Keeping The Flame


I once won an award for volunteer work I did to help organize the annual pancake breakfast fundraiser put on my by ex-husband’s fire department.  It’s called the Keeper of the Flame Award, and it’s the civilian equivalent of the department’s Distinguished Service Award.

It’s a tiny wooden plaque with a lot of chips and scratches from being stored in my desk drawer for far too many years before I managed to get it up on the wall. It’s not that I was ashamed of it or trying to hide it; I’m just not very organized about things like hanging plaques and pictures. To be perfectly honest, I’m not very organized about anything at all.

And that is why I am so proud of this particular award.

I have zero organizational skills. I am not a good planner. I’d like to blame it on ADHD or whatever, but the fact is that I am not good at planning events because I am a disorganized mess and a terrible leader. It just took a while for me to admit it to myself.

I have great ideas.  I just suck at following through on them.

During the years that my ex-husband was an officer with the local fire department, I constantly fought for control among the other spouses. That sounds crazy, but there is a definite hierarchy among firefighters’ wives in a small town; since the officers who outranked the Big Guy were divorced, that made me sort of the highest-ranking spouse and therefore in charge of planning all department family events. At least, it did in my own eyes. The other wives didn’t really see it that way.

The year I won the award, I made a complete ass of myself. The Big Guy and I both behaved like a couple of control freaks about the pancake breakfast fundraiser. We called in his family and our close friends to help, and I was relentless about hounding local businesses to donate supplies, and we did everything we could to effectively close out all other members of the department when it came to the planning and execution of the event. We made our own team because I guess I thought we needed to prove some kind of point.

I didn’t do it for the right reasons. Oh, sure, I wanted to raise money for Great Lakes Burn Camp, which is still one of my favorite charities.  But I wanted people to be impressed by all of my hard work. I wanted a bit of recognition. I wanted that Keeper of the Flame Award, by golly, and I wanted to sing and dance the night I got that sucker.

The Big Guy got the Distinguished Service Award that same year, but not for his work with the pancake breakfast.  He got it because he was one hell of a firefighter who went beyond what was expected of him the night a fellow firefighter’s house burned to the ground. My guy basically worked two trucks that night, quietly rushing around behind-the-scenes and keeping everything going. He didn’t “pack up” or do anything that drew attention to himself; he just did what was necessary because he is the ultimate team player, not because he wanted recognition or kudos for his hard work.

I didn’t deserve my award, but I’m proud of it anyway because it helped me understand that I sometimes need to step back and let someone else be in charge. I need to accept the fact that I am not a good leader or planner, and that the best place for me in some cases is behind-the-scenes. I function better as support rather than administration.

When this town pulls together to plan a fundraiser or some other campaign, the planning is better left to those who are actually good at it. Somebody’s got to bring cookies and coffee to the planners; somebody’s got to sweep the floor afterward. Somebody’s got to be willing to shut up and leave the recognition and praise and Keeper of the Flame Awards to those who know how to be in charge.

So when my town rallied around my friend Sarah this week, I shut up and started cooking. You see, almost every time there is a fundraiser or special event in this town, Sarah is involved. Whether rallying the neighbors to bring food to my family after my accident, planning a blood drive to honor her late father, or putting together a spaghetti dinner to raise money for the family of a local boy with cancer, Sarah is a master of seamlessly orchestrating events to help others. She doesn’t do it because she needs a spotlight; she does it because she’s a good person who just happens to be really good at that sort of thing.

Last Saturday night, Sarah’s little red car was hit by a police officer speeding to assist another officer. She spent days in ICU and very nearly lost her youngest son, who is finally awake and snapchatting friends from his bed in ICU but who also has a hell of a long road ahead of him. He had to be airlifted to the hospital from the accident scene and then spent several days in a medically-induced coma, and Sarah’s little family will never be the same after everything they’ve been through this past week.

She needs a car. She needs money for the hospital bills and for all of the time lost from work. It’s time for the girl who always gives to be on the receiving end for a while.


