On your feet or on your knees

I see guys half my age taking a knee during The National Anthem and wonder if it was all for nothing.

What did Martin Luther King Jr. accomplish? Were the Birmingham marches a waste of time? Did James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner die in Mississippi in June of 1964 so that fifty years later, after all that people like them, Rosa Parks, William Lewis Moore and https://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/civil-rights-memorial/civil-rights-martyrs countless others could be forgotten?

20180704_085048.jpgDid my refusal to be part of a racist mindset, and treat all people equally, and support laws and policies that make it illegal to discriminate matter not at all?

Does everything that the majority of my generation did, will do and continues to do to reject bigotry mean nothing?

I don’t know.

I do know that police officers are being killed at an alarming rate. I also know that black men are sometimes killed accidentally, or maliciously by some police officers; the color of their skin contributing to their demise.

And I also know that good people are being beaten down, and conditioned by their environment to go against their nature, and judge others not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin or the uniform they wear.

And the carnage continues with or without people insulated from it taking a knee.

I believe that it would be far more beneficial if our celebrities got off the crosses of their imaginations, and stood for something that we all stand for, peace, love and our country, flawed as it may be.


The Bruins

The basement was cold, musty and, when I was alone, a little scary. A space heater hissed and crackled — hot to the touch, ugly, yet strangely comforting. Asbestos tile covered the floor. Doors on one side of the room opened to a narrow passageway where the furnace, the heart of the home, sat, called upon to provide warmth when needed, forgotten when not. The “Christmas stuff” waited in the little closet under the stairs. Now and then a little smell of Christmas would escape between the louvers of the door, spreading warmth of a different kind into “The Garden.”

A couch sat in front of an old RCA television console, reserved for game night. Wires snaked from the back of the cabinet, stapled against the paneled walls, into the passageway and out the cellar window, up the side of the house next to the chimney and onto the roof. The latest in television technology was planted there, much as the American flag was planted on the surface of the moon earlier that summer, only this was no flag — it was a rotary antenna.

Some nights, when the antenna pointed north toward Boston, the picture was almost clear. Sometimes turning it northeast worked better, and for some mysterious reason pointing it south provided the best picture on the weekends. Even the best picture, though, was always obscured by “snow.” It never occurred to us that some day we might actually see the puck.

But if there is heaven on Earth, it was in the basement of 19 Haley Road on Game Night.

My father, Robert Morse, watched nearly every game on that old TV, inviting his fan club to his lair, where we kids would make it through the first period, slumber during the second and be out cold by the third. Occasionally a thrown empty would crash against the TV screen, the anger directed at some hooligan from the other team, usually a Montreal Canadien, but the bums on the New York Rangers weren’t much better. If the noise woke us, we might see the end of the game before sneaking up the stairs to bed.

In 1989, my wife and I took my father to Boston Garden for a Bruins game. The old place was expected to be torn down at some point. (It was demolished in 1998.) We were afraid we were running out of time. Turns out we were, but not for the reason we expected. My father died a year later, at 61.

He had followed the team since the 1930s and had never set foot on the hallowed ground. It was a magical moment when he entered the arena and stopped in his tracks as he looked toward the ghost-filled rafters and saw firsthand the championship banners that had collected over the decades.

It was if the Earth stood still. He stood, hypnotized, tears filling his eyes but not escaping; never escaping, and took it all in. For a man who started following his team by listening to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six” franchises — the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs — on the radio it was a near perfect moment.

It certainly was, too, for his son who spent the best years of his childhood in a magical basement.

Bruins hockey. There’s nothing better. Especially when the Stanley Cup is in sight!

The Backyard Carnival, “Them boys ain’t right!”

from The Providence Journal, Sunday, July 22, 2018

by Michael Morse

The Jerry Lewis Telethon wasn’t until Labor Day, but the anticipation began weeks before that. When the envelope containing everything needed to throw a successful Backyard Carnival finally arrived in the mail, the planning was over, work had begun.

We gave ourselves a day to prepare, plenty of time to throw the finest shindig in history! All we had to do to get on TV during the telethon was to raise the most money for Jerry’s Kids, and how hard could that be?

