By Diane Waterman
Robert House and I have never met, but I have great admiration for him. He was a volunteer firefighter for 40 years with the Brighton Volunteer Fire Company in the Town of Tonawanda. He met a tragic end to his life of service to his community when his pickup truck caught on fire just a few weeks ago.
Such a brave and unselfish man who saved many lives was not able to be rescued. He was an integral part of this community, and I have much admiration for him and his many years of service.
Our family lived for many years in the Brighton Road neighborhood of the town. When we were growing up, one of the highlights of our summer – besides being on summer vacation from school – was the annual firemen’s parade down Brighton Road, which began the much anticipated Brighton Field Days. The firefighters were our heroes, and we cheered for them when they marched by, bearing their banner with pride. Our next-door neighbors were affiliated with the Swormville Fire Company, so we cheered for them, too, and they smiled and waved back at us. We neighborhood kids brought our lawn chairs to the corner and enjoyed the parade of the many volunteer fire companies. Those were the lawn chairs you hoped you didn’t fall through, with the nylon straps on them.
We played in Kenney Field, the place where the new veterans memorial is located. It used to be called Conway Field. We also did arts and crafts in the old wooden building near the corner, and we thought it was wonderful.
Most people know where Brighton and Colvin is located when you mention the blue jet plane. This particular plane is actually one of the Blue Angels, which is a Navy plane. Back then we were allowed to play on it, including at one time to crawl inside the cockpit. That is, until one of our neighborhood kids got trapped inside. Guess who came to the rescue? The Brighton Fire Company, of course. They got the scared and shaken boy out of this unexpected predicament.
After that incident, the plane’s cockpit was riveted shut, but you could still play on it. I always climbed up the plane and sat on the wings until the wings heated up from the hot sun; I never tired of that routine. Who worried about sunscreen?
The distinctive plane is now part of the memorial and it is to be preserved. It’s considered to be an antique, and I guess I am getting to be kind of an antique myself.
I understand Robert House’s dedication to his community. We in the Town of Tonawanda had a sense of being part of the neighborhood, and I believe that we still do. The simplest things made us happy: walking up to Bennion’s Pharmacy for a treat, and, later to Mesmer’s Dairy for popsicles or ice cream. Larry’s Barber Shop, where the same mailman we had all those years stopped to hear the latest neighborhood news. Brighton Paints, where you could not only buy paint, but they did picture matting and framing.
And, of course, there was the Goalpost Restaurant at the Colvin-Eggert Plaza where they mounted the goal posts from the time the Bills won their first AFL championship with Jack Kemp at quarterback, and the fans in their unbridled enthusiasm tore down the goal posts.
In some ways, our Tonawanda neighborhood wasn’t all that different from Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. There were just more cars.
I am sorry that Robert House’s journey in life was cut short, but I am grateful to his service to all of us in the Town of Tonawanda.
Diane Waterman, of West Seneca, tutors middle school and high school students in language arts.