Friday, September 4, 2015

A One-of-a-Kind Celebration

September 1st is a special day in my family because it happens to be my dad's birthday.  And he would have been 71 this year.

You see, my dad passed away 9 years ago after a short bout with cancer.  We took him to the doctor in December and he was gone 7 months later.  It was like a terrible whirlwind that we couldn't stop.  And it ripped my dad away from us.  Suddenly, the man we'd all looked to as our steady and unfailing rock was gone.  And it changed everything.  For all of us.

My dad was one of a kind.  "Oh, Catherine. 'One of a kind' is so cliche," you say.  Well, maybe.  But it's true.  He was the kind of man who wouldn't eat the last of anything, no matter what it was or how much he wanted it.  The kind of man who wouldn't let any of us pick up broken glass because he didn't want us to get hurt. He was the kind of husband who wouldn't let my mom get into her car without warming it up or cooling it down for her.  The kind who would put Payday candy bars under her pillow sometimes to surprise her with her favorite treat.  He was the kind of dad who would scratch our backs as long as we wanted.  The kind who would drive all the way to my house at midnight to kill a roach if I wanted him to.

Aaaaaaand he was also the kind of dad who would cheat at UNO.  So, you know - can't have it all . . .

Someone like that leaves a huge void when he leaves you.  And it could have been really hard to see September 1st roll around every year.  But, luckily, I also have a one-of-a-kind mom who thought of the PERFECT way to celebrate my dad's birthday after we lost him: Each year, we get together at my mom's house, write about my dad in a card, and put $20 in it.  Like so:


Then we head to the mall to search for someone who does something thoughtful or nice and we reward them with our card, in honor of my dad.  It has turned September 1st into a day we look forward to all year, rather than a day we dread.  And we LOVE it.

This year, we got a bit of a late start because of school and work so we got over to my mom's, wrote our cards, and headed to the mall around 7 p.m.  When we got to the mall, the kids and I started our annual prowl.  We noticed that the mall was particularly quiet.  And empty.  Yet, somehow, we all had a good feeling about this year and discussed it as we walked.  We just KNEW that people were going to impress us!  We just KNEW we were going to wish we had more cards with us!  We just KNEW this would be the best year yet!

Turns out, we knew nothing.

We walked up and down the mall, looking left and right, up and down.  We waited outside the elevators to see if anyone let another person in or out before them.  Nothing.  We stood by the doors searching for some good, old-fashioned chivalry.  Nothing.  We walked down to Barnes & Noble to see if we could find a thoughtful bookworm.  But the only thing we found there was a Starbucks employee who seemed visibly angry that we actually wanted to purchase something from him.  It was a disappointing start to our evening.

We headed back into the mall, anger-laced frappuccinos in hand, and walked up to the food court to see if we'd have any luck up there.  As we walked around, we saw a Harris County Deputy in uniform eating dinner with his family.  That's when Ben decided he had found his card recipient at long last . . . 

From Ben (11 years old):
I saw a police officer in the food court.  He was eating dinner with his family. I walked over there and said "Hi."  I started explaining what we were doing for Grandpa's birthday, but I felt like I was messing it up, so Catchy finished explaining for me.  I said "we are out here looking for people who do nice things, because my Grandpa always did nice things and you spend your WHOLE life doing nice things."  That is when Catchy stepped in for me.  His name was Deputy Garcia and he was very nice and appreciative.


After Ben gave his card to Deputy Garcia, we resumed our prowl around the mall.  Ben was adamant that the girls would DEFINITELY find a nice person in the Lego store and that it was, therefore, worth a stop.  They were not convinced.  They felt that they would have more luck trying to set something up.  To maybe drop their cards to see if anyone would pick it up.  So they walked and dropped, dropped and walked, all to no avail.  Savannah then decided she'd sit on a bench and, when someone was walking towards her, she'd stand up and walk away, leaving her phone behind her on the bench.  She did this 4 times.  On 4 different benches.  And people just walked on by.  The mall was about to close and we were on the verge of giving up when we saw something that caught Savannah's eye . . .

From Savannah (12 years old):
This year took us longer to find people but I ended up finding some really good ones! So Catchy, Emma, Avery, and I were standing in the middle of the mall just talking but still looking around. I looked over at the escalator and I saw a lady helping her grandma on the escalator!!!! So we ran up the escalator to catch up to them and I tapped on the lady’s back and told her our story about grandpa. There were three women together: one was the daughter (Katie), one was the mom (Denise), and one was the grandma (Marilyn). They were all so nice and so happy that Katie got the envelope. The grandmother told us that her husband had passed away a year ago, and so I realized later that Katie had lost her grandpa just like me so I think she was meant to be! They were all so surprised and it was just great! I am so glad I saw her help her grandma up the stairs because I know that is something my grandpa would have done! That is my story about my people!  :)
 

After Savannah gave her card to Katie, we realized that we had run out of time and that the mall was already closing.  So we walked on over to meet the rest of the family at Cheesecake Factory for dinner.  We were so bummed that Emma, Avery, and I still hadn't given our cards away.  But we knew that we had a few minutes before our table would be ready so the girls and I decided to sit outside of the restaurant to see if we could spot any last-minute deserving recipients.  The bench we sat on afforded us a good view of the doors to The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's.  Surely we'd see someone opening the door.

Nope.

We sat there, slack-jawed, as we watched person after person open the door and then walk right in without even holding it for the person they were walking in with.  We started trying to will the next person to hold the door open by quietly repeating "Holditholditholditholdit."  No luck.  But then, just as we were about to give up, Avery spotted someone she deemed worthy of her card . . .

From Avery (10 years old):
So this year when we went to the mall there were a few nice people here and there but nobody really got my eye. So towards the end of the night I was really searching for people who are good people and there he was. That was the person that actually reminded me of my grandpa because he held the door open for not only his family but everybody that needed to go in and that was something that really caught my eye because I felt like my grandpa was right there in front of my face! Then I went up to him and started a conversation with him and found out his name was Deion.  Not only did he look like a nice guy, he truly was!!!!! This year I might not have gotten my person fast but at least I got someone that I actually could see my grandpa doing the exact same thing and that really warmed my heart! Thank you everybody for being nice people just like my grandpa!! 💗💗❤️❤️💗💗


After we chatted with Deion, Ben told us that our table was ready so we headed that way and sat down and got ready to hear everyone's stories about giving their cards away.  That's when we found out that everyone else had had a tough time finding a recipient.  In fact, 5 of the 10 of us still had our cards with us!!


So Ben, Savannah, and Avery told their stories and then we heard from Tammy and Erin . . . 

From Erin:
I need to start by saying that I totally found my person first.  I think it was the first time I wasn’t the last man standing, so I was very impressed with mahself, thankyouverymuch.  Matt and I ran into my mom at the food court and we were just chatting about how it was going to be hard to find people this year because the mall was so dead.  I saw this young girl walking up to us and smiling, but she was a little hesitant to say something.  So I smiled at her and she came up and asked if we were looking for coffee or smoothies while we shop.  I realized then that this little girl, who was about the same age as Savannah, was a salesperson!!  Just like my daddio!!  She was so precious.  It’s hard for me to explain it in writing, but I was so struck by how brave she had to be to walk up to total strangers in the mall and encourage them to come try her mom’s coffee.  I know she was wanting to sell her product, but it was so much more than that.  She was so sweet and well spoken and I was struck by how young she was and what a fabulous job she was doing.  Even if we weren’t out there for my dad’s birthday, I still would’ve bought some coffee.  So anyway, I tell her about what we are doing and she is REALLY listening to me.  I asked her if I could walk over with her to her mom to ask about taking a picture with her.  She agreed and as we walked over she was asking me on her own about my dad and how he died. Such a good little conversationalist!  The thing I loved the most about this little girl was that she seemed to be more blessed by the story and the fact that I gave her a card (she said she loves getting handwritten cards) than the $20 bill.  I talked to her mom and told her what had happened and what a fantastic job she is doing and her mom was so proud, too.  Matt and I both ordered a drink and then her mom wouldn’t take our money!!  She said they were on her!!  I feel like I was the one who was blessed by this whole encounter.  So, Amina, if you are reading this THANK YOU SO MUCH!!  It was so fun to meet you and to see you working so hard to help your family and blessing people along the way!!  You reminded me so much of my dad with your ability to sell me coffee at 8:00 at night, your sweet face, and your friendly attitude!! 