We had the perfect yard for the festivities. My father was the greatest home grown landscaper ever, our grass was perfect; fresh flowers everywhere and neatly trimmed. He didn’t use any fancy gadgetry or chemicals either, he did it with a push mower and a hand trimmer, with a bit of slave labor provided by one or more of his brood who were grounded at any given time during the long hot summer. We got time off for hard labor, and the more weeds we picked the quicker we returned to freedom.

When he wasn’t slaving over his grass, he went to work, so his children had the run of the grounds. With no interference from the authority we were free to create carnival perfection.

Fortunately for us, he had forgotten last summer’s mini golf course that we created by digging holes in the middle of the lawn and creating obstacles with things we found. Freshly painted shutters stored behind the garage made a fine waterfall when we propped them up with sticks and applied the garden hose, an upside down bird feeder that we modified with a hammer was a perfect trap and a trash can – tunnel that we banged with an axe until the bottom fell out made the third hole much more challenging. We even used an old flag pole; the last remaining vestiges of last summer’s “Fort Apache,” for the final hole. Now that was a true masterpiece; an old tent bought at a yard sale with our paper route money, erected in the middle of the yard and protected from The Indians with boulders, spears, garden tools and bb guns became in a child’s eye an impenetrable fortress. I still fondly recall the aroma of wet canvass and sleeping bags full of body odor every time the temperature soars past ninety.

Apparently, Fort Apache was not indestructible. The Apache Chief, aka “Mad Dad with a Temper” razed the place and put the Calvary in the brig for a few weeks. In retrospect, liberating Mrs. Otis’s milk box from her doorstep and burying it inside the fort to use as a latrine probably wasn’t our finest moment, but what the heck, we couldn’t very well leave the fort unprotected while taking care of business, could we?

But enough ruminating, we had a carnival to plan! The kit came with posters, tickets, balloons, a few games and little else. It did have a pre-addressed envelope for sending money to Jerry, and we planned on filling it! We sent our sister, Little Mel out to the streets to round up a pack of wild dogs that had been roaming our neighborhood for the petting zoo. She was only five, but the dogs seemed to like her.

Somehow we talked my friend Opey O’Brien into standing in a ring and dodging the lawn darts we planned on charging a nickel per throw for, and borrowed some sheets from the linen closet, hung them on the clothesline so one of us could hide behind the wall with bats and whack little kids who paid a dime to run the gauntlet. Whoever made it to the other side first won the blue ribbon that came in the carnival box!

By noon we were ready. All we had to do was wait for the crowds to appear, take their money, put it into the envelope, mail it, and wait for Jerry to call. Sadly, Mom was our first and only customer.

“You boys ain’t right,” she said before shutting us down. The Backyard Carnival was over before it began, and we spent the rest of the summer pulling weeds.

A Glimmer of Hope

I see the neighborhood mostly through the rear windows of Rescue 1, the images traveling past me going backward. Glimpses of city life witnessed through fleeting glances, snuck between patient care and the paperwork that goes with it. We travel these roads often, cut-throughs between Providence’s busy main thoroughfares, shortcuts learned from years of taking people to hospitals. To us they’re just streets—tools, if you will; means of travel. For the people who live on them, they’re home, often disturbed by speeding rescues and piercing sirens. Sometimes gunfire precedes these interruptions.

As we rush to the scene of a child struck by an auto, I think of the last time I was on this particular street. That time it was for a kid from the neighborhood who didn’t make it out. The last time I saw him, I was standing in the pouring rain in somebody’s backyard. He had a bullet hole in his head. Rain thinned the trail of blood that ran down his chin and onto his t-shirt, making it look fake. I felt for a pulse, felt the skin cold at my fingertips—no radial, no carotid, nothing. His eyed rolled back in his head. I wanted to close them like they do in the movies, but it was a crime scene. I backed out, careful not to trip over the gun that fired the bullet that ended his life.

A few days later I saw his face again. I had to look twice at the picture; he didn’t belong on the obituary page. He was a young guy, long braided hair, his mother dead, raised in foster care. He left his foster mother, a brother and two kids without a father. It was strange, but the picture on the obituary page didn’t differ much from the mental image I had from the day I saw him dead. Going through the motions of life is far different from living.

