When I was a kid, my mom taught us to say a quick prayer any time we saw an emergency vehicle with its lights or sirens on. We would usually ask the Blessed Mother’s intercession with a quick Hail Mary. I’ve passed this little practice on to my kids, though we usually say the Hail Mary accompanied by the Guardian Angel prayer, asking the victim’s guardian angel to watch over and protect them from any spiritual or physical danger. The kids love this little opportunity to “pray for people.” I didn’t realize though, just how much they had grown to appreciate it.
In our neighborhood, the local Fire Department sets aside a week in December to bring cheer and good will to the subdivision. By “cheer and good will,” I mean they assemble a block-long convoy of emergency vehicles, complete with sirens blaring and strobe lights flashing, and meander through the streets throwing candy to children. The climax, of course, is the very last ladder truck, where Santa sits perched high for all to see. It’s a pretty neat tradition, and something my siblings and I remember from our childhood growing up in New Orleans. So I was naturally thrilled the first time I saw it happen here in Texas.
It was a frosty 37 degrees one night last December when I heard the commotion from a few blocks over. The kids were already in bed, but GET THEM UP! BECAUSE SANTA IS COMING! HE IS COMING RIGHT NOW SO GET YOUR SHOES ON AND THAT’S NOT YOUR COAT AND WHERE ARE YOUR PAJAMA PANTS YOU WENT TO BED WEARING?! Not knowing what was going on, my husband was dazed and confused, but he obligingly helped me bundle up four kids under the age of 7 and dragged them out into the front yard behind me. We stood there in the frozen tundra (by this time, I think it had dropped to 36 degrees) and I think I was more excited than the kids were. I kept telling my son HH (3) how AWESOME this was going to be, because SANTA is on a FIRE TRUCK! I should’ve known this might not end well — he kept glancing from me, to the clamorous brigade parading down the street, to his puppy slippers, then back at me. As the trucks got closer, he held me tighter. Finally, the moment had arrived. “SANTA IS HERE! HE’S THROWING CANDY! LOOOOOOK!” I yelped, jumping and whooping and laughing with excitement. HH promptly burst into tears and wailed, “Mommy, nooooooo! I go inside!!”
It took me a second to realize he was NOT enjoying this. We hurried inside, closing the door as Santa turned the corner.
As I unbuttoned his coat, he was still sniffling. “HH, what’s wrong, buddy? Did you see Santa? Did you see the firetruck?” “Yes, mommy….but the fire truck is going to help people.” I was bewildered. What? How, exactly, is that a bad thing? I wondered. “Yes, baby — firetrucks take firefighters to help people.” “BUT MOMMY! We didn’t pray for the people!”
Oh my goodness. This sweet boy. All the time I’d been gleefully pointing at Santa, and he was upset because he couldn’t figure out why we were happy and celebrating when someone clearly needed help! I asked him if he wanted to pray for people right then, and he nodded slowly. So we prayed for the first responders, Santa, and the kids who were all outside in the
blizzard cold waiting for Santa to pass their houses. And a huge grin spread across his face. “OK, Mommy, I go to sleep now!” And he bounded down the hall and into bed.
Since that night, he has occasionally had episodes where he wakes up crying after being awakened by a fire truck siren. He cries and runs to find me. All it takes, though, is for me to suggest we “pray for people,” and he breaks into his precious grin and prays the Hail Mary prayer. Melts my heart every time!