From Tammy:
The mall was pretty empty and not very promising this year.  After walking around a good hour and not really seeing anyone exemplifying my Dad, I ran into Catchy and the kids.  The four of them were telling me just how shocked and disappointed they had been in people…customer service folks.  My Dad was a salesman and all about customer service!  So not only were they not finding people worthy, they were running into people completely contrary to what we were seeking.  Their "worst" episode was at the Starbucks in Barnes & Noble and, while listening to them talk, I thought something from Starbucks sounded goooooood.  BUT I knew better than to go to the one in B&N!!! So I headed down to the new one outside of Forever 21.  As I got closer to the counter, this young girl slapped her hands on the counter and very cheerfully said "How are YOU today?? I hope you have had a GREAT day."  I loved her exuberance and, maybe even more so, her sincerity.  I engaged her for a little bit and the conversation was joyful and energizing.  I couldn't help but smile while talking with her.  And also to mentally compare my experience with that of the kids…I thought, "My Dad would like this girl and her positive attitude!  She  HAS to get my card!"  She was one of those who seems genuinely surprised to be rewarded for doing something that just comes naturally and that made me like my choice even more.  Her name was Alyssa and she is a lovely spirit.  If you see her next time you are in there, smile big!!


As we ended the night, we all decided that Matt, Brian, Emma, my mom, and I would all try to give our cards away the next day if we could.  Luckily, Matt and I were successful in our quest . . .

From Matt:
After not having any luck at the mall last night I was able to give my card away to someone who truly deserved it. Chris Ciancimino aka Stretch, is one of my production supervisors at work and is my right-hand man. Any time I need a project completed I go to him and he never lets me down. To be honest, I would not be able to do my job without him. On Monday we were shooting the breeze and I mentioned to him how Avery was collecting Gatorade labels as a fundraiser for her softball team. Stretch is always interested in hearing stories about my girls and how their softball tournaments went over the weekend. After our discussion on Monday I didn't really think much of it. Sure enough, when I came to work this morning Stretch had 10 Gatorade labels and said to be sure and give them to Avery and that he would continue collecting until the fundraiser was over in MARCH!! I gave him my card without delay and told him how much I appreciate everything he does for me. He is an outstanding worker and friend, and is always willing to help out any way he can!


My mom and I decided to spend the lunch hour at the mall that next day to see if we could find anyone.  Again, we walked and walked.  My mom prowled the food court for someone who had taken his hat off while he ate.  And I was strolling around looking for someone thoughtful.  I ran into a friend of mine outside the mall and, as we were chatting, I saw two sisters hold the doors open for a woman who was pushing a big stroller.  They were both super cheerful while they did it and were laughing with each other.  So I decided to give them my card.  Their names were Lisa and Sandy and they were so nice and seemed genuinely touched by what we were doing to honor my dad.  They told us that they had just lost their step-father about a month ago so I think it made it even that much more special to to them.  


Unfortunately, my mom, though she walked and walked and stared awkwardly at people's laps to see if there was a ball cap sitting there, was not able to give her card away . . .

From my mom:
As everyone who follows Catherine’s blog knows by now, my mission - my only mission on this very special outing to the mall - is to find a man at the Food Court who has doffed his hat while eating.  My sweet husband would always shake his head with dismay when he saw a man wearing a hat while eating.  “Are parents not teaching their kids about this” he would say while looking at me, hoping I would share his feelings.  When he looked at me like that I felt like I had to try to conjure up an equally dismayed expression on my face but, personally, I didn’t really care as long as these young cretins weren’t trying to eat my french fries or steal my purse when I wasn’t looking.   But now I feel like I need to carry the torch on this so I travel the Food Court and  walk a fine line between walking and observing, and stalking and staring.  My envelope is the only one with $50.00 in it and I always hope I can give it to someone.  It’s so much fun to surprise someone with the card and to see them light up when they see the crisp fifty dollar bill.   When I am lucky enough to find someone, it not only gives me a chance to write about them in Catherine’s birthday blog,  it gives them a story to take home and share with their family later.  No such luck this year.  But, although I was sad that I didn’t get to have this happy experience this year, I found that fifty bucks buys a lot of Dippin Dots!


So there you have it.  That's our 2015 celebration of a man I really wish you each had known.  I man I really wish was still here.  But I guess that's what these September 1st celebrations do for us: they show us that, even though he's not physically with us anymore, we can still find my dad in others when we look.  He's in that pleasant salesman who makes our day.  That person who holds the door for us.  That loving relative who helps us along when we need it.  That friend who does thoughtful things for us. Or the police officer who sacrifices his comfort for ours.  People like that are one-of-a-kind.

Just like my dad.

Happy birthday, sweet Daddy.
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A birthday Charlie-bration!

This Monday - September 1st - was my sweet daddy's birthday and he would have been 70 years old.

Man.  Reading that sentence is so surreal.  I can't believe it's already September.  I can't believe that this year would have been his 70th birthday.  And somehow, even 8 years after his death, I still can't believe that he isn't here to celebrate it with us.

I was in Barnes & Noble recently and saw a book that made me think of him.  Nothing major - just a John Wayne biography.  But the minute I saw it, a thought popped into my head involuntarily: "I should get that for Dad for his birthday."  And then suddenly this innocuous book became like a Mac truck, stopping me in my tracks and knocking the breath out of me.  Tears started burning the backs of my eyes and I reached out and touched the book.  Like it was somehow a bridge between me and my dad.  Like somehow touching it would help me feel better about the fact that I can no longer buy a book for my dad for his birthday.  Like I could take a moment and forget the reality.

Man.  Losing someone like my dad does crazy things to you.  One minute you're be-bopping through Barnes & Noble without a care in the world.  And the next minute you're creepily stroking John Wayne's face hoping you can regain your composure before anyone has to tranquilize you in the biography section.

ANYWAY, since we can no longer celebrate my dad's birthday with him in person, we celebrate it in spirit.  Each year, we walk around the mall looking for people who do something nice or considerate for someone else and, when we find them, we give them a card with a little note about my dad and a $20 bill reward for being special.  Like so . . .


We really look for the little things that people don't always take the time to do anymore: opening the door for someone, letting someone else go first on the escalator, picking up a piece of trash.  Just the little things that my dad always did for all of us that made us feel loved and taken care of.  It's a way for us to keep his memory alive.  And it has become one of our favorite family traditions.

This year, my dad's birthday fell on Labor Day.  My sisters' kids had spent the night with me on Sunday night so they were all at my house on Monday morning.  At one  point, I was upstairs putting my makeup on and I heard them downstairs laughing about something so I went to the balcony upstairs so that I could hear them better.  Apparently, they had gotten on my computer and they were reading my blog post from last year's celebration, laughing at all the stories and talking about all the things they remembered about the people they had given their cards to.  It was such a great moment for me because it just reminded me that this tradition doesn't just reward someone in their moment of thoughtfulness, it rewards US, as well, with years and years of memories and laughter.  I can't think of a better way to honor my dad.

So we met at my moms, wrote out our cards, stuffed them with our $20 bills, and headed up to the mall.  As usual, the kids started off by walking around with me.  Because I'm awesome.  Also, because I buy them cookies.  And cokes.  And ice cream.  But mainly because I'm awesome.

We walked around, keeping our eyes open and staying very focused.  We did NOT stop to look at cute dresses in the window at Abercrombie.  We did NOT contemplate the necessity of going into the Lego store "just for 5 seconds."  And we did NOT pile into a big over-sized chair placed randomly in the middle of the mall so that we could take advantage of a cheap photo op.


No.  We are not that easily distracted.  We had a mall to scour and that was all that was on our minds.

Eventually, all of our walking, soda drinking, and cookie eating took its toll and we had to make a bathroom stop near the food court.  As we were walking through, we saw my mom sitting there looking for someone to give her card to so we stopped and chatted with her for a bit.  She told us that she had seen a lot of people doing nice things for others in the food court and she suggested that we sit down and observe for a bit.  We decided to take her advice so I found a table for us.  But then Ben saw one closer to the Dippin Dots stand and he thought that might be a better place for us.  Purely because it afforded a better view of the food court, of course.  NOT because it was right next to the Dippin Dots stand.

We had been sitting for approximately 23 seconds when Ben and Savannah asked if they could get some Dippin Dots.  And that's what led to our first card giveaway of 2014 . . .

