Capt. Ray Saxton said he was nervous about meeting his 7-year-old pen pal.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HOWLAND -- A child's wish, a stranger's kindness and friendships born over morning coffee came together Saturday with a steak dinner for 30 at the Howland Fire Station.
The guest of honor was New York City Fire Capt. Ray Saxton, who visited for the weekend with his wife to meet a 7-year-old pen pal.
"The invitation was to come up to Warren, Ohio," said Saxton, decked out in his dress blues before a long buffet in the fire house's training room. "Well, here I am in Warren, Ohio."
How Jack Finch Jr.'s invitation got to Saxton is a story in itself.
Back in December, the Howland Glen second-grader decided he wanted to send a letter to a New York City firefighter.
"Just to thank them," said Jack, a sprightly boy with tightly cropped hair.
But Jack didn't know any, and neither did his father. But Jack Sr. mentioned it one morning to his buddies over their ritual cup of coffee at the Country Fair in Howland.
Now follow this: The father of Bryan Jones, one of Finch's friends, has a sister-in-law who is a nurse in New York. She was in town for Christmas, and she had a co-worker whose husband was in the department.
On Christmas Eve, Jack Jr. composed the letter, which started with the words "God Bless America" and ended with the invitation, and his aunt wrote it. Jack Jr. sealed it with a soccer picture and handed it off to be hand-delivered to New York the next day.
"I want to be a football player, then a baseball player, then a soccer player, then a hockey player," Jack said. "Then a firefighter."
Saxton, who is stationed in Staten Island, got the letter and wrote back. Twice. Jack got a toy firetruck in the mail, and Saxton got a small angel pin and more invitations.
And a few weeks ago, he decided to accept.
"He was shy about meeting, and I was a little nervous," said Saxon, a 22-year department veteran. "It was, like, to him, I was a big hero. I didn't want to say or do anything to disappoint him."
Saxton and his wife of one year (this is their anniversary weekend) hitched a ride from New York on Friday with the friend's father's sister-in-law, whose proper name is Maryanne Clark.
The Howland Fire Department got them a room at the Avalon Inn and a basket of gifts: a coffee mug, a ball cap, a lunch bag and a Howland Fire Department Patch.
They head back home today, after an anniversary weekend consisting of long car drives, a visit to Dairy Queen, a few minutes by the pool and dinner with Jack's family and friends -- and friends of friends.
"Three thousand people died, and now we are something of celebrities," said Saxton, 44, referring to the New York Fire Department after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We saved a lot of people's lives. Maybe we are heroes. We don't think of ourselves that way, but maybe we are."