Dec. 15--BILOXI -- Bobby Mahoney was speechless Friday night.
Every year since Hurricane Katrina hit the Coast in 2005, the New York firefighters who travel south to hand out toys along to Coast children are treated to a meal at Mary Mahoney's restaurant. In appreciation for Mahoney's hospitality, they give Mahoney a gift before heading off to their next stop along their charitable trek.
In years past, Mahoney has received framed pictures. In 2012, they gave him a piece of the World Trade Center -- a gesture he didn't think could be topped.
Friday, the firefighters one-upped last year's gift when they surprised Mahoney and his sister Eileen Ezell with photographs and old newspaper articles about their grandfather, Charles T. Mahoney.
"They had me come out there after they got through eating," Mahoney said Saturday morning, "and said, 'We like to give you something every year, but we got something really special for you this year.'
"It floored me when they pulled all that stuff out."
Among the pages of artifacts were newspaper articles about Charles Mahoney's death. He was the first firefighter in Williamsport, Pa., to die in the line of duty, having fallen through a roof in 1927.
"My dad was only 3 when he died," Ezell said, "so we didn't know anything about him. He never talked about him because, well, he didn't really know him."
Browsing through the articles the FDNY firefighters had clipped and placed in a binder, one passage really touched Mahoney.
"Just like my daddy going to the fire station at 3 years old and saying 'That's my daddy's fire truck. Where's my daddy? Mom is crying, where's Daddy?'" he said. "We knew he had died, but we didn't have a clue about all of this."
Past gifts from the firefighters hang in the hallway of Mary Mahoney's, but it will be hard for those to compare with this year's.
"The firefighter brotherhood is just tremendous. The New York (firefighters) got in touch with the Williamsport people and they just went to town finding all this," Ezell said. "We were just overwhelmed. The character of these people is just unbelievable."
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