was 9 and just about anything that might have been at home, barring some photos, is long gone. He asks if I have my dad's badge number. I do; I have the actual badge, scrounged from the trash. He say to send the badge number as well and he'll go into the archives and pull my dad's employment file, his ID photos, anything they have.
And then his eyes light up. "What kind of pictures do you have?" Turns out he's building a photo archive and will scan copies for himself of anything I have. Talk about an equal exchange.
The photos here are most of what I have - my dad and another guy (and girl) on a parade float, a formal dinner, a classroom picture, a little one of all the guys with the engine, and three studio portraits of him in uniform. The only way I can date the studio pictures is by his smile; his own teeth, and then a set of false ones, were knocked out when a hose got loose and hit him in the face; it did quite a number on his nose as well.
So I've gone through all my boxes and come up with about 6 photos for the museum curator, plus two buttons to match to his, and my dad's badge. I've got off next Monday, the day after PR Weekend; I think I may go to the museum.
And then I need to find a pattern that will use 10 silver buttons, and make it up in honor of my dad - and all the brothers I didn't know I had.