Life for the rest of us goes on. As we passed the house where he died, different people sat on the deck, enjoying the summer five feet from where a young man ended his life. I looked out the side window and remembered, then focused on the kid who needed us more.

They had put her in the grass, 20 feet from the road where a slow-moving car had run her leg over. She had been playing, enjoying the day with about 20 people, grill fired up, cold drinks full, an inflatable bouncy tent in one of the backyards. A crowd had formed around her; we had to squeeze our way through as her relatives slowly gave ground. Her father had to be moved away from his daughter so we could do our work. He reluctantly let his baby go and watched a bunch of strangers tend to her. She screamed in fear and pain while we splinted her lower left leg, crushed, bleeding and swollen. But she said, “It’s OK, daddy,” her own pain secondary to her worries about her distraught father, as we lifted her onto our stretcher and rolled her away.

A crowd had formed, as it often does in the inner city when flashing lights and the trucks that run them make an appearance. More times than not something violent has preceded it. This time there were no hostilities. It’s a little different when the victim is an innocent 7-year-old and the injury an unfortunate accident rather than an act of aggression or revenge. The crowd stood by respectfully, watching as we did our thing, stabilized the patient, calmed her fears and tried to ease her pain.

There are differing philosophies regarding family members in the treatment area during emergencies. My own is to let the family in and have them close by to offer comfort, especially when children are involved. The little girl’s mother entered our ambulance through the side door and sat on the bench seat, watching as we got ready to go. The leg had been packaged; only some gauze was visible under the blanket that covered the child.

“What is her name?” I asked the mom.

“She doesn’t speak English,” from the little girl, calm as could be.

“Well, then, what is your name?”



“No. Magneline. M-A-G-N-E-L-I-N-E.” Talk about grace under pressure.

She told me her date of birth, her correct address and everything else I asked her. And she told me she was worried about her father. “Where is he? Is he OK?”

We got rolling, Hasbro Children’s Hospital less than a mile away. Her father followed. Once inside the hospital, the nurses took over. In the small treatment room, with the girl’s mother still close by, they undid our packaging. When the mom saw the injuries, she broke down.

“Don’t cry, mama,” said Magneline, soothing her mom, letting her know it would be OK. Then her father joined them, and little Magneline comforted him too.

Then they administered morphine, and little Magneline rested.

I cannot imagine Magneline sinking into the same black hole that draws so many of the inner-city kids into nonproductive existences. The allure of quick money, street cred and popularity takes initiative away and replaces it with instant gratification that cannot be maintained and often ends violently, sometimes with a bullet in the head.

Some of the most promising children are tempted to join gangs, live on the fringes and develop contempt, anger and mistrust of society. Others have a certain something and manage to overcome the allure, stay focused and in school, and make something of their lives. In doing so, they help the rest of us see that even in the bleakest of places, there is always a glimmer of hope.

Thank you, Magneline.

20 Clues that tell you your Dad is a firefighter


You’re a firefighter and let’s face it, you’re a little different from the rest. As the years go by, and the experiences pile up, parts of “the job” begin to define who you are.

It doesn’t happen all at once, and most of the time you can’t even notice it. Your kids, not knowing the pre-firefighter you, simply accept you the way you are.

Ask a kid how he knows his dad is a firefighter and these are some of the things you might hear:





















So there you have it. Twenty ways your kids know that you’re a firefighter. I’m sure there are many more that I’m not even aware of. I kind of hope that some day, when I’m long gone, the kids in my life will get together over a few beverages and tell some stories about their dad, the fireman.

by Michael Morse

Her Heart Keeps Beating

In one case, a young woman fell 40 feet from an escalator, struck her head on a steel beam halfway down and landed on a cement floor. Her fiancé and another couple witnessed the fall, called 911 and waited. I cannot imagine their horror between their frantic call and our arrival, or their sorrow for the rest of their lives. I do not have to imagine my own sadness. I felt it for a decade, and it lingers still.

I was trained as a firefighter, and that training included my EMS certifications. It was rigorous, but far from impossible. I learned how to keep people going, always hoping that the emergency room staff and then surgical teams could finish what we started in the field.

