Author’s note: on Emergency! Roy DeSoto had an unnamed daughter. She does not appear in this story.
By Marty P.
Seven-year-old Chris DeSoto sulked on the sofa. “It’s not fair!” He spat out, his bottom lip protruding in frustration. “Mooommmmmmm!” His voice crescendoed
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” His mother, Joanne DeSoto, dried her hands on her terry cloth apron as she entered the living room.
Her son was a younger version of his father with sandy golden hair and light, freckled skin. “All I got for Christmas yesterday was that stupid fire engine!”
“Chris, that wasn’t all.” She reminded him gently.
He slid off the couch, and perched his hands at his hips. “Yeah, I got underwear, too. That’s like giving me spinach on my birthday!” He approached his shiny red truck and poised his foot to kick it but when he saw her expression he paused. “Mom, I already have three other fire trucks.”
This wasn’t the Christmas she planned for her son. She’d squirreled money away for her child’s gifts. Two weeks before the holiday she leafed through the dog-eared Sears catalog and checked her list twice. But then Roy came home after a tough shift.
She was proud of her husband, Roy DeSoto, a firefighter/paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He appeared wearier than usual when he opened the screen door and stepped into the kitchen. She pulled him close him and planted a swift kiss on his lips. “Wanna talk about it?”
“There was a family who lost everything,” he stated. “And the dad’s in critical condition in the burn unit.”
“Oh, Roy, I’m sorry.”
“After we got back to the station one thing led to another and we decided to give the family a Christmas. I kinda promised we’d give $50.00 toward it.”
“$50.00?” Joanne sounded like he was asking for a million.
“Yeah, we wanna get a few things they need as well as a couple toys for their four children.” Roy gave her an expectant look, “you told me you’d been saving money.”
“I know but that was for our Christmas.” Her voice wavered.
Roy’s wrapped his arm around her waist, “You don’t have to give me anything this year.”
She disappeared from sight and he heard her open a drawer in the bedroom. “Here, take it before I change my mind.”
“You’re the best,” Roy’s beaming eyes expressed what was in his heart.
Joanne wrapped the few things she purchased earlier for her family.
It was almost Christmas and eight-year-old Chris DeSoto already discovered the hiding place for his gift. He’d begged for an Erector Set since September. When he jiggled the box, wrapped in gaudy red and blue snowmen, it jangled just like the toy he wanted.
Three days before Christmas, Roy came home from working two shifts in a row. First, he’d covered for Tom Dwyer on the C-shift and then worked his own. At 1545, Dispatch toned out Station 51.
Unknown type rescue Foley Avenue and East 220th St.
The vehicles arrived to find a ten-year-old boy struck by a car. A distressed mother stood nearby. “Is this your son, Ma’am?”
“N-no, it’s Robbie Smith. He lives next door to us. If it hadn’t been for him…”
“Tell me what happened,” Sheriff Vince Howard readied his notebook for her report.
The woman gained her composure, “I’m Mrs. Jackson. Stephanie and I went to the park and she was playing with her ball when it bounced out into the street. Robbie saw a car coming and snatched her out of its path but the car couldn’t stop in time.” She tried to see what the paramedics were doing, “Will he be all right?”
“They’ll take good care of him, ma’am. Where’s his mother?” Vince caught sight of Fireman Marco Lopez retrieving a splint from the squad.
“She’s at work. I have her number at the house.”
“Good, we’ll need to let Mrs. Smith know what happened.”
Captain Hank Stanley knelt beside the biocom. “How is he?”
“Looks like he has a concussion and a broken right femur; he’s lucky,” Johnny Gage, Roy’s work partner, handed the captain a slip of paper with his vitals.
Robbie’s mother met them at the hospital. “Is he going to be all right?”
“It’ll take time for him to heal, Mrs. Smith,” Roy assured her.
Mrs. Smith gazed at her surroundings. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about his Christmas now.”
“What’s the matter?” Roy slid toward the wall so a gurney could pass by.
Robbie’s mother grew sad. “He’s been dropping hints about an Erector Set for weeks. I just saved enough money and now I won’t have any time to pick one up for him.”
