Last night, Tim, Noah and I bundled up in multiple layers to attend our Downtown Christmas Celebration and Night Parade. It's an annual tradition for our family to go the Christmas parade and we've been going for as long as I can remember. Noah was especially excited this year, as he would be riding in the BDFD rescue boat and throwing out candy. It was a blustery cold evening, spitting snow and rain in between gusts of wind, but he stayed nice and toasty by wearing his dad's bunker gear. As he easily slipped into and fastened his dad's pants, I felt a little tug at my heart. He's only 10 (nearly 11) and already fitting into Tim's gear.
It's a county practice that the two main cities take turns hosting the parade. This year, it was Beaver Dam's turn, our hometown. As the emergency lights flashed in the distance, signaling the start of the parade, I was reminded of the parade two years ago. Having lost Austin just the week prior, we had no plans of attending. Our emotions were still so raw and nobody felt like celebrating anything, much less the start of the Christmas season we knew Austin wouldn't be a part of. A few hours before the parade, Tim received a phone call from someone urging us to go. "Just be there for the beginning and if you can't stay, that's ok."
With that gentle push, we ventured out. We bundled up, in part hoping to not be recognized by many people we knew. We arrived late on purpose so that we could mix in with the crowd, just at the start of the parade. As it was Beaver Dam's hosting year, the home department led the procession. Not with tradition, sirens weren't screaming for attention to start the parade. Instead, a tiny whisper of a Christmas song came from the truck's speaker. Tim and I peeked around the crowd to see why the trucks were so silent when tears filled our eyes.
Losing Austin wasn't just felt by our family and friends but by many in the community, including in our second family - the fire department. Both out of respect for the many years of service Tim had given, and in remembering Austin's short time on the department, the trucks were running silent in memory of him. The lead truck, #24, Austin's favorite truck, carried a large banner that read, "In Loving Memory of Austin Blair, Unit #210." I can still remember and feel the hush that went over the crowd, followed by supporting applause. It was and always will be a parade and tribute we will never forget.
My eyes were again a little teary this year, recalling that sweet symbol of remembrance, and in seeing my other son growing up so quickly. As Noah wore his dad's gear with pride, I realized how he was literally filling his dad's shoes and, in so many ways, his big brother's. He's following in Austin's footsteps, both in support of the fire department, and in all the ways that made us love him so. Perhaps Noah sat a little taller in the rescue boat because he was being hugged and held up by his guardian angel. And I know Austin was holding all of us, proud that while carrying on our traditions, he is never forgotten.