When I encountered this particular patient, I knew that everything that I — or those who followed me — could do would not be enough. The choice to start the life-saving efforts was mine. I made the choice based on the horrified looks on the faces of the survivors, and secretly hated myself for putting the young woman through a violent resuscitation effort. We managed to get a pulse, but I knew she would never regain consciousness.

EMS veterans learn early how to bury the things that need to stay out of sight. We feel things the same way everybody else does, but cannot allow ourselves proper time to heal. A different emergency always comes our way. There is no time to process grief, so we hide it, and move along.

Our strategy works for the people who depend on us. They do not need an emergency responder burdened by a thousand catastrophic events responding to their crisis. They need a person who is fresh, focused and stable.

So I moved on. Days later I read her obituary, and learned that she had a young son who adored her fiancé, and he planned to take care of the child. I can only hope he did.

Ten years passed in a flash. I had made peace with nearly every decision I made during my time at the head of the stretcher. I learned to trust other people in matters of health and well-being.

Eventually, I found myself in a hospital room with my wife who needed medical care. For four days we lingered in the surreal world of tests and results, hospital food, doctors’ rounds, worry, hope and an incredible nursing staff.

One of those nurses was particularly helpful, and we struck up a friendship. Eventually professional barriers were crossed and our personal lives were revealed.

We told stories of our families, and how fragile the human body is. We shared our mutual experiences with loss, and how we learned to cope. Family is of utmost importance, we agreed. She told us the story of her father, a great man from Liberia, and how important he is to her family. We learned how he was nearly lost 10 years ago, and how his life was saved by the heart of an unfortunate young girl who donated her organs after an untimely death.

“You may have heard of her,” our nurse said in her beautifully accentuated speech, her words sounding more like a song than sentences. “She fell from an escalator in Providence.”

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of the books “Rescuing Providence” and “Rescue 911.”

Trust each other

I live in two realities. The first is bitter, divisive, argumentative and full of people with strong opinions who are not afraid to tell the world exactly what they think. That reality is formed by people whose ideology is more important than their humanity. There is little polite discourse, and what little there is falls apart quickly. There is little or no trust, only different sides hammering our ideas onto others who have to wait to offer their counterpoints. Inevitably one person has the strength to withstand the critics and rises to the top of the heap, most often because of their ability to drown out all reason and stick to what they believe is right. The rest get tired of the debate and slink away. Nobody wins, everybody is frustrated and all go back into the holes we have created.

Reality two is full of the same people, only we flourish as a society, drive safely, build things that others enjoy, do community service, spend money we have earned at the jobs we do supporting the other people whose existence we share, exchange pleasantries, hold doors, offer a nod and a smile to passersby and take care of our families. When we communicate it is most often pleasant; seldom are voices raised and feelings are not purposely hurt. Each individual participating in this world trusts that the people we share it with are not out to harm us and are busy making their own lives successful.

I prefer to live in reality number two, the real world, where people can be touched, and the meaning of words better understood when heard, rather than read. Reality number two is the cold, anonymous, untrustworthy world of social media and “fake news.”

Without trust we have nothing. Without the belief that the people and institutions we share our existence with are trustworthy the act of living freely and without fear is lost.  Travel is impossible without trust; those other drivers need to be trusted to follow the rules or chaos on the roadway reigns. Food without trust in its makers loses its appeal, and far too few of us can depend on our hunting, farming and fishing skills for survival. We need to believe, without hesitation that what we consume will not kill us, or make us sick. We cannot lose trust in our medical professionals, or the drugs they prescribe to treat our conditions. Trust in our representatives helps us manage our lives without the added burden of being responsible for the bigger picture. Trust is essential.

The ingredient that has allowed civilizations to flourish has always been trust in others. When suspicion replaces that trust, and believing we are being tricked takes hold, decay begins. Disillusionment festers, and is fed with the resentment of every person who has lost their ability to trust others. When the intricate systems which are made possible by our trust are lost something always waits to take their place. Most often brute force replaces it, and the environment necessary to maintain the intricate balance only achievable with trust is crushed.

Then, the best we can expect is survival. People will instinctively seek out others like them, and groups of people with common beliefs will meld together. Tribes form, and the strongest members of the tribe become leaders, not because they have the best interests of all in mind, rather they have a thirst for power. They crush new ideas, and create an atmosphere of fear among their people.