“I’m afraid he’ll be in the hospital on Christmas,” Dr. Kelly Brackett chimed in, wrapping his stethoscope and putting it in his pocket. He spoke briefly to Mrs. Smith and went to convey his wishes to the charge nurse.
Mrs. Smith pawed through her purse and gave some money to Roy. “Ma’am?” His befuddled face transmitted his confusion.
She pointed to the cash. “Could you buy an Erector Set for Robbie and bring it to the hospital?”
Johnny intervened, “Sure he can. He’ll be happy to do that for you.”
Roy shared his story with Joanne as he removed the money from his wallet. “So, would you mind tracking down a set for Robbie? I’ll take it to the hospital on Christmas Eve.”
Joanne agreed, thinking it would be an easy task. But she went to five stores and none of them had the toy. At 6:00 p.m. that evening, she and Roy had a difficult decision to make. “Didn’t we buy a set for Chris?”
“Yes, it’s all wrapped up and under our bed.”
“Honey, don’t you think we could give this one to Robbie’s mother and buy another for Chris?”
“Roy, his heart is set on getting it.” Joanne began, and then stopped as she saw her husband reach underneath their double bed and slide out the box.
Roy snuck out into the hallway; made sure the coast was clear, and took the gift to his car. When he returned, Joanne was still in the bedroom. “Let’s not say anything to Chris. We’ll surprise him soon with a set of his own.”
“Okay,” Joanne dreaded her son’s reaction the next morning.
“Are there any other gifts for me?” Chris looked hopefully at his parents. His smile widened when he located a lone gift peeking out from under the tree skirt. But when he revealed white t-shirts his enthusiasm evaporated. “Are you sure that’s it?”
Roy pointed to the object by his son’s feet. “Don’t you think this is pretty neat? You can fill this fire engine with water and squirt it out the hoses.”
“Yeah, it’s nice, Dad, but I was hoping for…”
“I know, son.”
“Dinner!” Joanne called from the kitchen.
The DeSotos plans for Chris’ gift changed the next week when their twenty-seven year old washing machine couldn’t be repaired and they had to replace it with a secondhand one. Joanne used the money with reluctance.
Joanne pledged to make Chris’ ninth Christmas memorable. While she appreciated Roy’s generous heart, she knew Chris struggled with the disappointments he’d had the last several years. By pinching pennies she purchased a hot toy for the year, a memory gadget called Simon with blinking lights and sound. Roy came home a few days later, radiating excitement, as he snuck into the house. “Is Chris around?”
“He’s at school, honey. What’s up?” Joanne watched her husband unwrap the brown paper from a large box.
He ripped the covering, “Look, a tiller truck! Isn’t it great?”
“Are you sure it isn’t what you want for Christmas?” Joanne teased him.
Roy rolled the vehicle on the kitchen floor. “I think he’ll love this!”
It was December 24th when Squad 51 got the call. When they pulled up to the rundown apartment complex, a distraught man met them at the street. “I’m Joseph Wells. My son Billy’s got a really high fever and he’s acting strange.”
“We’ll check him out, sir,” Johnny promised as he grabbed the drug box from its compartment.
Roy activated the biocom while Johnny got vitals. “Do you hurt anywhere?”
“N-not really,” the youngster told him.
Roy eyed him, “You look like you’re about my boy’s age. Are you nine?”
“Nope, ten!” Billy said with pride. “The inside of my mouth feels funny.”
“Lemme take a look,” Johnny clicked on his penlight and examined his oral cavity and noted the gray rash. “Koplik spots.”
“Have you had the measles, sir?” Roy questioned the father.
Mr. Wells nodded. “Yeah, I was about his age.”
“Do you have any other children?”
“Sort of,” Mr. Wells strolled to the doorway. “Adam’s a foster child we’ve had for a few months. My wife, Sandy, had to go help her mother for a few days so it’s just the three of us.”
“Has he had the measles?” Johnny poured Billy a glass of water.
Mr. Wells emitted a heavy breath, “I have no idea.”
“Well, he better leave the house so he doesn’t get the disease.” Roy notified him as he snapped off the biocom. “Rampart says to monitor his temperature and keep an eye on him at home. If there are any sudden spikes or he worsens, contact your family doctor or take him in.”
