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For firefighters, a long tradition of family dinners

Joe Grandison, a Virginia Beach master firefighter and a retired Portmouth fire captain, tastes food while cooking with colleagues in Creeds. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Joe Grandison, a Virginia Beach master firefighter and a retired Portmouth fire captain, tastes food while cooking with colleagues in Creeds. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

CREEDS — The herbs were in place, and the bird was almost ready, but Master Firefighter Joe Grandison, 63, wanted to secure a few limbs before dinner went in the oven.

There were three men cooking together in the kitchen at Creeds Fire Station 6. They were Grandison and Master Firefighters Skip Frey, 52, and Jeff Weigold, 46.

“Hey, Skip,” Grandison said. “Is there any string around here?”

“String.”

“I want to tie these – ”

“There used to be,” Frey said. He found it and helped fix the bird up in short order. “All right, Joe. I’ve got chicken goo all over me.”

Grandison has been cooking in fire houses for nearly 40 years, and he’s on his second career as a firefighter. He was raised in Isle of Wight, moved with family to Norfolk, then to Portsmouth, where he was one of 15 black people bussed to a white school. As a young man, he said he was headed the wrong way but had an epiphany. He spoke with the Rev. Haiwatha Pierce, who helped get him on track. That was in Portsmouth.

“Is there any more of that rosemary?” Frey asked in the Creeds kitchen.

“No,” Weigold said. 

“You are going to get those juices from the chicken,” Grandison said.

The meal was chicken, green beans, stuffing and gravy. 

Not just any gravy.

“Homemade,” Grandison said.

“Scratch gravy,” Frey said.

In Portsmouth, Grandison already had a family as a young man, and he worked to support them at a gas station, where he was a manager. He took the fire department test because a friend went down to take it, too.

He said he never looked back. He worked his way up to captain.

Master Firefighters Joe Grandison and Skip Frey prepare dinner at the firehouse in Creeds during a visit in late February. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Master Firefighters Joe Grandison and Skip Frey prepare dinner at the firehouse in Creeds during a visit in late February. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Weigold said Frey is the only legacy in their house at Creeds, meaning the child of a firefighter. But Frey noted that Grandison, a trailblazer in the Portsmouth department, has a son serving in the Beach and daughters serving in Portsmouth.

Grandison started his service in a different time, he said, putting up with “some stuff.”

“I felt I was not just going to be in the department, I was going to be part of the department,” he said, and he became part of the “brotherhood.”

He retired there and came here. When you do that, you start over, and he was initially apprehensive about going from giving orders to taking them again.

“That was the easiest change to make,” he said.

Grandison kept cooking with his colleagues in the station at Creeds, where he has now served nearly eight years. He tasted food along the way, adjusted seasoning. There are some dishes he makes that get the brass asking if they can come by.

Nearly everyone in the house cooks. Firefighters chip in for their groceries. They eat at least two meals per day, a working breakfast and dinner, together.

It’s family, Grandison said.

“Absolutely,” Weigold said.

“Yes,” Frey said.

“We watch each other’s kids grow up,” Weigold said.

The kids grow up in front of your eyes, and some go on to become firefighters.

“You see it all the time,” Frey said.

“When you’re a rookie, you’re like, ‘I’m never going to get to 25 years,” Weigold said.

“Where does it go,” Grandison said.

When he was a young man, a new fire fighter in Portsmouth, they asked whether he could cook. He said no. So he was assigned to the kitchen to learn. Forty years later, in Creeds, the men tasted the food they made.

“It definitely needs some salt,” Weigold said.

“That’s why I’m looking for bouillon,” Grandison said.

They went with salt and pepper. That did it. Soon after, they ate.

Grandison carves the chicken dinner he and two fellow firefighters prepared together. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Grandison carves the chicken dinner he and two fellow firefighters prepared together. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]


© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co. LLC

The Independent News

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