From Savannah (11 years old):
So Ben and I were craving some Dippin Dots, and why not get them because we were already in the food court.  So, Catchy gave us money and we got in line.  We ordered our Dippin Dots and received them from the lady working there aaaaaand then we just walked off, completely forgetting to pay.  So then an 11 year old boy who had been behind us in line walked over to our table and said nicely, “you guys forgot to pay.”  So we said, “oh yeah, thank you” and then went to go pay.  Catchy had given us a $20 bill and Ben just gave the lady the $20 bill and left assuming there was no change.  So then Ben and I started enjoying our Dippin Dots and the same boy came up to Ben and tapped him on the shoulder and said, “you forgot your change.”  So, we went to go get our change.  I thought that was very polite of that boy to look out for us and let us know we forgot our change.  We went over to his table with his family and told him about my grandpa.  He had a smile on his face and was nodding.  Oh yeah, his name was Javier.  Then we asked him if he was able to take a picture with me and he said, “Sure!”  And one last detail, I will share with you guys is he had a broken arm and a cast with a sling on top of the cast. That is the story of my thoughtful person who truly reminded me of my grandpa.


We were feeling pretty great about having found Javier.  And I was feeling pretty great about getting my change back.  But after a few minutes of seeing nothing else, we decided to move to a different table.  We thought we might get a better vantage point from one of the tables over by the cookie stand.  Pure coincidence, of course.  We had been there a few minutes when I saw a friend of mine and started chatting with her.  While I was doing that, all the kids except for Emma decided to walk around the mall with Tammy for a bit.  I tried to remind them of my awesomeness but they didn't seem persuaded.  I threatened to cut them out of my will.  Inexplicably, they just laughed.  I shrugged my shoulders and then maturely shook my fists at them behind their backs as they walked off.  Then Emma and I continued on.

Now this was the first year that Emma seemed focused on trying to give her card to a cute boy.  She is 13, after all, so it's not entirely a surprise.  And, frankly, it makes sense to me.  It kills two birds with one stone - she gets to participate in the birthday celebration and she gets to talk to a cute boy.  I get it.  So it did not surprise me when two One Direction-esque boys walked past and she lost her train of thought mid-sentence.  I asked her if she'd like to follow them and see if they did anything card-worthy.  Before I could even get the question out completely, she said "YES," turned on her heels, and began following them.  And, eventually, after what can only be described as turbo-walking and some fairly indiscreet stalking techniques, she was able to give her card away.  But not as she had expected . . .

From Emma (13 years old):
Catchy and I were stalking these 2 guys because I wanted to set them up so I could give my card to them.  I was going to try to get in front of them and drop my card and see if they would pick it up.  So we followed them for a little while and eventually I got the chance to get in front of them and so I did.  I dropped my card in front of them and one of them just stepped on the card and kept walking.  The other looked around to see who had dropped it but did absolutely nothing! And that made me pretty mad.  Right before I was going to pick it up, a lady picked it up for me and handed it to me.  She said, "You dropped this."  I stopped her and explained to her what we were doing and before she opened the card, she turned to Catchy and said, "Should I be scared?" We all laughed and then she opened the card and she was really happy about it and she liked what we were doing.  Then we took our picture together.....her name was Petra.


After Emma gave her card to Petra, we continued walking around looking for someone I could give my card to.  By this time, my mom had given her card away so she met up with us to help us look. We walked outside to watch the doors.  Nothing.  We walked over to Barnes & Noble to watch the escalators.  Nothing.  We went over to Cheesecake Factory to stand by the benches by the hostess stand to see if any of the people sitting there waiting for a table would let my mom sit on a bench.  Nothing.  We walked back to the escalators inside the mall to see if we could see anything nice happening there.  Nothing.

And then I saw him.  He was an older man, walking with his wife.  He wasn't doing anything particularly considerate or thoughtful.  It was just the way he was walking with his wife, holding her hand.  They reminded me of my mom and dad.  So I decided to follow them for a minute and see what they did.  They went up to the food court and he turned to his wife and leaned in to ask her a question.  Then he left her and went and stood in line to get her a drink.  And that's when I knew I HAD to give this man my card because that is EXACTLY the kind of thing my dad always did for my mom.  He would ask if she wanted anything and then he would go get it for her.  It's not that she had anything against standing in line.  It's just that he wanted to do that for her.  To take care of her and spoil her.  And that's exactly what this man was doing.  So I waited for him to pay for their drinks and walk back to his wife and then I walked up to them and told them about what we were doing and why I had chosen him.  They were super sweet but seemed a bit skeptical of having their picture taken.  So I didn't get their picture BUT I did find out that their names were Lou and Peggy.  And I loved meeting them.

After I gave my card to Lou, Avery joined back up with me and she and I hit the pavement again, looking left and right, up and down for someone doing something worthy of her card.  Time was running short at this point and we had our fingers crossed . . .

From Avery (9 years old):
I was worried because I didn’t have anybody and we only had 15 minutes before the mall closed.  So I thought it would be a good idea to go by the elevator.  So we went inside the elevator and we were just going up and down and up down to find somebody, but finally I thought it was weird that we were staying in there.  So I told Catchy, “let’s get out and wait for it to come back down.”  So then we were just talking and a guy came up.  The elevator door opened and Catchy and I were talking, so we didn’t know it opened.  So we looked up and a guy was already in the elevator and the elevator door was closing and then the guy hit the button to open the door and said, “hop on in!”  Then it was closing again and a big group came up so he hit the button to open the door again and they said THANK YOU.  Then he got out of the elevator and we followed him, but he was on the phone so we waited until he got off.  So we ran after him until he ended the call.  Then we tapped him on the shoulder and we told him about my grandpa.  He said, “aww, thank you!”  Then he told us his name was Tristan.  He said, “I really appreciate it.”  Then, I asked him if he would mind taking a picture with me and he said he didn’t mind.  So, Tristan is a really good person and he really reminded me of my grandpa!


After Avery and gave her card to Tristan, we ran to meet up with the rest of the family at our traditional meeting place.  Everyone was there, waiting for us, and they were huuuuuuungry.  So we gave our normal teasers like "I can't wait to show you who I gave my card to!" and "I think I have the best story this year!" and "I really did cut y'all out of my will!" and headed out to our cars so that we could head on over to dinner.

At this point, Tammy still had not found anyone worthy of her card and she was kind of bummed about it because she had never had that much trouble giving her card away. When we got to the restaurant, we had to wait for a bit while they got our table ready for our big group.  While we were sitting there, Tammy spotted her guy . . .

From Tammy:
I had found no one at the mall to whom I could give my card.  I was the only one!!  When everyone else had given their cards away and it was time to eat, we went to Carrabba's for dinner and to share our stories.  While waiting for our table, another group came in and was waiting also.  After a few minutes, one of the men in that group did a quick little jog back to the door....that caught my attention.  He had noticed a man trying to make his way through the doors with a child in a wheelchair.  The man held the door open for the dad and was very sweet about it so I decided I wanted to give him my card.  When I gave him my card, I found out his name is Jeff.  After dinner, his wife came over to our table to tell us that Jeff had posted something on Facebook about receiving a card from a lady who was out celebrating her dad's birthday by finding and rewarding nice people.  Pretty soon after he posted that, one of their friends commented, saying "That's my friend who gave you that card!"  So it turns out that Jeff and his wife and I have a mutual friend - our sweet friend Nicole Cruz!  What a small world!  I'm proud to know them ALL!



After Tammy gave her card away, we were seated at the EXACT same table we had had the year before.  We spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how cool that was and then, after placing our orders with our VERY sweet waiter, Mark, we began the annual reporting.

But I'll let them all tell you in their own words . . .

From Ben:
I had been looking for a while for someone to give my card to but I couldn't find anyone. So we were looking for someone to pick up my card after I would purposely drop it.  After trying that several times and having people just step over it, I started to get frustrated.  I thought I would try one more time and that's when I found this guy....he said "Oops! You dropped something".  Then we told him what we were doing.  He looked really happy and then we followed him onto the elevator and I got a picture with him.  We saw him a little bit later and he was reading the card.  His name was Dominic.


[Side note - how cute is Ben in his braces??]

From Matt:
After scouring the mall for two hours searching for someone doing a good deed, I came up with a great idea.  I decided to camp out by one of the mall entrances hoping to find someone, anyone to hold the door open for a lady, child, boyfriend, etc.  30 minutes had passed and I was close to giving up...until I met Andre.  He held the door open for my wife, my mother in law, my sister in law and even some random stranger.  I approached him and told him what we were doing at the mall and he graciously accepted my card.  Andre was definitely not from these parts, which leads me to believe that chivalry in our country is, in fact, dead.