“I don’t know what to do about Adam. It’s Christmas Eve.” A sullen lad appeared at the door. “Adam, these men are from the fire department.”
The paramedics communicated non-verbally. “We’ll take him with us. I bet there’s someone with Social Services at the hospital who can lend a hand.”
“Adam, could you pack a bag for a few days?” Mr. Wells squeezed his shoulder.
Adam booted the doorframe, “Are you kicking me out?”
“Of course not,” Mr. Wells stooped in front of him, “these men say Billy’s contagious and they don’t want you to come down with the measles.” Adam disappeared.
“I’ll notify Dispatch we’re headed to Rampart,” Johnny collected the gear and left.
Roy guided Adam outside. “Wanna try on a turnout coat or a helmet?”
“Naw, being a fireman’s dumb.” Adam’s lower lip quivered.
Both men realized he was on the verge of tears and continued their conversation, giving him space. “Well, climb aboard.” Johnny offered, holding his door open.
Roy slid onto the bench seat and inserted the key in the ignition, “Sorry it’s not a fire truck. You might change your mind about firefighters if you got a ride in one of those.”
At the hospital they learned Social Services was overloaded with children needing placement. Roy pulled Johnny aside. “Would you take Adam to the cafeteria and get him a glass of milk and a cookie?”
“Sure, can I have one too?” Johnny smirked at his work partner.
As they entered the elevator, Roy slipped a dime in the payphone and called home. “Joanne, I need a huge favor.” He explained the situation. “Can’t we keep him for a few days if I can get approval?”
“I dunno, Roy, it’s Christmas,” the timer rang, telling her it was time to check her cookies baking in the oven.
Roy held on while she rescued them. “That’s the point, Joanne. It is Christmas.”
“Say I agreed. What would he get for Christmas?”
“Man, I didn’t think of that. Maybe I can pick something up.”
“No, Roy. All the stores are closed now.” Joanne deliberated, “You really want to do this, don’t you?”
“I think we should. Both of us will feel guilty if we say no.”
“You think he’d like a fire truck?” Joanne considered the gifts on hand.
Roy pondered the suggestion, “Uh, he thinks they’re dumb.”
“What time will you be home?”
“As soon as I get permission to have him stay with us, I’ll drop him off.” Roy heard Johnny call out to him. “Gotta go. You’re the best wife a man could ever have.”
Chris stared at Adam playing with the electronic Simon game. Adam concentrated, repeating the patterns the machine transmitted. Last night, Chris’mother climbed into bed with him and told him Adam’s story. Chris nudged the tiller truck with his bare toe. It was nice but it would’ve been a perfect Christmas if he could’ve gotten both the truck and the game. He still didn’t understand why Adam hadn’t gotten the underwear, too. When was his mother going to stop wrapping up clothing he didn’t want and giving them to him as a gift?
Chris was ten when his father decided to build his Christmas gift.
“Won’t Chris love this?” Roy spread out the blueprint Engineer Mike Stoker helped him prepare to construct a smaller version of Station 51. “Look, Joanne! It’s got space for several fire trucks.”
“Roy, I wanted to show you this,” Joanne went to the closet and held up a red Ford truck.
Roy scrutinized it, “It looks like the squad!” He put his fingernail at the door handle, “Cool, it opens!”
“Well, if Chris doesn’t want it, I think I know who I can give it to.” She plucked it out of his hand and hid it behind her shoes.
Roy glanced at the calendar, how did it become Dec. 24th already? He emptied his locker at the station and wished his fellow shift mates a happy holiday. Joanne met him at the door. “Chris went over to spend the day with his best friend Patrick McGregor.”
“Great, I can finally get his gift made.”
“Roy, why did you procrastinate until now?” Joanne came up behind her husband and hugged him.
His hands squeezed hers. “It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t think it would take this long to get all the supplies and everything cut to size.”
“And you decided to hinge the roof so Chris can see all the rooms inside.”
Roy DeSoto released his wife. “I better get going.”
“Yeah, I’ll bring you lunch and check on you in a few hours.”