I do not want to live as a member of a tribe led by somebody who is in charge because he or she is stronger than me. I want to be part of something better, a world where I am free to pursue what I believe are my best abilities, figure out how best to make those abilities attractive to other people, and use my skills to be part of a culture of trust that enables me to obtain everything I need to exist in peace and safety. The real world is far more desirable.

Michael Morse, mmorsepfd@aol.com, a monthly contributor is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and author.

Grateful for the 1 Percent

If it wasn’t for the, perhaps, 1 percent of humans who over the course of our history have created things that allow me live in the comfort I greatly enjoy, life would be far different.

I live in a home that I did not have to create by felling trees, cleaning the branches to make logs and then piling them on top of each other, hoping they didn’t tumble down and crush my family.

Whatever is happening outside weather-wise is handled easily by turning a dial — warm to the right, cool to the left. Water, hot or cold, appears by lifting a handle. I can fill my refrigerator by using my phone to pick from millions of life-sustaining items that can appear at my door within 24 hours.

I had the luxury of access to education. It would have taken me three lifetimes and immeasurable injuries to understand that I will never possess the aptitude to do most of the things that I have allowed other people to figure out for me.

I like nothing more than to envision myself the great survivor — a person for the ages, one who leads, invents and survives. Truth be told, without the 1 percent who actually do invent, I would be living in a dilapidated lean-to, or worse, I would be skinny as a rail because I have never hunted or killed anything on purpose, don’t know an edible mushroom from a magic one, and probably would be relegated to eating bugs and pine needles. As for leading, my guess is I would lead myself to ruin as soon as I figured out how to ferment wild grapes and berries.

I enjoy the luxury of existing on a Paleo diet, complemented by a gym membership that allows me the luxury of simulating a great hunt that provides me with the meat and greens that cavemen once had to eat to survive. I drive a shiny, quiet, fuel-efficient and completely magical vehicle two miles to the place where I act like a caveman by lifting heavy things over and over, and then spend half an hour running four miles on a treadmill.

Without the gathered knowledge of the brilliant 1 percent who made all of this possible, I would in all likelihood be forced by my own ineptitude to live like the caveman I try so hard to emulate.

I probably wouldn’t even be able to attract a mate. One of the most important things women look for in a man is competence, followed by good grooming. To be competent, one must be able to provide food and shelter. My fishing skills consist of choosing wild-caught as opposed to farm-raised salmon. As for offering shelter, protection and safety without carpenters, plumbers, electricians, the police and U.S. Marines, any fortress I actually had the luck to establish would easily be overrun by a mob of two.

I will never build a computer, a television, dependable watch or a light bulb, never mind shampoo or cologne. I might manage to pull off the creation of some pottery and a comfortable chair, but I wonder if I would even try.

Thankfully, the 1 percent have greatly contributed to my standard of living, which is quite modest by today’s standards but would be considered obscenely luxurious for 99.9 percent of the time that human beings have existed. They have afforded me the opportunity to find out what I am actually proficient at, and to hone those skills without having to worry about the basics.

Another Battle

The early morning sun had yet to break the horizon as we approached the two family home in the heart of South Providence. Places like this are everywhere in the neighborhoods, well kept multi-family homes, some a little dated, others freshly painted with ornate metal gates adorning the driveways. There was no gate here, just an old Ford parked next to the house, with a wounded combat veteran licence plate on the back.

A trend has resurfaced in this neighborhood. Somebody buys a two or three family home, Mom and pop live on the ground floor, the kids who own the place occupy the second and if available the third apartment is rented, sometimes to another family member, to help foot the bill. My own family started out like this, it actually sounds kind of nice. Absentee landlords still exploit the poor folks who settle here, their homes obviously lacking the TLC needed to maintain the old places.

I walked into the home. The old folks lived on the first floor. It looked like they had lived here for decades. Slumped in a kitchen chair was our patient, an eighty-five year old veteran named Joe. Engine 11 had arrived first, an IV was already established, vital signs taken and hi-flow oxygen being delivered through a non re-breather. Joe had tried to take a sip of his morning coffee, felt sudden weakness and spilled it all over his crisp, white t-shirt. There was obvious facial droop, and no strength on his left side when he squeezed my hands.