From Erin:
This year was one of the hardest years for me to find someone.  Matt and I walked the mall together for a good hours 2 before we decided to settle in and watch and wait to see if anything happened.  It had started raining, so we went outside by one of the doors hoping to see a husband run out to pull the car around while his wife waited inside - something my dad did ALL. THE. TIME.  No such luck.  In fact, there was one couple with a baby and we heard the wife say, "Oh no!  It's raining!"  We got pretty excited until we saw the husband look at her like she was crazy and say, "It ain't raining.  Let's go."  Alllllllrighty then.  Moving on.....we went down and staked out another set of doors watching for anything interesting there.  Lots of very nice boyfriends holding doors open for the girlfriends aaaaaand then letting it slam into the faces of the people BEHIND their girlfriends.  We were getting pretty frustrated when I happened to see this group of four ladies who were obviously looking for something.  It was a teenage girl, her mother and two older ladies (most likely grandmother and great aunt??).  The teenager was looking through her bags and the mom was walking around looking on the floor.  The older grandma was sitting in a big, heavy chair and she stood up and started pushing it all the way back and out of the way.  Nothing there.  Then, she pushed the other chairs around and even got down on one knee to look on the ground.  Around that time, I saw two teenage girls walk up to the group and they started helping them look, too.  I told Matt this was TOTALLY gonna be my pick if these girls didn't know them and just stopped to help because they saw they needed help!  Before too long, though, selfies and fierce face poses were involved and I realized they did know the teenager with my group.  So bummed.   I was just about to turn back to the doors when I noticed the grandma and the great aunt standing up and say something to the teenager and mom and then they started walking off!  Wait.  Do THEY not know each other??  What the...so, I don't even tell Matt, I just took off running (running, I tell you. What?  They were fast grandmas) after them.  I tapped her on the shoulder and asked her if she knew the other two.  She said, "NO, but that poor girl lost an earring she had just bought."  HOLY COW.  I'm re-running the whole scene through my mind and picturing her moving that big chair all the way back and getting down on hands and knees to help a girl she doesn't know look for a small earring.  I immediately gave her my card and explained it and she started crying.  Could I please love this lady any more??  She told me she was 78 years old and that she loved to see that people were still out doing nice things for other people.   When she opened my card, she tried to tell me should couldn't accept it.  I MAY or MAY NOT have told her she isn't the boss of me and that she had to accept it, but that's neither here nor there.  Her name is Marilyn and she is wonderful.  She didn't feel comfortable having her picture taken and I didn't feel comfortable not having a pic taken of me (DUH), so here ya go!  Thanks for making my dad's birthday extra special this year, Marilyn!!


From my mom:
Every year my job is to prowl the food court looking for a young man who has taken his hat off while he eats. And every year, I worry that I won't find anyone.  Men eating with their hats on was always a pet peeve of Charlie's but it seems that it's becoming more of the norm.  Iʼm beginning to think that it isnʼt so much a case of bad manners anymore, but just that times change. A man taking off his hat while he eats has gone the way of calling cards, duels, women-and-children first, and belts and shoelaces for that matter. It has been replaced with menʼs pants flying at half mast, men elbowing women out of the way in crowds, and everyone is just generally in a huge rush - to get to work, to get home, to cook and especially to eat. So each year on Charlie's birthday, I wonder if maybe I just have to adjust my thinking. Maybe I should look for some other good quality.  Like, a young man who chews with his mouth closed, for instance.  But, no - from what I saw this year, it would be easier to find Amelia Earhart. But I digress.

This year, as I was doing my usual tour of the tables looking for (and hoping for) a hat stowed on an empty seat or held on a lap, I saw something that gave me hope for the upcoming generation: a hat perched on top of some books and a young man sitting beside it eating his meal. And that is how I met Amir. He is 6ʼ4” tall and currently going to school at Houston Community College with dreams of transferring to a four-year college to play basketball. He has also done some modeling for Abercrombie, a fact that was of great interest to my granddaughters, for some reason . . .

When I asked Amir why his hat was off he said his mother taught him to take it off when he eats. She is a photographer and has done a great job with this kid. He takes his hat off when he eats, he is articulate, polite, sweet AND he chews with his mouth closed! Mom, you should be proud. I asked my little granddaughter, Avery, to take our picture for the blog. She is only 9 but she handles that iPhone like a pro! Or “like a boss” as she would say. After taking a shot she turned the phone around so I could see and asked if I liked the shot. I noticed that my shirt was pulled up on one side and I felt like it was exposing too much of my tummy so I asked her to let me straighten my shirt and suck my tummy in so she could take another pic.  I mean, I couldn't have a picture of me standing with a model with my tummy hanging out.  I explained to Amir why we had to do this all over again and he very sweetly gave me a photography tip that I assume was from his mother. He told me to just turn a little to the side and that would fix the problem. So sweet, but was he kidding? I would have to turn all the way around with my back to the camera and just look back over my shoulder in order to make my stomach look smaller! But I used his mother's tip of turning a bit to the side.  And I used my own tip of sucking it in like my life depended on it and we got the picture.  Avery and I said goodbye and I walked away feeling hope for Amir's generation.  And feeling like I needed to go do some crunches . . . and not just my normal potato chip crunches!


After we had all finished telling our stories, our waiter (who sensed that we were there for some occasion) asked what we were celebrating.  We told him about my dad and our annual tradition and he responded by bringing us a little birthday dessert in honor of my dad . . .


It was a fitting way to end our night.  Because it was a final touch by someone doing something nice just because and brightening our day in the process.

And also because it was a really yummy cannoli. 

So that's it - our 2014 celebration.  We walked, we talked, we laughed, we searched, and we rewarded.  And, as OUR reward, we got to see my dad again.  In Javier's and Tristan's sweet smiles and helpfulness. In Petra's and Dominic's thoughtfulness and action.  In Marilyn's selflessness and willingness. In Lou's loving and giving attitude toward his wife.  In Andre's and Jeff's patience and chivalry. And in Amir's gentlemanly manners.  Charlie Palmore may be gone from us.  But he is ALWAYS with us.

Happy 70th birthday, my daddykins.


Friday, June 13, 2014

My dad.

If I close my eyes, I can bring up one of my first memories.  It's early in the morning - the sun is not quite up yet.  My dad is carrying me to a neighbor's house because my sister Tammy needed to go to the hospital for some reason.  I'm half asleep and my head is resting on his shoulder, his arms are wrapped around me.  I can hear his shoes on the sidewalk and hear his voice resonating against my ear as he's talking to the neighbor. I knew something was wrong but I wasn't worried.  I always felt so safe with my dad carrying me.  It's such a vivid memory.

And I don't want to open my eyes and disturb this memory.  So I just keep them closed and keep remembering.

Time fast-forwards a bit and I'm a little older and he's coming home from work.  My sisters and I run to him and he catches us, one-by-one, and spins us around.  And I do that over and over again because I love the way I feel like a ballerina when he's spinning me around.  And he never says no.  Never says "that's enough."  He just lets me keep running to him until I lose interest.  Then he tells us that he brought a magic butterscotch home and we squeal and jump up and down and can hardly contain ourselves.  He sits in his chair, pulls out the magic butterscotch so we can see it.  Then he puts it in his briefcase, says some crazy, nonsensical "magic" words that seem to get funnier every time, waves his hands around, and BAM!  There's suddenly an overstuffed bag of Brach's candy in his briefcase!!  We squeal and clap and stuff our faces with candy.  And he just laughs at us.

Fast forward and we're having a taco night with all my parents' friends and the guitars have come out.  I listen to my dad play his guitar and sing with his friends.  And before I go to bed, he lets me sing a song for everyone while he plays.  I opt for "One Day at a Time" and stand there in my nightgown, singing for everyone.  My dad smiles proudly at me and then he kisses me and sends me on to bed.  