Roy worked as quickly as he could but at 4:00 in the afternoon, he still had the roof to glue together and then he needed to paint it all. “Honey, time to eat!”
“Can’t you give me…?” His son appeared, “Hi, dad. Whatcha been doing all day?”
“Nothing much,” Chris inched toward his father’s workshop. “Stay away from there or Santa won’t visit this year!”
“I’m too old for Santa,” Chris snapped and saw his mother’s frown. “You know what I mean.” The boy tried another tactic, “Maybe I can help you with what you’re doing.”
“You’ll just have to wait until morning, son.”
At 8:30, Roy snuck back to his project. He wouldn’t get any sleep but he hoped to finish the station before Chris awoke. Fifteen minutes later, Joanne rapped on the door.
It was December 21st and the bowls of clam chowder stood ready for consumption until the klaxons reverberated throughout the building.
Station 51, person down. 121 Water Street, cross street East 214th Street. Timeout 2814.
Mr. Rodriguez was in his late thirties. Earlier in the month, he’d decorated the exterior of the house with multi-colored lights. When he got home from work, his wife pestered him, “Roberto, there’s something wrong with the lights. They won’t come on; you need to go fix them.”
He spent the next hour trying to locate the burnt out bulb. “Come down for supper,” his wife clapped her hands to hurry him along.
As he began his descent, it happened. He missed a rung and tumbled to the ground. “Roberto!” She scrambled to his side, nearly falling herself.
The homeowner winced in pain, “Call for help.”
A moment later his wife was back, accompanied by their eight-year-old son, Antonio. “You okay, Papa?”
When the fire department arrived, the victim complained that he couldn’t feel his legs. At the hospital, Mrs. Rodriguez bustled toward the paramedics as they exited from the examination room. “How is he?”
“They’re still doing tests,” Johnny Gage informed her before visiting the drinking fountain.
Mrs. Rodriguez’s face puckered, “Will he walk again?”
Roy leaned against the wall, “It’s too early to tell. Don’t give up hope.” He scribbled on his notepad. “Call me if you have questions and I’ll try to help.”
“Hello, Mrs. Rodriguez, how’s your husband?” Roy covered the mouthpiece. “I’ll tell you about her after I hang up.”
He listened to her reply, “He wiggled his toes today? That’s a promising sign!”
“What can I do for you? Yes, I remember your son. He’s getting a bike for Christmas? Oh, he’ll like that!”
“You need me to do what? Oh, I see you’ve tried several other people and no one else can do it.” Roy licked his top lip, “let me talk to my wife and I’ll call you back.”
Roy poured a glass of cherry Kool-Aid and drank half, “Honey, her husband’s in the hospital with a back injury and she just realized the bicycle they have for her son is unassembled. It shouldn’t take long for me to go over and do that.”
“Roy, go ahead. What can I do to help with Chris’ gift?”
Roy cupped his wife’s face and kissed her on the forehead. “I wish you could but it’s pretty complicated. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
It took longer than he anticipated to piece together the two-wheeler. Before she contacted him, Mrs. Rodriguez connected the wrong parts and tightened the screws. It took several additional hours to dismantle and begin afresh. It was midnight before he got home. Joanne sat at the table, snoozing. “Go to bed. I’ll see you later.”
He washed his face with cold water and returned to the miniature station.
“Wake up, honey.” His wife jostled his shoulder.
“Did I fall asleep?”
“Afraid so,” she checked her watch. “It’s 5:30 now and I already heard stirring. Do you want to show him what you planned to give him?”
“No, I’d rather finish it first.”
Another Christmas and all Chris had to show for it was new underwear and a squad.
Roy hauled the unfinished building to the fire station on his next shift.
“Whatcha got there?” Fireman Chet Kelly circled it.
Mike Stoker rambled into the day room. “Oh, Roy, it’s not done.”
“I know. I was really close and got interrupted. With Cap’s permission I want to keep it here and work on it in my free time.”
“I like it,” Johnny lifted the roof. “Wow, it’s just like 51, only littler!”
“Is that coffee ready yet?” Captain Stanley mingled with his crew. “Who does this belong to?”
