Hurleyville Fire Department

by Bonnie Makofsky…April, 2011

If anyone asked me what Uncle Bill was like, I’d have a hundred stories to tell, but I would find it difficult to find words to adequately describe what a great guy he was. That old-fashioned expression…“He was a peach!”… just keeps running through my mind.

I never expected that we would be here today. When I heard that Uncle Bill was very ill after surgery at the beginning of March, my initial reaction was how can that be? He’s so strong, so full of life, always on the go. He just finished a full season of work at the golf course, for G-d’s sake!

I thought of the robust hug we shared before he left for Florida as he spoke about coming back to Hurleyville for the summer. I didn’t think that would be our last hug. I had no doubt he’d be here…finding jobs to do and offering to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. I’d be receiving a note around the first week of August telling me what a great time he had at our family reunion breakfast and what a good job we did. There would be a check enclosed with an apology that he “wished it could be more.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this man that I knew my whole life and yet didn’t know at all. I must have written “William G.” a thousand times over the years, yet I never knew what the “G” stood for. I came to realize that part of the reason that I didn’t know a lot about Uncle Bill was that he never talked about himself. He never talked about dashed hopes and dreams…like his early desire to be a phys-ed teacher. He never elaborated on his stint in the Navy during the war, at least not until very recently, when long-stored photos were uncovered from the attic as the house in Hurleyville was being emptied in preparation for Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen’s permanent move south.

Uncle Bill was always focused outward and forward. He was optimistic, cheerful and gregarious. He was always available to help out. He spoke warmly and enthusiastically about friends and family, always seeing the good in people, and saying things like, “He’s great, I love that guy!”

It is said that, “If a person gives you his time, he can give you no more precious gift”. It was as though that most carefully guarded commodity, “time”, wasn’t important to Uncle Bill. He shared it freely and generously. If you needed something dropped off, picked up, carried, moved, carved, cut-up or set-up, he was always the willing volunteer. He never complained that he was too tired or that his poor, scarred knees were hurting.

My cousin Merilyn said that seeing Uncle Bill always made her happy. He had that effect on all of us. He called her “Merinoo”. He seemed to have a pet name for each one of us. Leslie was Lester. Gail was Gailie. I thought about chance meetings around town or in the post office and can still hear his cheery greeting to me....“Hey Kofkey, how are ya doing?” “How’s Mom?” “How’s Les?” I would ask how he felt, thinking that sometimes he looked a bit tired, but his reply was always the same. “Ah, I’m all right, what can I say?” He just never complained.

Uncle Bill was a fireman as far back as I can remember. Being a volunteer fireman fit right in with his inherent sense of service and devotion to his community.

My earliest memories of him revolve around hearing the Hurleyville fire siren and seeing him, with his white butcher’s apron flapping, as he ran through town from Uncle Perk’s store toward the firehouse. For a very long time, I could not understand the charm of having that blasted Plectron on the desk in the hall, burping and screeching during family holiday gatherings, knowing that at any moment, it would cause Uncle Bill to disappear from the table, leaving us wondering if he would return home before the last dish had been washed and the holiday tablecloth pulled from the table for laundering.

When Uncle Bill’s 80th birthday celebration came around in 2004, I knew we had the perfect gift on hand. Les and I gave him a print…“Fallen Brother”… by Central Valley artist Pat Mohr. She had painted the original after a building collapse in the Bronx killed 6 firefighters 20 years prior to 9/11. She was inspired to use her elementary school art class to encourage children to talk about what it’s like when a parent goes to work in a dangerous job. After 9/11 Ms. Mohr wanted to do something to help. She took the painting out of the closet where it had been stored and enlisted the aid of friends from the Orange County Art Federation to help produce reprints of the painting. She set up an account for the NYC United Firefighter Association’s Widows and Children’s Fund and contributed the cost for each print directly to that fund. I bought two of the prints and tucked them away in a desk in our bedroom where they laid rolled up for several years.

Ms. Mohr described firefighters as a “special breed”, adding that “I think these men are born heroes”. I’ll always think of Uncle Bill as a hero, not only for his lifelong dedication as a firefighter, but for the way in which he always conducted himself and lived his life. I am going to miss him terribly, and I hope he knew that we were all so grateful that he watched over us for so many years.

Sweet Dreams, Uncle Bill.