Another quick jump in time and Santa is at my first grade Christmas party.  I get to sit in his lap and tell him what I want.  When I look down at his shoes, I notice that Santa is wearing shoes just like my dad's.  Then I notice that Santa is wearing Old Spice like my dad does.  And then I look in Santa's eyes and I see the same twinkle that I know from my dad's eyes.  And I know then and there that this is my dad dressed up as Santa.  I get home from school and ask him if he was dressed up as Santa at my class party today.  He tells me no - it was the real Santa and that he even saw Santa's sleigh on the rooftop of my school.  I say "well, he had your shoes." And he says "well, Santa liked my shoes last year and I told him where I got them.  He probably got a pair.  Or had his elves make him some."  I tell him that Santa smelled like him.  He says "They definitely have Old Spice in the North Pole."  He out-lawyers me at every turn - no matter what argument I throw at him, he has a response.  And a twinkle in his eye.

Fast forward again and I'm a few years older, getting ready for school.  As I am attempting to curl and tease my bangs to 80s perfection, the phone rings and I answer it.  Before I even hear his voice, I know it's my dad because he calls us every morning while we're getting ready for school and sings "I Just Called to Say I Love You."  I sing it with him and he tells me to have a good day at school and he tells me he loves me.  Even then I know it's pretty amazing to have a dad who really does just call to say "I love you" every morning, without fail.  I go to school and come home later and I call my dad at work.  It doesn't matter how often I call or what time of day, no one ever tells me that my dad can't talk to me.  They put me through to his office and I say "Hey, Dad. Are you busy?"  And he answers "I'm never too busy for you, Darlin'."  Every time.  No matter what.

Time moves forward again and we're driving to Dallas for a family reunion on Memorial Day weekend; my sisters and I in the backseat, my mom and dad in the front.  My dad has been playing DJ for us, scanning the radio stations for something good that my sisters and I can sing along to.  Somewhere near Corsicana, we catch a station that's doing a Golden Oldies countdown and my dad starts singing.  We know the songs, too, and we sing along with him.  But, even though the music is good, the part we really love is that Dad is singing, too.  We love hearing him sing.  Then we see a Dairy Queen sign and start chanting "DQ! DQ! DQ!" until he takes the exit for the Dairy Queen.  We cheer and he laughs.  On the way back to Houston after the reunion, we fall asleep in the back seat.  Suddenly, we are startled awake by my dad chanting "DQ! DQ! DQ!" as he's exiting the highway for a Dairy Queen stop.  We wake up and start chanting with him.  And he laughs.

Another jump in time and I'm in high school, crying about some boy.  My dad dries my tears, hugs me, and tells me that the guy must think I'm too pretty.  I don't believe him, of course.  But I love that he says that.  And that he believes that.

Fast forward a bit more and I'm graduating high school and heading off to A&M and, for the first time in my life, I see my dad have to put on sunglasses because "it's sunny" and not because he's tearing up that I'm heading off to my new dorm 75 miles away.  A few years later and the sunglasses come out again when he's leaving me at my new apartment in Birmingham, 700 miles away. 

Then he's calling me Atticus.  Telling me he's proud of me.  Then he's leaving an Easter basket on the front porch for my first Easter in my new house so that, when I walk out in the morning, I know that the Easter Bunny didn't forget me.  Then he's trying to give me $20 because I'm meeting my friends at the movies and, even though I'm a lawyer and grown up and tell him I don't need it, he wants to take care of me.  Then he's playing with the grandkids and laughing at them. 

And then he's gone.

I think about him all the time.  Father's Day, birthdays, holidays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and weekends.  I can close my eyes and pull up memories any time I want to.  And I'm thankful that he gave me memories that come alive like that.  That he was so part of my life and my joy that I can call him up in my mind's eye whenever I want.  I wish I could thank him for that and for so much more.   For making me feel safe.  For never being too busy for me.  For filling my childhood with magic and laughter.  For singing.  For being proud of me.  For being all the things I ever needed him to be during the years he was molding me and during these years I have to carry on without him . . .

My role model.

My standard.

My hero.

My dad.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy birthday, Dad!

This past Sunday was a special day for me and my family - it was my dad's birthday.  And he would have been 69.

As most of you know by now, my dad died seven years ago just before his 62nd birthday.  He had been diagnosed with cancer in December of 2005 and then passed away just seven short months later at the end of July 2006.  Getting the news that he had cancer was horrible and surreal on its own - something that happened to other people's dads.  Not mine.  But having to sit around a hospital room as he slipped away, knowing we couldn't do anything to stop it . . . well, it still feels like a nightmare that I hope and pray I'll wake up from.  That my alarm will go off any minute and I'll wake up to a world where my dad is still on the other end of the phone, calling me "Atticus" and asking if I have enough gas in my car.  But I know that's not my world anymore.  And it never really stops hurting.

I remember back in 2007, as his birthday approached, I began dreading it with every ounce of my being.  I mean, he had only been gone a little more than a month and the pain was still very raw.  The last thing I wanted to do was handle this reality.  How on EARTH would we face this first birthday without him?  How would we find joy?  How would we find something to celebrate?

How do I find some Paxil?  Good LORD, I'm depressing myself here . . .

ANYWAY, as that first September 1st rolled around, my mom had a brilliant idea: we'd all go to the mall armed with $10 bills and give them away to people who did something nice or thoughtful or chivalrous - something that reminded us of our dad.  It was an amazing and uplifting idea.  And, since my mom is particularly talented at finding something depressing in every situation (she can turn any conversation into a discussion about death or diabetes in 12 seconds flat.  I've timed her.) we were even more impressed with her idea than you might think.

And so a tradition began.  Now we meet at my mom's house on September 1st and write a card to our prospective recipients.  This year we wrote the same thing we wrote last year: "I lost my Dad (father-in-law/husband/grandpa) seven years ago. He always inspired us to be thoughtful, kind and concerned with the needs of others. So every September 1st we celebrate his birthday by looking for people who possess the same qualities that made him so special to all who knew him. You did something today that reminded me of him and I wanted you to have this little treat so you would know I think you're special, too! Thanks for being a part of my Dad's birthday celebration."  We've also started writing my blog address on the back of the card so folks can go read about this tradition that they are now a part of.  Then we put a $20 bill in the envelope as their reward and head up to the mall or some other public place to look for people who do nice things: opening the door for someone, picking up a piece of trash, letting someone go first on an escalator. Not earth-shattering things by any stretch, just every day kindnesses that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

So this year we met at my mom's, wrote out our cards, and loaded them up with our $20 bills.  Then we headed up to the mall.  Once we got there, we all divided up so that we could go on the hunt for our card recipients.  The kids all decided to go with me because, well . . . everyone say it with me . . . I'M AWESOME.  Actually, truth be told, there WAS some discussion as to whether Emma and Savannah would go with me this year.  It seems that they thought it might be too "chaotic" for all of us to be together this year.  I think they get "chaotic" and "ridiculously awesome" confused sometimes so I chose to not be offended.  Well, who am I kidding?  I was a LITTLE broken-hearted over the whole thing.  But, luckily, I was able to drown my sorrows in a chocolate double doozie from the cookie stand and all was well.

But I digress . . .

The four kids and I walked and looked.  Looked and walked.  Then sat and looked.  Then stood and looked.  Then walked to the pet store to "look for nice people."  Then walked and looked some more.  But we had no luck.  Not one person holding a door.  No one stepping aside to let an elderly person pass by.  No mind-blowing escalator etiquette.  Nothing.  Eventually, we ran into Erin and found out that she was having the same luck we were having so that made us feel a bit better.  Then Emma and Savannah decided to go with Erin despite my overwhelming awesomeness.  So Ben and Avery and I drowned our sorrows in some Dippin' Dots.

Don't you judge me.

As 6:00 approached, we knew we were in trouble.  The crowds would soon be clearing out of the mall and we all still had our cards to give away.  We planted ourselves in front of the doors going out of the mall, hoping to find someone who would open the door for another person.  But everyone was using the automatic door.  So much so that a line of about 15 people waiting for the automatic door began to form.  And the non-automatic doors?  Well, it was appalling - I've never seen so many people letting the door shut in another person's face.  It was ridiculous.  So there the three of us stood, still holding our dang cards.  That's when we decided that these desperate times called for desperate measures - it was time to stage something.  We talked about dropping something to see if anyone would pick it up but we decided that was too predictable.  Then we came up with the idea that Ben would walk ahead and trip and fall to see if anyone did anything.  Since Ben is the closest thing to a stunt man that I know, he was the perfect candidate for our desperate ploy.  He looked up at me, gave me a slightly dramatic head-nod, and quickened his pace to get ahead of me.  Avery and I watched him with great anticipation.  And he did not disappoint.  He spotted a lady coming toward him so he went into action.  He performed a move that I like to call "boy stubs his toe on large, invisible boulder and flies through the air."  It was beautifully executed, perfectly timed.  Avery and I had to fight the urge to do a slow clap in admiration of his skills.  And what did our passing lady do?  She looked down at Ben, adjusted her direction, and walked around him.