One of my co-workers stepped up and put together a fundraiser dinner four days after the accident, and the response was astonishing.  The local pageant organizer stepped up to arrange a bake sale at the event, hosted by our local beauty queens; a preschool teacher set up the silent auction that took place during the dinner.  I stressed and worried about ways I could help, wondering what great plans I could come up with that could equal the efforts of these women.

Then I looked at my Keeper of the Flame Award, and I stopped worrying about myself. I made food for the event and I used my Facebook page to spread the word. And now I’m using my blog to call attention to my friend and her need for help.  That’s what I can do, and I do much better than I could have done any of the planning and hard work that it took to put all of it together.

So this post is for all of the planners out there, all of the leaders, all of the Keepers of the Flame who know how to step up and take charge. It’s for Christy, Ronda, Katie, Jessica, Sarah and all the people like them. But it’s also for the people like me, who struggle to know when to step back and let others do what they’re good at.


This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “I once won an award for . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Allie from The Latchkey Mom, and Allison from Godanskermom. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Author: A.J. Goode

I am a romance novelist, single mother of three, and a high school lunchlady. To be completely honest, I have no idea which of those jobs is the most rewarding and which is the biggest challenge. I love them all. I write romance novels about the kind of people who might pass me on the street every day. My characters are often hurting in some way, and need to learn to trust others in order to heal themselves. I also blog about trying to focus on writing, and about my day-to-day experiences in small-town America. I write about life. The good, the bad, and the just plain odd.

12 thoughts on “Keeping The Flame”

  1. First of all, I have to say I am astounded at the sound of your community. Wow. What am amazingly together group of wonderful people. You are blessed. I am so sorry to hear about Sarah and her son. I do hope they are well on the road to recovery. And this post about what you learned during the process of getting the award is so important. We all have different roles to play and it’s all about finding our comfort zone.


    1. It’s a great town. My mother grew up here and got out as soon as she graduated, but I am so glad I ended up back here forty years later. I can’t imagine ever moving away from here.


  2. I didn’t see where this was going – I am so sorry for your friend. What a sad story, but I’m glad that the will be (physically) okay. She’s so lucky to have you as a friend and I think it’s extraordinary what you and the community are doing.


  3. A.J. I love the honesty and the turns of this post. I appreciate people who learn from who they are and what they’ve done, and I love people who give back for the right reasons. Thank you for sharing this.


    1. Thank you, Allison. I try to learn from my mistakes — there sure seem to be an awful lot of them in my life! I just hope I’m teaching my kids the right lessons about doing things for the right reasons.


    1. I don’t know the total amount of money raised, but I know there were a LOT of people there! We even made the local news, which is saying a lot for a town this size.


  4. I agree with Kelly – what an incredible town! Seriously I want to live there. Here, it’s so transient and clique-ish and I just cannot imagine anybody organizing a dinner or silent auction for a friend – that’s truly wonderful. I’m so sorry about your friend though. While I’m relieved to hear that she and her son will be okay, what an awful few days it must have been. So so frightening. This post today really got to me – from the community to your friendships to people coming together to help – truly inspiring. Thank you so much for linking it with Finish the Sentence. Truly happy to have read this!


    1. Thanks, Kristi. We aren’t perfect here, and we have our share of cliques, too. But when it comes right down to it, I think just about everyone in town manages to forget about their cliques and differences when one of our own is in trouble. Next week, we’ll all probably be gossiping about each other again until the next crisis. Overall, though, it’s a great place to live.


  5. Thank you for sharing your story. My thoughts and prayers are with Sarah and her son and to your community.

    Bless you for paying it forward. We all have a day in which we are humbled, one where we realize the true gift that we have received. You have put into words a touching tribute, both thought provoking and bittersweet. Sometimes it takes our own awakening before we realize our own greatest gifts.

    Sara is blessed to have you in her circle of friends.


  6. What a marvelous turn your story took. I am sorry for your friend and her family, but you know you are doing a wonderful thing, using your talents to help in the way you best know how. I hope you see this.


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