Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fire Horses

Mabel wanted to play fire fighter when I came over to babysit.

"The first fire is by the bathroom. And the second fire is by the kitchen. And the third fire is by the living room. And the - what comes after third?"

"Fourth," I said.

"And the fourth fire is by my room!"

We ran from fire to fire with a ladder in one hand and a fire-hose in the other hand, planting our ladders, pretend-climbing them, and then whooshing our hoses at the fire. Mabel had to correct me several times when my fire-hose was not pointed in the right direction.

Later, at a calmer time, eating dinner, we were talking about fire engines in general. All her life, Mabel has heard fire engines racing up the hill out in the street that runs alongside her building. She has slept through the great intermittent noise of their sirens all her life. I mentioned that there was a time in San Francisco and elsewhere when fire engines did not have engines.

"The fire engines were pulled by horses," I said.

Mabel looked at me as if she thought I must be kidding.

"No!" I said. "Horses really did pull fire engines. Usually three, often three white horses. That was how they did it."

I promised Mabel to find pictures of fire horses and firemen and fire equipment from the days before motor traffic had taken over every city on earth.

These are some of the pictures I found and picked and printed and arranged inside a small album with a red cover – a Valentine present for Mabel. When I could discover names, I used a Sharpie to write the horse names in the glossy borders underneath their photographs – 

Barney. Gene. Tom. Lightfoot. Reporter. Jim.