Unbelievable.

Ben, not one to be deterred, decided to try it again.  As we approached Banana Republic, he noticed a sale sign standing outside the doors to the store and said "Catchy, I'm gonna go run into that Banana Republic sign."  So, again, he got ahead of us, pretended like he was looking at something on the other side of the mall, and ran into the sign.  Upon impact, he threw up his arms dramatically, kicked his feet up behind him, and sailed forward and to the ground.  Just then, a Banana Republic employee came out, looked at Ben, checked his sign for damage, pulled the sign inside the doors, and locked up the store.  Ben got up on one knee, threw his hands in the air, and said "SERIOUSLY??"

It was NOT a good night for finding small kindnesses!!

As the crowds started thinning out, we decided to plant ourselves outside the mall to see if we saw anything out there.  And, finally we had some luck!!  First, Avery saw a girl she deemed worthy of her card.  But I'll let Avery tell you herself . . .

From Avery (8 years old):
After about an hour, we walked outside because we weren't getting any action.  So we walked out there to see if we could see anyone opening doors.  So then, Ben, Catchy and I were just looking really hard and we still couldn't find anybody.  So then we walked inside.  We walked back upstairs and we looked in Dillard's and Macy's.  Then, we went back downstairs and we looked in Forever 21. Then we didn't have any luck at all, so were just kinda sitting in places looking everywhere and then on our way going back outside Ben was acting like he tripped.  And then Ben tripped the first time and then he did it again and he did it right in front of the store.  A worker came out and just moved the sign and didn't help Ben at all.  Then we walked outside and we kinda just were like looking around everywhere.  I saw this little girl about 7 or 8 and she opened the door for her mom and her mom had a stroller.  Then her mom walked off and her mom said, "come on!"  And then she said, "hold on."  Because she wanted to help somebody else with a stroller that she didn't know.  And I thought that was really nice of her to do that, so they were really fast and walking the opposite way. So, we had to run, run, run!  We caught up to her and told her what happened to my grandpa and gave her the envelope.  We asked her what her name was and it was Maggie.   We asked her to take a picture with me and she said, "sure!"  And so then Catchy took the picture.  And then we walked off and so did they and we saw them open the card and they had a surprised look on their faces because there was $20 inside!  And that is how we celebrated Grandpa's birthday.  The end.


After Avery gave her card away, we decided to stay in the same spot to see if we saw anyone else doing something nice.  As we were standing there, I saw my friend Ashley and her mom so I chatted with them for a second.  Naturally, based our luck thus far, I figured I had lots of time to chat with my friends.  But after just a minute or two, Ben spotted someone and we were off on our chase to give a card away . . .
   
From Ben (9 years old):
Avery just finished giving her envelope and I bet this is a big surprise to you, but Catchy saw a friend!! [can you HEAR the sarcasm, folks??] And so she was talking to her friend and I saw this guy that held open the door for a LOT of people!  And so we went up to him and he had 2 grown adult girls with him.  We told him the story and he looked pleased and then he walked off.  Oh!  His name was Rob!  We were waiting to see if Catchy would get anybody, because she hadn't found anybody to give her card to.  So while we were watching to see if Catchy found anybody who was doing anything nice, we saw Rob stop and read the card.  And one of the girls with him finished reading and turned around and put both hands on her heart and then opened her arms to us.  And then she waved and then the other girl and Rob waved, too.  Then they turned back around and then turned and waved again.  Then one more time after that.


So after Ben and Avery gave their cards away, it was time to meet up with everyone so that we could go to dinner and hear about everyone else's stories about the good things they had spotted at the mall.  I was a little bummed about not having been able to give my card away - that was a first for me.  I had almost given my card to a man who let me get off the elevator before him even though I was standing behind him.  But I had hesitated and then he was gone.  I was REALLY bummed at that point because I thought I had missed my opportunity.  But then, as we walked into our chosen restaurant for dinner, a man wearing an LSU shirt held open the door for my entire family.  Holding the door is in itself a nice thing.  And definitely something that reminds me of my dad because he was a gentleman through and through.  But when you hold the door for a huge family and risk them getting ahead of you on the waiting list at a restaurant, that's an even bigger thing.  Again, I hesitated for some reason.  But then he sat down on a bench with his wife on one side and my niece Avery on the other and he started joking with Avery.  That's when I decided to give him my card.  My dad loved all kids but ESPECIALLY his little pack of grandkids.  So when this man demonstrated two of my favorite qualities about my dad, I just KNEW I had to give him my card.  Even if he WAS an LSU fan . . .


Turns out his name is Chris and he was visiting from Louisiana.  So I was a little more forgiving of his attire.  He and his family were seated just behind us at the restaurant.  As they were getting ready to leave, Chris came over to talk to us again.  But you'll have to wait to hear about that . . .

Once we had placed our order for dinner, our favorite part of the evening began - the telling of all the stories.  I love how excited everyone gets for this part of the night, adults and kids alike.  So we went around the table and everyone got to tell about their chosen recipient.  There were imitations, dramatic reenactments, and even a gasp or two.  And I could recap everyone's stories in my own words for you but don't you think it would be more fun for them to tell you themselves?  That's what I thought, too.  

But first . . .

Brian, Brian, Brian.  AGAIN he forgot to send me his story.  Well, I take that back.  He sent me a text that said, "4-year-old Rachel opened the door for her mommy to push the stroller through."  But I know from hearing him tell us about his choice this year that she was the most precious little girl, that her mother said that she never meets a stranger, and that she showed that door who was boss - keeping it open so that her entire family could get through.  Here she is with her family:


Okay - now it's time to hear from the rest of the family . . .

From Tammy:
Really right away I zeroed in on a family out school shopping.  They had a set of grandparents with them and the Grandpa was handicapped by bowed legs & bad knees.....hobbling cheerfully with his cane.  I stalked them for almost the entire 2 hours!!  I just knew that old guy would gladly give up his seat on a bench, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Soooo I had TOTES wasted my time and now the mall was CLOSED!!  I made my way down near Dillard's where we were to meet up. Emma, Erin and I were debating whether we should "plant" an opportunity.  So that is exactly what I did! We saw two guys leaving FootLocker, so I loosely rested my phone in my pocket and turned my back to them.  I started walking towards and talking to Emma and Erin and let my phone fall out of my pocket.  Erin was facing them and she said right away they saw that I had dropped my phone and then one of them - Chris - called out "ma'am!" and picked up my phone.  He walked it over and handed it to me with a great smile.  I explained that we have been doing this every year since my dad died in 2006.  They were both very sweet.....Chris had a great Southern Gentility about him.  Thanks, Chris, for being a true Southern gentleman!!


From my mom:
My job is to roam the food court in search of a man who has taken off his hat while he eats. The reward that I carry in my envelope is higher than everyone else’s because men who don’t take off their hats while eating or upon entering someone’s home was one of Charlie’s pet peeves. Now, it wouldn’t be his BIGGEST pet peeve, mind you. That honor would go to me borrowing his razor.

But I digress . . .

I’ve been doing this for about 7 years now so I know how hard it will be to find and accost my hatless hero. I started out this year watching the lines of people in front of each eatery. When I spotted someone wearing a hat, I stalked ‘em until they started eating. I got so excited a couple of times because a guy would take off his hat but then just kind of run his fingers through his hair and back would go the hat. At some point I thought mall security was going to come and question me about why I kept walking around and around looking like I was checking out what people were eating. I get it. I do. Every time I would pass a table where guys were sitting I would kind of duck my head the tiniest bit so I could see if one of them had stowed a hat on his lap. Of course, when I saw there was no hat there, I would frown at their laps. I can’t be held responsible for how they interpreted that, right?