“Well, it’ll be Chris’ when it’s done. Something came up on Christmas Eve and I wanted to keep it a surprise. You mind, Cap?”
“As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.”
With everyone’s help Roy brought the gift home to Chris on January 6. “Happy Epiphany, Son!”
“In some places of the world, people give presents on January 6 to commemorate the Wise Men bringing gifts to Baby Jesus. Here’s yours.”
“Oh, okay.” He unveiled the wooden station and whistled, “Dad, I don’t know what to say. I love it!”
“Lift here,” Roy guided his son’s finger to the hinge.
Chris’ eyes widened when he saw the rooms inside. “Maybe we can put furniture in it sometime. Thanks, Dad!” If hugs could kill, Chris would’ve been without a father.
The movie Star Wars was a megahit and Chris perused the toy shelves. It was at an evening meal in early December when eleven-year-old Chris told his parents what he wanted most for Christmas. “The Millennium Falcon Starship is the best thing ever made! It comes with action figures and everything!” And to seal the deal he added, “And that’s all I want for Christmas.”
“We can’t promise that’s what you’ll get,” Joanne swept his plate off the table. She winked at Roy. The two of them had decided to purchase whatever Chris chose since he’d been short-changed the last several years.
A few days later his desires changed.
Motor vehicle accident, Interstate 405 at South Sepulveda.
It was the first run of the day. Even with sirens blaring, the squad and the Ward LaFrance inched through traffic.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Johnny Gage urged the commuters to let them pass.
Roy glanced at his watch, “We’ve been en route for ten minutes now.”
“I’m gonna see if Dispatch has any additional information and if law enforcement’s there.” Johnny keyed the mic.
Motorcycle involved. No further information.
The paramedics’ faces grew grim. It was going to be a bad one.
At last they reached the scene. “It’s someone in the sheriff’s department!” Johnny bolted from the squad and raced toward the site.
Roy yanked the drugbox and biocom from the bay and sprinted to the scene. He froze when he saw the victim. It was Ian McGregor, the father of Chris’ best friend, Patrick.
“How is…?” Johnny glum face and brief head shake provided the answer he dreaded.
The front wheel of the motorcycle lay underneath the delivery truck. The driver clung to the side view mirror for support. “I was just checking my clipboard. There was this crunching sound. I didn’t see him!”
The first opportunity he had, Roy rang his wife. “You better sit down, honey. There was an accident today.”
“Are you all right, Roy?” Joanne’s voice faltered and then grew strong.
“It’s not me. I’m okay.”
“Is it J-Johnny?”
“No, Ian McGregor died in the line of duty today.”
“Oh Roy!” She cried with anguish. “Has anyone told his wife Ruby yet?”
“The chaplain and his sergeant are on the way to his house.”
“I’ll go right over and let the school know where I am. I’ll plan for Chris to spend the night with Patrick.”
“I’ll be home as soon as I can, Joanne,” Roy saw Johnny signal him and ended the call.
The following day, Chris clung to his father. “Dad? It’s not fair!” He blubbered against his father’s shirt.
Roy held him in a bear hug until his son stopped shaking. “Your mother and I would like to protect you from bad things happening but we can’t always.”
“I wanna do something for Patrick, can I Dad?”
“Of course, what’d you have in mind?”
“Well, we have more pictures of the McGregors than they do. They always forget, or they’re outta film or they get fuzzy pictures.”
“So you’d like to give them some them?” Roy prompted, ruffling his son’s hair.
By now, Chris was looking at an album Joanne made. “Isn’t there a way to make copies?”
“Yes, we can get extras. Did you want to put them in a book like this?” Ian had been like a second father to Chris. For starters, coaching his Little League team and acting as his Scout leader.
Chris closed the book, “No, I wanna put a whole bunch of the photos together in a frame.”
“You mean a collage?”
“Yeah, one of those. Can we?” He looked expectantly at his father.
Earlier Roy and Joanne discussed framing some art prints and priced them. “It’s kind of expensive,” he confessed to his son.
Chris wrinkled up his nose and thought aloud, “Could I ask for this as my Christmas present?”