His wife of fifty years stood by, nervously wiping the spilled coffee from the green linoleum floor. “He goes to the VA,” she said.

As the guys from the 11’s and Adam helped Joe into the stair chair, having to strap him tight so he wouldn’t tip to the left I took his wife to the side. I hated doing it.

“When did you notice something different?” I asked.

“Right before I called you, about ten minutes ago. He was fine, drinking his coffee like he does every day, then he dropped it and couldn’t tell me what was wrong.”

“I think Joe is having a stroke,” I said as gently and quickly as I could. If we get him to the proper facility the damage can be stopped. We can help him but the VA isn’t the best place for something like this.

She started to argue, insurance reasons maybe, familiarity more likely, but saw the urgency in my gaze and relented.

“I’ll stay here and clean up,” she replied, nervously wiping the kitchen table where the coffee stained paper sat, opened to the Sports Section.

In the truck Joe was in the stretcher, listing to the left.

“Let’s go.”

I reassessed his vital signs and tried to get him to speak. He tried valiantly but was frustrated and unable to articulate his thoughts.

As we sped to the ER I gave him the news. A wounded WWII vet deserved the truth.

“Joe, you are having a stroke. There are treatments available and we’re within the time frame. We can stop the damage, you’re not done fighting just yet.”

His right hand gripped mine fiercely, he made eye contact, then he closed his eyes. We rode to the hospital in silence, him lost in his thoughts, me hoping I wasn’t witnessing his last battle.

Curbside Treasures

I swore my days of curbside shopping were over. My home is already full of recycled treasures, and I had an abundant supply of backups in the basement, waiting for a little love. But this! How could I resist?

It was almost brand new, probably less than 75 years old, and in great shape if you saw past the peeling laminate finish and scratches. Best of all, it was Sunday, and pick-up day on this street wasn’t until Tuesday (some things frugal people just can’t un-know), so this little beauty was fresh!

Now, all I had to do was fit a four-foot vanity into a three foot trunk. Never one to shy from a challenge, I backed my car as close as I could and planned my assault. In my youth I would have simply picked it up and stuffed it in, then fixed whatever damage I did later. Now, with 50-plus years of bodily abuse behind me, I needed a different tactic. Funny how some moving blankets and rope just happened to be in my trunk, waiting for opportunity to present itself.

Fortunately, before I lifted a finger, help had arrived! He was a guy about my age, tired from moving his mother’s things from her place, his childhood home, to his. She held on to her home far longer than she should have, and eventually succumbing to an assisted living facility that did not have room for her things.

“Careful not to scratch it,” he said, as he helped me pull the drawers out of their spaces and take the mirror off of the back. “You can replace the laminate if you’re handy,” he continued, “and if you go over it with some of that stuff the consignment shops use it will be as good as new.”

We worked together taking his mom’s vanity apart, placing part of it in the back seat and the rest of it in the trunk. “I’ve got another blanket and some better rope,” he said, and I let him take charge of the operation.

“Why don’t you keep it?” I asked, curious now, as he seemed reticent to let another piece of his mom go. “My wife would have liked it,” he explained, “but we lost her last year to breast cancer; just me and my son, now, and we just don’t have room for it.”

Repairing old things is a labor of love under normal circumstances. This project meant a little more.

A woman spends a lot of time at her vanity; it is her place, filled with things only she understands. I removed some pins from the creases in the drawer bottoms, peeled some old labels from the sides, filled nail holes that held … photographs? Love letters? Shopping lists? Maybe all three but I will never know; some secrets are never meant to be revealed.

I polished the brass, scoured the wood, inside and out, shined the mirror and put it back together. When I was done it didn’t look all that different than it did on the curbside.

Half of the fun of recycling something is the thinking that accompanies the work. Mundane tasks allow the mind to wander. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the man who had to let go of both his wife and, soon, his mother. And I thought about his son, who had lost his mom and, inevitably, his grandmother. The fact that I was doing the work in hopes of making the woman in my life a little happier was not lost on me.

The things we accumulate as life moves on are disposable, even those things that mean the world to us while we are living. We may not be able to “take it with us,” but we can certainly leave some things behind.