Just when I was about to give up I spotted this young man sitting with a cute little girl and a man. And there was the hat. I didn’t even have to duck my head. I was so happy. I sat down with them and promptly started to explain to the older man, thinking he might be the young man’s dad, why I was interrupting their little snack. After explaining everything I turned to the young man who told me that the older man - his uncle - didn’t speak English. I should have guessed that when he looked at me like I was a little crazy. But since I find that I get that reaction a lot it doesn’t always mean someone doesn’t understand English, just that they don’t understand Nora! The young man’s name is Anthony and he is 17. When I asked my usual question about why he wasn’t wearing his hat he said that his mother taught him to take it off but, anyway, he just likes it better off. Close enough! It made me happy and I just looked up and thought “well, Charlie, some moms are still teaching it. But I think it is going the way of calling cards, curtsies and the whole idea of women and children first. Love ya.”


From Savannah (10 years old):
So I was sitting down with Dearsie and we were looking one way, but I just decided I would turn my head the other way and see if anything was possibly going on.  And what do you know, I saw a wheelchair! So, I told Dearsie, "Dearsie, let's go follow that wheelchair and see if anyone does anything nice for them."  And so, we were walking, they stopped a few times and so Dearsie and I had to pretend we were looking at the booth closest to us. They finally started walking.  So, we walked for a little bit and then we noticed they were going to an elevator.  So, Dearsie and I decided that we were going to go in the elevator also.   The wheelchair wasn't really going into the elevator and we did not know what they were doing, so we were stuck and didn't know what to do.  We decided, well it would be awkward and obvious that we were following them if we just stood there with them, so we just decided that we would just get in.  We thought they were just going to find out.  And then we figured out that the person in the wheelchair had a wife and some kids and a few other adults with him.  So, there was this lady who held open the door of the elevator for Dearsie and me and then she just kept her arm there to see if that wheelchair was going to come in not knowing that they had family behind them.  And so, all of a sudden, she heard the guy in the wheelchair and the guy pushing the wheelchair say, "come on guys, run, run!"  Because they wanted to catch that elevator so they didn't have to wait.  The lady who was holding the door held the door open the whole entire time.  Most people wouldn't have the patience to do that and would just let the door close.  So, once everyone was in the elevator safe and sound, I whispered in Dearsie's ear, "when I get out of this elevator, I'm gonna give it to that lady."  So we got out of the elevator, and she was walking very quickly.  And so I had to kind of run and catch up to her. Then I told her about my Grandpa.  She said, "God bless you" and we walked away.  At first she said, "no, I won't take your money!"  But, then we said it was a tradition and so she has to take it even if she just passed it onto someone else. And that was who I gave my card to.


I'd like to say here that Savannah told us at dinner that she had forgotten to ask the lady's name but that she believed that the lady looked like a "Sue."  Ben disagreed and stated authoritatively that she looked like a "Pam."  But Avery insisted she looked like a "Barbara."  These are the kinds of vigorous debates we have in the Palmore family, friends.

Now, let's continue . . .

From Matt:
I saw a mother and her daughter get aggressively stopped by a kiosk employee so he could demonstrate his curling irons to them. The mom didn't seem too interested in stopping but the daughter really wanted to so the mom obliged. When the man was finished curling the little girls hair she was super excited.  She was begging her mom to buy the magical curling iron. I thought to myself that there was no chance this mom was going to dish out over $100 for the curling iron. I should have never doubted this woman, as she broke out her credit card and made her daughter's day. It reminded of me of Charlie because I have heard countless stories of how he would have done anything to make his girls happy.  I approached the woman and explained to her our tradition and gave her the card. She was very appreciative and very leary of me at the same time so I wasn't able to get a picture with her. By the way, if one of my daughters would have looked at me the way the girl looked at her mom, I would have bought them whatever they asked for...

Can't wait for September 1, 2014!

From Erin:
Sooooo, this was a tough year for me.  At the end of two hours at the mall, I had nuttin'.  Not even one that I wished I had used mine on.  I was getting really desperate because I didn't want to come up empty-handed and, more importantly, lose my turn telling my story at dinner.   So, we start walking out of the mall and I'm frantically looking for someone, ANYONE to do something nice or even just kinda nice.  I saw this couple walking in as we were heading out and they looked super cute.  They were a little older and the man just seemed to have this sweet little smile on his face and they seemed so happy and in love and I thought, HERE IT IS.  I watched and waited and sure enough, he grabbed the door for his wife and was starting to walk in, but then he saw some young girls coming up, so he stopped and backed up and let them go through too.  I swear I heard angels singing!  I was so excited! I walked right up to them and said, "excuse me sir, can I talk to you for a minute?"  He looked at me, looked at his wife and said...wait for it....wait for it...., "NO" and then he kept walking (insert record scratching noise over my angels singing here).  I was so taken aback, I had to look back at Catherine with a quick, "no he di-ent" face and she gave me an "oh yes he did face"!  I didn't even know what to do!  Just as I was about to yell, "ABORT! ABORT!!", I hear my guy say, "okay, go ahead".  I think it was just a case of mistaken identity?  Maybe he thought I was wanting to sell him and his wife one of the curling iron wands from Matt's kiosk?  Anyway, I start telling my story, but I was stumbling all over myself because I was a nervous wreck at this point and I'm pretty sure I had not one drop of spit left in my mouth.  Catherine, bless her,  jumped into help and as we told the story, they seemed to be taking it all in and appreciating what we were out there doing.  My warm and fuzzies were back in full effect and I was ready for my photo op (cue my angels again).  We asked them if they would mind taking a pictur-" NO.  NOT THAT.  We won't do that. Nope. "  I think I actually had to take a knee at that point, but it was all a bit of a blur, so I can't be sure.  Soooooo,  not my best outing, BUT I hope after they read the note, they realized that I wasn't some crazy lady trying to accost them or possibly blow their witness protection cover (What?  It's possible...Mickey Featherstone, was that you??  Donnie Brasco?  eh??  eh??).  Nope, I'm just a girl celebrating her daddy. 

And from Emma (12 years old):
Zip! Nada! Zilch! Goose Egg!  At the end of the night, despite her best efforts, Emma did not find anyone to give her card to.  [Side note: the next day (Labor Day), Emma saved a little three-year-old girl named Lily who had jumped in my mom's pool without her floaties on.  We were all sitting around the pool when Tammy saw Lily jump in.  Before any of the adults even had time to jump into action, Emma was flying into the pool.  She had seen the whole scene unfolding, as well, and was in the water about a half second after Lily.  So I think Emma should give HERSELF her card.  Can I get an Amen??]


As we were finishing up dinner, Chris (my card-recipient/LSU fan) came over to our table.  He had read his card, and even better, had pulled up my blog and read a little bit about our tradition and about my dad.  He had noticed in my "About Me" section that I am a lawyer and a Christian and he joked with me about THAT oxymoron.  He visited with us for a minute about our tradition and then went back to his table.  As his family was about to leave, he stopped by our table again and said "I'm so sorry to interrupt but I want to tell you that I'm a Christian, too.  I'm also a state trooper and a Baptist preacher.  And as I've been sitting over here, I've had a verse on my heart for you all and I just can't leave without sharing it with you.  It's 3 John 1:4: 'I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.'"

I honestly can't think of a better way to have wrapped up our special celebration.  What a gift to have had our paths crossed with his that night.  I'm so glad I didn't waste my card on the elevator guy . . . :)

So that's it.  That's our 2013 Charlie Palmore celebration.  It was tough to find people this year so my mom thinks that maybe we should mix it up and go out of town to do our birthday celebration next year.  She suggested "Satchmo" which, after a few minutes of some really talented deductions, my sister Erin figured out meant "Schlitterbahn," a water park in Galveston.  So, perhaps we'll have more luck next year in Satchmo or wherever we may find ourselves.  But, you know - even though we had a harder time finding folks this year, we still found some great ones.  And, as usual, we had our hearts touched in the process.

But, most importantly, we had an evening filled with memories and reminders of a wonderful man who was taken from us far too soon.  A man we miss every day and whose love for us somehow continues to surround us even seven years after he went Home.  A man worthy of celebration.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The art of . . . art.

A few months ago, an artist friend of mine invited me to an art show in which one of her pieces was going to be on display.  It was really a big deal because the show was showcasing pieces from the rising artists in Texas.  So, understandably, she was SUPER excited that her piece had been chosen.  And I was honored to be invited.  I asked if my mom and sisters wanted to go but my mom was the only one who was able to.  So I got dressed in my best I'm-going-to-an-art-show-and-I-don't-really-know-how-to-dress-for-it" attire, picked up my mom, and headed downtown for the art show.

