John’s Wall

Sometimes in life, a thought or idea pops into my head.  I mull over it.  Think about how I want to proceed.  Consider the Who, What, Where When sort of things?  Mull over it some more.  Research.  Talk to people and make a decision.

I’m sure people wonder how on Earth can she work at a job where she has to make lots of fast decisions.  Irony, I guess…

Anyway, a few months ago, I met some people at the cemetery who’s son/brother is buried sort of diagonally from John.  He was killed in an auto accident and was fairly young- in his 40s I think and had two sons who were pre-teen/ teenage age.  Their son was divorced.  His mother told me that at their house they have a “Jay wall” with photos and his high school trophies and college diploma.

I had two thoughts which were fairly opposite of each other.

  1. Cool!  What a neat way for his sons to remember him.
  2. Boy, is that not letting go.

Later, I reflected upon it.  It breaks my heart that Nathaniel won’t remember his father.  It also breaks my heart that I know in some point in my life somebody will assume that I’m divorced or that I was never married.  I NEVER, EVER, EVER want Nathaniel to think that his father left him or that his father didn’t love him.  I think it is important to surround Nathaniel with photos and stories about his father, so he can learn who his daddy was and even understand more about who he is.

I also, have no crystal ball, but I’m just not feeling that there will be another Mr. in my life.  It would be just a little awkward to bring a man into my house and him be surrounded by awards and photos of my husband.  It’s taken me years to get any photos on the wall, I don’t plan on taking them all down or changing them!  Although if there ever is a man # 2, prerequisite # 1 would be that he would be well aware that John is the father of my son and will always be loved, honored, and respected in my household and my life.    Bottom line.

I talked with some friends and they loved the idea and thought it would be great for Nathaniel.  One friend said, if you do a room it’s wonderful, if you do your house then you probably have an unhealthy fixation.

I wanted the area to be somewhere where friends and family could see it if they wanted.  I chose the hallway/steps.  The computer room was brought up as a possible location since John spent so much time here, but so do I.  I didn’t want to have a blue moment ending up in a teary breakdown after seeing his photos.  I also didn’t want to trigger sadness by seeing his photo and missing him.  In the hallway/stairs it is an area where I can pass through or I can linger depending on the mood.

The “John wall” is still a work in progress, but I wanted to share some photos.

Going up the stairs are photos and his Top Responder plaques from Community Fire Company of Rising Sun. I can’t thank Mary Katharine & her kids enough for all of their help and support in assembling the wall and fighting with stubborn frames!


At the bottom of the stairs is a shelf that currently holds a CFCRS ornament with their logo that a good friend of mine made years ago, his Captain’s shield from CFCRS, and a Ravens football.  The photos are of him at a training exercise for Annapolis Fire Department, a photo from the Rising Sun Herald of him venting the roof at a fire (one of my favorites), and him doing a SAVER Team drill at the Rising Sun Middle School (aka ‘old High School).

Shelf (the color is off, it was hard to get a photo without the flash catching the reflective shield)

I also had John’s Governor’s Citation from fighting the Florida Wildfires, framed and displayed.  I also will be putting up his Exemplary Performance Award from AFD for the Z-Rig (I know John was proud of the call).

Governor's Citation for fighting the Florida Wildfires

There are some mixed feelings on this one and displaying the plaques.  When I first started dating, John had his top responder plaques in his room… but after a few years, he took them down and they went in a box in the attic.  John had the citation in a box in the basement.  He never displayed it.  He showed it to me, but wasn’t overly excited about it.

If John were alive, the citation and plaques would still be in the basement.  He wouldn’t want them on the walls.

But, because he’s dead and because we have Nathaniel, I think it is important to display them.  I want Nathaniel to know not only that his father loved being a firefighter and that he had a job where he made a difference.  But, that his father was a damn good firefighter and that he received recognition for a job well done.  I want Nathaniel to know that John wasn’t just any ‘ol firefighter.

In a way, it’s kind of like horse show ribbons.  As a kid, I kept ALL of them in my room.  Each one labeled even the chintzy ones.  As an adult, I’m a little more selective, but it’s still nice to display them.  And it’s nice to know that even though right now their playing roles as expensive dogs, I do have a Dressage at Devon winner standing in my field.  Sometimes the ribbons serve as a reminder, just like John’s citations will help remind Nathaniel that his dad was more than “just a firefighter.”

And in a way, John’s awards are sort of like the horse show ribbons.  Sometimes, you blew a lead and still won the class and shouldn’t have and you took the ribbon.  Then there were the other times when you nailed everything and couldn’t have done any better and got the gate and the class was won by a lame horse.  That’s life.  I figure they probably even out.  I was always more proud of the awesome ride with no ribbon.

John did some really great things with the fire service that he didn’t get a plaque for (for example writing the grants & being awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars) and then he got a Governor’s Citation for being one of the Maryland firefighters who went to Florida to fight the wild fires.  That was an experience that he enjoyed, but one that was covered with bureaucracy, red tape, and jurisdictional conflicts… which caused the Maryland firefighters to spend more time sitting around and relatively little time where their resources were used.  The most important thing they did was provide relief for an overtaxed station, so that their people could get some reprieve and well deserved rest.

Anyway, I think given the circumstances, John would be okay with having his awards up.

I love how the wall looks so far.  I just wish I could figure out a way to hang his gear, so I could incorporate it as well.

Today, when I carried Nathaniel downstairs he was excitedly pointing at the photos.  I’d stop and show him daddy and tell him what the photos were from.  He’d smile and giggle happily.

A priceless moment that affirmed, I’d made that right choice.

About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
This entry was posted in Annapolis Fire Department, Community Fire Company of Rising Sun, Events in honor of John, Life after John's Death, Nathaniel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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