Little Gracie Duplisea could hardly contain her excitement Saturday as she took part in a parade designed exclusively for her in the parking lot of the Mt. Juliet Police Department.
She grinned from ear to ear, waved constantly and simply beamed.
Fire Department of Mt. Juliet Cpt. Chris Allen helped organize the parade on short notice after he saw a video of Gracie, 7, on Little Fox Therapy's social media. Chris's wife, Amy, knows Gracie and her mom because their son, now 7 years old, also receives therapy at Little Fox. They adopted their son at age 2 from Hong Kong.
"He has Down Syndrome and both he and Gracie receive therapy at Little Fox Therapy," Chris said. "When I saw that video I teared up and I wanted to do something special for her. Her costume in the video was a fire engine, so I knew she loved emergency services."
The parade was not just any normal parade, but was comprised of Gracie's favorite "big toys," namely a fire truck and police cars. Beautiful and delicate, Gracie loves music, enjoys dancing in her wheelchair and reading her favorite book Pete the Cat.
However, she's a very special girl with special needs. She was born with the rare genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome. Mom Roxanne and dad Tim adopted Gracie when she was 3 months old after she was born prematurely.
"Prader-Willi is genetic, when the 15th chromosome is missing," Roxanne explained quietly. "This chromosome controls hunger, temperature and other things. It is the No. 1 cause of obesity."
Because Roxanne strictly controls calories, Gracie is slim and in great shape.
After he got the idea, Chris quickly put together a very impressive parade. He solicited MJPD and Wilson Emergency Management Agency and they gladly obliged and got together some police and fire vehicles. FDMJ Chief Jamie Luffman took part, decked out in his white chief's uniform and impressive white chief's hat.
"Cpt. Allen has such a big heart," Luffman said. "I know all little kids like firemen and big red trucks. It was the best part of our day. Saturday was a great day. If you look at almost any children's book you will see a fireman. We just have a great bunch of people. I'd say this might have been an early Christmas present for Gracie, maybe early Thanksgiving present. We know we all are a bunch of turkeys!"
Luffman said he didn't drive the big truck when Gracie got in.
"I couldn't do that, too many tears in my eyes," he said. "I'm afraid I might have wrecked it."
And, there were many tears from witnesses as they watched Gracie shake with excitement on the sidelines as the parade of EMS vehicles slowly rode by.
Roxanne said it was a surreal time, one she and Gracie will never forget.
"Gracie just loved it!" she said. "My husband and I were totally floored. It started out so simply with a fellow special needs mom showing her husband a video of Gracie. Next thing we know there's a mini parade."
Roxanne said her little girl fell in love with firemen from watching "Paw Patrol," an animated television show that showcases a group of six rescue dogs. The heroic pups work together to protect the community.
"Gracie just loves Marshall, who is a firedog," she explained. "So we made her a costume after Marshall and rigged up her wheelchair to look like a fire truck."
Gracie showed off that costume at the parade where she was officially named the department's "honorary assistant fire chief."
Allen said she was given a ride on the FDMJ S-103, given gifts from the MJPD and got to sit in every emergency vehicle present.
"She also found the bell on the ladder truck, the horn in Chief Luffman's car and the air horn on Medic 31."
Luffman said he could barely contain his composure when he offered Gracie to wear his chief's hat.
"That was priceless, one of the highlights," he said.
While this Lakeview Elementary second grader can't really speak, Roxanne programs her iPad with a variety of words. She added some about the parade.
"When she went back to school she wowed her friends with her experience," said the thoroughly touched mom. "We feel so honored this was done for Gracie."
Allen said organizing the parade was the least he could do for Gracie.
"I know Gracie is not able to do as much as a lot of kids," he said. "This was special for her. It was a good Halloween."
Earlier that day a large contingent of FDMJ members went to Nashville to take part in a Down Syndrome event where they gave out gold medals to Down Syndrome children.
"This is what we do," said Luffman. "The best part of our jobs. Public relations events have tripled-booked. But, we have never missed one, and I can guarantee we never will."
He said he's now putting together a "to do" list for his new assistant.
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.