You know, I never go to art shows.  They're just not on my list of activities that I enjoy.  I think the main reason is that I'm just not deep enough.  I mean, people who enjoy art shows can stand around and stare at a painting for hours, analyzing and re-analyzing, discussing minute details, and hypothesizing about the artist's intent and relationship with his mother.  I walk up to the painting, say "Oh! Cute dog!" and then walk on to the next.

Art show people would roll their eyes at me.

As I walked into my friend's art show, I took a deep breath and hoped that I would "get it."  That I would see a painting and be able to say something like "Isn't it amazing how the artist captures the essence of truth here?"  You know - so that I would fit in.

Instead, I walked in and saw this:



I thought for a second that someone had hung a couple of over-sized paint chips up on the wall to help them determine if the room should be painted pink or blue. Perhaps the gallery was going to be turned into a nursery.  I thought it an odd time for a remodel, what with the art show going on and all.  But then I noticed three people standing in front of these paintings, tilting their heads to the right and then to the left, and discussing the paintings in detail.  I got behind them and tilted my head to the right, thinking that maybe the painting would make sense to me if all the blood rushed to one side of my head.  No such luck.  So I just nodded along with what the others were saying and mumbled something art-showesque like "I've never seen breath captured on canvas quite so exquisitely."  Then I moved on to the next one, hoping I'd have better luck.


Excuse me.  Are those t-shirt and jeans tags turned inside out and glued onto black construction paper?  That's what I thought.  That.  Is what.  I. Thought.  I don't . . . can someone . . . is it just me or . . . I'll just move on.  Show me something deep, people.  Show me something deep.
  

Bathroom keys?  Okaaaaaaaaay.  I can do this.  I can do this.  [pop fingers, roll neck, get game face on] Okay.  [Ahem]  This is clearly a manifestation of the artist's desire to . . . ummmm . . . portray the gender roles . . . ummmm . . . in an ironic yet . . . ummmm . . . egalitarian manner and it is . . . ummmm . . . a statement on the current political . . . ummmm . . . I suddenly have to pee. 

Some paintings are kind of cool to look at but I don't really get the names of them.  For instance, this really cool-looking one was called something like "Richard Nixon Abroad."


I get the "Richard Nixon" part but not the "abroad" part.  Just kidding - I don't get either part.  I just didn't want the art show people to roll their eyes at me.

Then there was this one.


 I really liked the colors and the patterns created by the strokes.  But it was called something like "Travels through China" and I didn't get it.  I studied it closely to try to figure out why the artist called it that.  But I just got a headache.  And a hankering for Kung Pao Chicken.

Weird.

Despite my confusion over some of the pieces, there was some really cool art in that gallery.  I discovered that I like "mixed media" pieces - paintings that combine different art media like ink, paint, and collage.  My friend's painting was a mixed media painting and it was really interesting - interesting in a good way.  And I discovered that night in that gallery that I enjoy an art show - it's a fun way to spend an evening.

On our way out, I saw a collection of trash that people had left on a block.


And I thought for a moment that I should stand by it and say that it was my entry into the art show.  And tell everyone that it's called "Frisbee in the Park."

I'll get this art thing yet . . .

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rolling with the punches

I remember a time in my life when I thought that I wasn't athletic.  This belief was no doubt fueled by my complete inability to climb the tree in our front yard.  It had a low limb and all the other kids could jump up and grab it, wrap their legs around it, and then swing themselves up onto the limb.  Me?  I brought a kitchen chair out and cheated.  I'm just not much of a climber, you see.

Then there was the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school.  This annual week of P.E. hell was the source of many a nightmare for me.  You could just SAY the words "chin-up" to me and I would break out into a cold sweat.  I daresay that the bar exam was a lesser cause of consternation for me.  I wanted so badly to ace that dang fitness test and make President Reagan proud but, alas, the chin-up always got me.  They would tell me to do as many as I could and I would just hang there, grunting awkwardly and kicking my feet as if they could somehow propel me upward.  Then they would give me a lift to see if I could do it if I had a little help getting started.  Not so much.  Finally, they would give me a chair, let me get into "chin-up" position and see if I could just hold it.  It was remedial Presidential Fitness and I still couldn't do it.  As soon as they took the chair away, my arms would shake and then straighten and I'd be hanging there again, bringing shame upon the President.  I'm just not much of a chin-upper, I guess.

But then I started playing sports.  I found softball and discovered that, when a sport didn't involve climbing or chin-upping, I was pretty good at it.  I mean, I don't want to brag but I WAS the MVP for the Green Goddesses in 6th grade and still have the trophy to prove it.  So when I say "pretty good" I, of course mean, amazing.  Softball led to volleyball and then basketball and I was decent at those - I was an average player on the 7th grade B teams so, you know, I was sort of a big deal as you can imagine.  ANYWAY, I finally discovered tennis and that was my real love.  I loved being out on the court and I was actually good at it.  I played on the JV and Varsity teams in high school and finally realized that the chin-up bar and that dang tree limb had psyched me out - I actually WAS athletic. And I've gone on thinking of myself as an athlete ever since then.

Theeeeeeeen I joined a boxing club.

Stop laughing.

See, my sister Tammy and my friend Jo Ann each independently decided to buy a groupon for a boxing club in our town.  Jo Ann asked me to buy the groupon and do it with her so I did.  We went to a few classes and I liked it so I decided to sign up and join the club.  Partly because I liked it and partly because I'm apparently a gutless follower who does whatever Tammy and Jo Ann do.  

So let me explain how this class works.  You have your hands wrapped and then you take your gloves to a bag in a room full of hanging boxing bags that looks like this:


Then, before you put your gloves on, there is a 15 minute warm-up that you have to do.  This usually consists of things like squats, running, jumping jacks, high knees, and other exercises that leave me panting like a 400-pound man.  I frequently have to take a break or two during the warm-up and I try to do it discretely so as not to bring shame upon the President or anybody else.  Unfortunately, my 9-year-old nephew Ben has a drill sergeant living inside him that comes out when I take breaks.  I'll do a few jumping jacks and lean down to get a drink of water and I'll hear "Caaaaaaaaaaatchyyyyyyyyy!  You're already stoppiiiiiiiiing???"  And that continues throughout the class.  After we put on our gloves and start doing punch and kick combinations, my nephew keeps a close eye on me.  If I decide to take a breather during one of the combinations, I'll hear "Caaaaaaatchyyyyyy!  He didn't say stop yet."  There's no hiding from him.

There's also no looking "put together" and that's a problem for me.  You see, tennis is a sport where you can play a great, hard-won game and look graceful the whole time.  That's impossible for me with boxing - I just cannot box and look good at the same time.  My hair inevitably gets in my face while I'm punching and, because I'm sweating, it sticks to my forehead and hangs in front of my eyes.  So I find myself pawing at my face with my boxing glove, trying to get it out of my eyes and tucked back behind my ear.  But I can never get the hair to cooperate so I just keep pawing, looking like a cat cleaning itself.  It's super cute.  And when it's all said and done, I still have strings of sweaty hair stuck to my face.  Plus, I'm throwing punches and every ounce of fat on me is jiggling - and I mean EVERY ounce.  It takes a good 30 seconds to stop shaking when I stop punching.  It's awesome - a real confidence-booster.  I look around hoping that there aren't any potential suitors in there.  And, if there are, I try to keep my distance, lest they be knocked out cold from a post-right-hook backlash of my upper-arm flab.  

My proudest moment to date, though, came during a class I attended with Jo Ann.  I was really in a groove on my punching and had worked up a good sweat.  I was out of breath so I decided to take a quick breather.  Since Ben wasn't around, I figured I'd be able to do it discretely.  As I caught my breath, I took a few steps back from the bag to admire my handiwork - did I actually see a dent in the bag from my mad boxing skillz?  As I was about to pat myself on the back, my heel caught the bottom of the bag behind me as I was stepping back and I fell.  Not a cute little graceful fall - this was an arms-flying-up, hair-flying-up kind of fall.  I jumped up as quickly as one can when one temporarily has clubs for hands and hoped no one noticed.  Aaaaaaand then I began trying to paw the hair out of my face.

But, despite my utter and complete lack of talent or grace when it comes to boxing, I am enjoying the classes and am getting a great workout.  So I will keep going, will keep getting called out by my nephew, and will keep pawing the hair out of my face in vain. I may leave there feeling like I'm all thumbs but at least I leave there feeling like I got a good workout.

And I always have my 6th grade MVP trophy to comfort me when I get home.