Cut grass and Christmas cheer

Published 8:09 pm Saturday, August 27, 2016

George Griffith can think of no better tribute for the Suffolk firefighters who recently cut his grass on a hot August day than to bring a little Christmas spirit into their lives.

Griffith hopes to donate most of his late bride’s collection of 93 Santa Clauses to the fire department after they not only transported him to the hospital last week but also returned to the house to do yard work.

It won’t be the first time the firefighters have seen the decorations. Some had taken to calling the Griffith home “Winter Wonderland” because the decorations were up through June.

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“She asked me in December to leave them up, because she thought this was going to be her last year,” Griffith said last week. “And it was.”

Darlene Elizabeth Griffith died June 13 after an extended illness. George Griffith was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in December. Firefighters have responded to their Beamon’s Mill home several times in the last few years as they’ve wrestled with their health.

The most recent time was Monday evening, when Griffith felt ill enough to call 911. Firefighters arrived to find the grass halfway up their shins, the home devoid of the Christmas decorations they were used to seeing, and a patient with extremely high blood sugar because his pump wasn’t working right.

When both Griffith and his bride — you don’t call them “wife” until they are your ex, he jokes — were well, they had a nice lawn with fresh flowers, he said. But there have been higher priorities in recent years, and even now his caregivers, daughter-in-law Taria Davis and friend Bill Allen, are more focused on taking care of him than on taking care of his yard.

“Since I was diagnosed in December, I’ve sort of lost interest,” Griffith said.

While caring for him, the firefighters learned the reason the Christmas decorations were gone.

“He said his wife had passed away,” said Firefighter Barry Utter, who was on the crew that picked Griffith up. “You could just tell it hit home.”

The experience bothered Utter the rest of the night. So when he came off shift the next morning, he asked permission from Lt. Taz Lancaster to borrow the lawn equipment. Lancaster and two other members of the shift coming on duty decided to go help out.

“If one of us is doing something, we’re all going to do it,” Lancaster said.

The foursome took a ladder truck back to Griffith’s house — while he was still at the hospital — and cut the grass, raked the clippings, edged, pulled weeds and swept away cobwebs from the corners of the house. They even got a call while they were there, so they had to leave and come back.

“We cut our own grass weekly,” Lancaster said of the lawn at the fire station on White Marsh Road, “so it really was no big deal.”

But for one person in particular, it was a very big deal to arrive home from the hospital and see the freshly mowed lawn.

“This has sort of renewed my faith,” Griffith said. “It lifted my spirits, because I was depressed. It just proves to you there are people in the world that care.”

Although the firefighters didn’t seek any recognition for their good deed, word of it has reached the highest levels of their department.

“Every day I’m just amazed at the dedication of our department and what they do,” Chief Cedric Scott said. “I’m very proud of them.”

Lancaster said he appreciates the department’s leadership granting the flexibility for the firefighters to take care of patients in little extra ways.

“I’m just happy our department will allow us to do things like that,” he said. “We do have the backing.”

Griffith told the firefighters he wants to donate his bride’s Santa Claus collection to the department for their kids and to hand out to kids in the community.

“Hopefully, they put a little bit of spirit in somebody’s life,” Griffith said.

And the firefighters have invited Griffith to come back to the station and hang out whenever he feels up to it.

“I’ve got friends now that I didn’t know I had,” he said.

The firefighters now know they’ve got a friend in Griffith, too.

“Unfortunately, I think everybody knows someone who has been affected by cancer,” Utter said. “I just wanted to help him out a little bit.”