“Definitely! I’m sure I can talk your mom into it.”
“Can you help me put it together?” Chris flipped to a few pages in the album, “I want this one and this one.”
“Hold on, your mom will know where the negatives are. We’ll need those.” Roy stumbled upon Joanne in the den, ironing. He updated her on Chris’ latest Christmas request.
Joanne creased the sleeve on Roy’s dress shirt, “And he says he wants this to be his Christmas present?”
“Yes, and I think we should let him have his way. It’ll be a Christmas he’ll never forget.”
“We better get moving on it then. Sometimes the photo shop is slow.” Joanne flicked the iron off and reached for Roy’s hand. “Our son is growing up,” her face revealed the mixed emotion of pride and poignancy over his childhood years waning.
By now, Chris had selected fifty pictures. “Whoa there, son. We’re not wallpapering his room. We need to see what size frame we’re using, that will help us see how many pictures we can fit into it.”
“You mean I have to do math?” Chris looked crestfallen.
Roy breezed over his son’s demeanor. “You’d be amazed how many jobs use math. Let’s go buy a frame and glass and then figure it out together.”
Chris chose one image to enlarge. It showed Ian and Patrick McGregor after a baseball game, basking in a win, one arm around each other and their fists raised in victory. The others marked their years together. Joanne blinked back tears when she saw Patrick captured as he pinned a medal on his father’s police uniform. The ceremony occurred two months earlier and the DeSotos had been honored to attend.
Once the duplicates arrived, Chris arranged the images and proceeded to mount them. His mother exercised restraint when she observed several were crooked. “I’m gonna have Dad help me put it in the frame.” Chris announced, admiring his product.
It was late on Christmas Eve when Roy and Joanne relaxed in the living room and mulled over the evening’s events. “I don’t know who was more pleased, Patrick or Chris when the gift was opened.” Joanne swayed in her rocking chair.
Roy caressed the family dog’s fur, “Ruby couldn’t take her eyes off it either.” He yawned, “I suppose we should head for bed.”
The following morning Chris fingered the package his mother presented to him. “It’s soft and squishy. I’m guessing…” He tore it open, “Yup, socks, again.”
“Yours were so worn I couldn’t darn them anymore. Besides these are a larger size.”
“What’s this?” Roy scanned the tag. “It says it’s for you, Chris.”
“More?” Chris rattled the box but no sound came forth. He lifted the lid. That summer Joanne purchased two GI Joe figures at a garage sale and she dressed them as paramedics. After much searching she found accessories the same scale: a tackle box and a stethoscope. “Cool! They can fit in the squad and station!” He took a flying leap and hugged his mother around the neck.
Roy, who was as surprised as his son, mouthed to her, “nice job, honey.”
In late March, Roy and Chris went fishing for some father/son bonding time. During their time together the past Christmases came up.
Roy set his pole in the boat, “Your mom and I had different plans for your Christmases. When you were seven we gave money to a family whose house burnt down. Then when you were eight, we had an Erector Set for you but an injured boy needed it more. We intended to buy you one later but other things came up. The next year the Simon game had your name on it until we took in Adam, the kid in foster care, who didn’t have parents or anywhere to go and it was Christmas. The following year you got your fire station a little late cuz I spent Christmas Eve assembling a bike for a fellow whose father was hospitalized and couldn’t do it. This past year you were a special friend to Patrick after he lost his dad.”
“I wish you’d told me sooner about all that stuff.” Chris adjusted the bill of his baseball cap to keep the sun from causing his eyes to water.
Roy remained silent for a brief time, “Do you think you would’ve understood?”
“Naw, I guess not.” His fishing pole twitched, “I do like getting the fire stuff every year; it reminds me of what you do, but could you please tell Mom I don’t want underwear for Christmas?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Roy promised. “Pretty soon you’ll be riding in fire equipment yourself as a firefighter.”
“Do you mind if I decide not to be a fireman when I’m old enough?”
“As long as you do what makes you happy.” Roy thought to himself, Joanne keeps telling me Chris is just like me. I bet he’ll get hooked once he joins The Explorers, just like I did.
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Christmas Stories Stories by Marty P.