He stood next to the podium in front of a standing-room-only gymnasium, barely able to contain a smile, though decorum dictated otherwise. The Mayor proceeded to read the proclamation:
“Whereas the City of Hilldale suffered a horrible disaster in the wake of the storms of 17 June 2015; and
“Whereas the City’s First Responders answered above and beyond the call, remaining on duty around the clock for nine straight days, putting the safety and well-being of the citizens of Hilldale first, before even their own homes and families; and
“Whereas Chief Randall Okstern demonstrated exceptional leadership in a time of dire need with firm determination, unwavering focus, calm authority, and clearness of thought, despite the chaos surrounding he and his department; and
“Whereas absolutely none under his command suffered major injury, or worse, loss of life; and
“Whereas the City was able to swiftly restore its primary functions, services and infrastructure to basic working order as a result of the First Responders dedication, determination and hard work under outrageously harsh working conditions; and
“Whereas all of these previous wherefores and whereas-es (the Mayor paused for polite laughter from the audience)… points to an exceptionally efficient command of our City’s crisis,
“I hereby proclaim 6 July 2015 to be Chief Randall Okstern Day in the City of Hilldale.”
His parents repeatedly hugged and congratulated him. His mother wept as she pulled him in for one more hug. “My boy! My precious, precious boy!”
His children shyly clung around his legs and held onto his hands. His youngest reached up to him and he lifted her up into his arms. She wrapped hers around his neck and lay her small head on his shoulder. “My daddy,” she cooed.
His brothers and sisters-in-arms applauded, hollered, slapped him on the back and high-fived him as he made his way off the stage and into the waiting audience. “Way t’go, Chief Oak!” the guys yelled, calling him “Oak,” short for the nickname “Okstern’s sturdy as an Oak” he’d had since his rookie firefighting years. He stood at attention to applaud all the fire, aid and police men and women, volunteers and support staff gathered on this auspicious day. He never before felt more full of genuine pride. He turned to the rest of those gathered in the gym and encouraged all to join him in applause of all the wonderful dedicated and hard working folks that put their own lives on the line to ensure that theirs were not lost. There was not a silent voice or idle set of hands not clapping.
In the lobby the pipe band started to play. The company of First Responders came to attention and made their way solemnly behind their Chief, leading the gym full of well wishers outside to the plaza to gather around the memorial flag pole that proudly flew the Stars and Stripes, the state flag, and the City of Hilldale flag. There the Chaplain lead all in prayer, thanking The Good Lord for sparing the lives of the citizens of Hilldale, the bravery of the First Responders, the leadership of Chief Okstern, for a speedy recovery of the injured, and the restoration of life as they had all known before the storm of 17 June 2015.
But, only his wife told him she loved him. What a strange thing, he thought later, sitting quietly in his favorite seat on his back porch—hours after the applause had died down, and the phone had finally stopped ringing with congratulations—to realize the only thing that really made him happy was simply to hear her say, “I love you.”