Adam Madison, The Triplicate

During the recent holiday season, I was doubly blessed. My family came to spend a few days with me, and late Christmas night I learned first-hand what a blessing living in a small community can be, like the TV show "Cheers," where (almost) everybody knows your name - which can be fortunate indeed.

After trying vainly to stomp or live with severe back pain, I gave up trying to sleep, and asked my sleepy and rattled son to call 911 for me. Must have been about midnight. I couldn't breathe right.

John was asked for the address. He didn't know it. He was asked who lived here. He told them.

"Oh," said the other end. "We know where Ann lives. They'll be right out."

My son turned to me in amazement. "They know you, Mom!"

"This is Crescent City," I replied, gasping for breath.

Minutes later, two volunteer paramedics came in to where I was sitting and went to work, assessing my condition. Both looked familiar and I said so. "We're firemen," said one.

Outside I was greeted by a grinning Steve Wakefield, Crescent City's fire chief. He stood beside his longest hook and ladder truck, the big red one. In case I needed serious oxygen, it was on that truck.

The ambulance with its own pro staff stood ready to take me to Sutter Coast Hospital's ER. By the time we got there my arms looked like pincushions. But I could breathe normally again, and the pain was gone.

As the paramedics wheeled me into ER, several cheery voices rang out. "Hi, Ann, how are you doing?" I relaxed completely. It was like old times, when my husband needed help and everyone rallied 'round.

Only professional staff is allowed to work in ER. At that hour, the normal bustle of aching humanity was missing, but volunteers were on duty elsewhere. This was Christmas night - late. All these people who came to my aid and that of anyone else who needed it, had to give up precious family time, not to mention sleep, in the name of selfless service to humanity.

In due time Dr. Isenhart told me what had happened to me and what I had to do to ward off worse problems. "However," he added, "you're in good (I think he said 'remarkably' good) shape for your age." Well! I'm years younger than most people think I am, I'm sure! Or is it the other way around?

Later I asked Chief Wakefield if he and his volunteer staff of paramedics had to make many emergency night-calls. "About six times a week," was the answer. That's a lot of vital community assistance to hand out, folks.

My heart still melts when I think of all those people, dedicated pros who put service before pleasure, and volunteers who do likewise. I thank the Great Overseer that when I had to reach out for help, someone was there to take my hand. That's Crescent City for you.

Ann Terrill Garlick is a veteran, award-winning journalist and a native Californian. She spent nearly 23 years as one of the editors at the Orange County Register.