Show gratitude in His name

His name is Wong Herbert Yee and his book, “Fireman Small,” is a favorite at the Klope house…an almost-forgotten favorite until a few days ago.

Our memory of this treasured book came after a busy day and an hour spent gazing at ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” It was late and we knew we had to get ourselves in bed if we intended to get up with good humor. But we were a chatty bunch that night. We brushed our teeth. Played with the 5-lb. bundle of Chihuahua we call “Paco.” And then dilly-dallied even further.

“Any funny kid stories to tell me?” I asked my son and daughter. Because they are teenagers I can always count on a chuckle or two, and they were right on the money. I heard about school hallway shenanigans, notes passed to friends, and that cool new song from Jack Johnson. Then there was the orthodontic appliance that needed a slight repair. A replay of a basketball game. A request for more after-school snacks. Our topics covered the gamut--not a terribly intellectual range, but the kind that makes family life entertaining.

I looked at the clock. We had to get in bed.

And then came the memory. Why and where it came from is a delightful mystery, but it came in the form of a question: “Mom, do you remember Fireman Small?”

Of course I remembered Fireman Small. He is the focus of a book I read at bedtime in the early ‘90s to settle my three little Klopes down. Must have read that book a thousand times. Small is aptly named because he is height challenged but extremely good at fire rescue. He cares about each emergency situation he responds to and at the end of the book is honored by those he serves.

While we all appreciate the message of tireless public service, it is also the charming ordinariness of what Fireman Small does after each call that we remember, word for word:

“He pulls back into station number nine,

Walks upstairs one step at a time.

Closes the curtains, gets in bed

And pulls the covers over his head.”

It’s the magic of children’s books — especially Yee’s books — that remains with us a decade later. And it’s what “Dancing with the Stars” or any other reality-based TV show cannot do. Carefully penned words have the power to write themselves onto the hearts of readers — to be enjoyed at various times throughout our lives when life is been busy and we need a way to bring it down a notch—relax, wind down—and view life in simple and dignified ways as we go to sleep.

The next morning I made it my mission to find Wong Herbert Yee and share my gratitude. It’s one of the private commitments I made to myself nearly a month ago as I watched that big ball in Time Square move down the tower to count down the final seconds of 2005. If someone cared enough to share a part of themselves with me, I’d let them know how their talents are playing out in my life in 2006.

I Googled. Ever used this mega online-search engine? It’s a wonder and in 1 click I found Mr. Yee. I read a charming bio he wrote about himself and liked him even more. I even learned about the other books he’s written in recent years and how he enjoys spending time riding his bike and speaking in schools to early elementary-aged children.

How wonderful is that? I clicked on the link to his e-mail and offered my small gift of gratitude.

It felt so good to e-mail Mr. Yee. I made time another day to send a thought to Bellingham watercolorist Vicki Wickell. I purchased a picture from her in 2004 to mark my 23rd wedding anniversary and I wanted her to know that I daily gaze at her watercolor with admiration, pleasure, and a little bit of envy. Oh, to be able to paint. But how glad I am that this is her gift from a loving God and I am able to share just a small part of it. What she has done to harness her talents makes a difference in my life. She matters. Her art matters.

The wonderful giftings God has given each one of us—so colorful, so varied—are to be celebrated. Take time to express your gratitude and you will make a difference in some else’s life, perhaps at a time when encouragement is needed. Then thank God for His artful ways, expressed in our life’s endeavors.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 11 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to

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