Upstairs, Downstairs

StairsOne of the advantages of living in a five-story house is that you don’t need a Fitbit to make sure you’re getting in your 10,000 steps a day. We’ve stayed pretty spry just taking out the trash, hauling in the groceries, and running up and downstairs retrieving little odds and ends we constantly forget like books, dirty dishes, and car keys.

The stairs are not so great for my father-in-law, though, who has reached the age where walking down the corridor to the dining hall at his assisted living facility is a big challenge. He’d hauled himself up 19 stairs from our garage to our dining room for Thanksgiving, but the prospect of a repeat performance for Christmas looked dubious. And at age 95, who knew how many Christmases he had left? Since this was the first time in five years both our daughters would be home for the holidays, it felt even more important to celebrate together in traditional style—tree, stockings, lights, decorations, and Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.

“No problem,” I said to my husband. “Surely the four of us can carry him up the stairs.”

We decided to practice by hoisting Emma, our eldest, in the safety of our living room. Staggering, we dropped her onto the rug in about ten seconds, envisioning the domino effect of three generations meeting with disaster on the stairs into the garage. It was time for Plan B.

“The important thing is that we’re all together,” my mother-in-law and I said to one another, agreeing we’d eat instead at their favorite Chinese restaurant.

Which turned out to be closed on Christmas Day.

My husband made a reservation at a Thai restaurant instead.

In the meantime, my friend Eileen told me about a friend who’d had been carried into his house by firefighters after he was discharged from the hospital with a severely fractured leg.

“You should call the fire department,” Eileen urged.

“You’re kidding! They do that?” I replied, silently thinking, “What a waste of taxpayer money!”

And even if I didn’t think so, my in-laws surely would. I could not imagine them agreeing to such special treatment. We like to joke that they hate to impose on people so much that we won’t know that they’re dead until two weeks after the fact.

Still, I couldn’t let go of the idea, debating it back and forth in my mind, even putting “Call the fire department” on my to-do list. Like most things on my to-do list, there it stayed.

“Enlisting the firemen is a crazy idea, right?” I mused to my daughter. “We’ll be fine at the Thai restaurant, right? The important thing is for all of us to be together.”

Emma nodded.

The following day, my morning walk took me on a route I don’t usually take—one that ends a half a block from our fire station.

“What the hell—no harm in asking,” I said to myself, going in.

“I have a crazy question,” I said to the man at the desk, then explained our situation.

“It’s not crazy at all. We’re a full-service fire station, and that’s what your money supports. We do this all the time.”

My in-laws were surprisingly game.

“Some people might be too embarrassed to be carted up the stairs,” my father-in-law chortled over the phone. “But not me! I think it’s marvelous!”

On Christmas Day, four firefighters met us at the base of our stairs, strapped my father-in-law into a special chair, and deposited him safely in the living room. They arrived precisely at the appointed departure time, and reversed the procedure.Firemen and Grandpa, Christmas 2015

It was the best Christmas ever. Thanks, taxpayers!Jenny and Katie with Grandma and Grandpa, Christmas 2015

And yesterday, to celebrate my father-in-law’s 96th birthday, we all went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, this time without any assistance beyond his portable walker. It was the best birthday celebration ever.Hugh's 96th at Lily Kai

20 thoughts on “Upstairs, Downstairs

  1. What a wonderful celebration of your father-in-law’s life to end on. What a great legacy of the importance of family to pass on to your girls. The picture says it all, and I’m glad to see your faces.

  2. When I first started reading this, I immediately thought, “They could tie him in a chair and carry him up and down the stairs that way.” Now, I knew this was possible, because my father in law is a funeral director, and they have to be creative when they have a death in, say, an upper floor where they can’t get a cot. The downside to this as far as our FIL is concerned is they can bump the chair however they need to, since the occupant can’t complain :) The fire department was a brilliant idea! Glad that worked out so well! LOVE the family pictures!

  3. Lorrie, so great that this all worked out! And what a treat for your family to be together on Christmas. Thank you for sharing, love the photos!

  4. Hello Lorrie and Jonathan! Charlotte G shared this on Facebook and I wondered why some of the faces looked so familiar- especially Jonathan’s mother! When I read “San Anselmo” the pieces clicked and the familiar faces came into focus. Delightful to see the generations together., and a heart-warming story.
    Sue Bryson

    • Thanks, Susan. Facebook’s reach is far and wide, even though my in-laws continue to be mystified by it, saying, “Why wouldn’t you just pick up the phone?” Hope all is well with you.

  5. I love this story! And I love the fire department! Years ago we had a duraflame incident on Xmas morning (don’t ever whack one with a poker to get the fire to die down, it reacts by expanding the flames). They saved our home from burning down. As long as we lived in that neighborhood we took them cookies and treats every few months. Can not say enough good about them in my book!

    • Thanks, Heidi. At least your incident is related to fire! We tried to press upon our heroes a tin of yummy baked goods, but they refused to accept it. Either the rules about public agencies have become stricter, or the famous firefighter culinary talent was already keeping them unable to squeeze into their uniforms!

  6. Great story, great pictures. I come from a legacy of firefighters and police officers, and it’s often discussed that the firefighters are the nicest of all.

  7. Love this story and the pictures are priceless! So glad your whole family got to enjoy this Christmas holiday at home and you all had a fabulous 96! Birthday celebration for your father in law!… And thank-goodness to the cute Firemen of San Anselmo! Eileen

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