Thursday, September 3, 2009

Celebrating Charlie: Part Two

So I told you yesterday about how my family and I celebrate my dad's birthday by walking around the mall or some other public place searching for people who do nice things for others and giving them a card with a little explanation and a $20 bill. It's just meant to be a little treat money and a way to help my dad's memory live on. See, he was the kind of guy who would everyday do those little courtesies that seem to be quickly becoming relics of the past, like opening the door for strangers or letting people go before him on the escalator or in line. Just little things that no one really does anymore.

We started at the mall but the only ones who were lucky enough to find someone worthy of the reward were my mom and my brother-in-law Matt. Here are their reports:

From Matt:

I must first start by saying this was by far the best birthday celebration for Charlie we have had over the last three years. There were crying waiters, Mexican lawyers, and a whole lot in between. My card went to a young fellow working at the trampoline/bungee thing in the mall. I spotted a young girl with her mother asking if she could jump on the trampoline for her birthday. I overheard the mother telling her disappointed child that they could not afford it. The teenage employee said he would let the little birthday girl jump for free. Not only did he let her jump for free, he let her jump for probably 15 minutes. After the girl and her mother left the trampoline area, I approached the young man and applauded his actions. He was terrified at first, but after I explained my situation, he gladly accepted his prize.

From my mom:
I started my search as I do every year . . . at the food court looking for the rarest of creatures: a young man who takes off his hat while eating. I noticed a young man with a tray trying to find a trash receptacle. He turned one way - no luck. He turned the other way - still no luck. (Right about now, I would have been plunking that tray down on the nearest flat surface. Of course, that would mean that I would have to go to back to my table to collect what I had left there first . . .) He kind of shrugged and started walking around until he finally found a can and tossed his trash. No doubt about it, he was getting my card.

My sister Kathy gets on to me all the time because I don't think I need to clean up after myself when eating at McDonald's. I can do that at home . . . I don't, but I could. So this guy's determination to find a receptacle impressed me, oh me of the That's-Why-I-Eat-Out-School-of-Waste-Management. I walked up to him, handed him the card, and said "you're getting this card because you have done something most people wouldn't have bothered to do." As he walked away, I saw him open and read the card. Erin and I saw him a few minutes later as he was about to go down the escalator and he was on his cell phone telling someone about what had happened. When he saw me, he smiled and waved and said "This is great! I'm telling my friend!" So Erin jumped on the escalator and went after him and, in a minute, they were coming back up the escalator to take a picture with me. Obviously, it isn't the money that makes these people smile - it is the recognition that what seems ordinary to them is actually unusual and special. I thought "Boy - this is so much fun!" . . . as I set my empty Coke cup down on the nearest table and went to find my family.

Although the rest of us were searching high and low for someone special, we hadn't found anyone. So we decided to go on to the Cheesecake Factory to see if we would have better luck over there. As we were approaching the double doors that would take us outside, my brother-in-law Brian spotted a young man opening the door for a family. He ran after him and stopped him out in the plaza outside the double doors. The young man looked terrified at first because he didn't know why this man was chasing after him. Brian took the opportunity to assuage his fears by accusing him of shoplifting. When the guy looked like he might punch Brian, he told him he was joking and then told the guy what we were doing and why he wanted to give his card to him. The guy was really sweet about it and told us that his grandfather had raised him and had taught him well. And we agree - good job, Grandpa!

When we finished with that young man, we continued our walk over to Cheesecake Factory. On our way there, Tammy decided to duck into Barnes & Noble to get some books for the kiddos to use in their homeschooling. The kids and I were about to cross the little road between Barnes & Noble and PF Chang's - you know, the one where the valet guys stand? We looked to our right and saw an Escalade stopping for us to allow us to cross. The kids were THIS close to stepping off the curb when we looked to our left and saw another car coming that appeared to have no intention of stopping. The soccer mom in me came out and I threw my arm out to stop/clothesline the kids and yelled at them to make sure that they didn't step off the curb. Sure enough, this car just blew past us without so much as a wave. I glared at him and gave him the biggest insult we can give on September 1st: I said "He does NOT get our card, does he guys?" The kids agreed heartily.

Meanwhile, the man in the Escalade was still stopped for us. He was smiling at us and waving at us to indicate that we could cross in front of him. I was impressed by two things. First, once he saw that we couldn't cross the street until the other car passed, he could have driven on and no one would have thought any less of him. But he didn't. He was still waiting for us. Second, he was so friendly about it - you could see his big smile through the windshield. I asked the kids if we should give him our card and they agreed so we walked over to his window. At first, he looked confused as to why we were walking over to him but he was at all times the friendliest man.

When we started talking to him, he said that he only spoke a little bit of English so I was able to speak Spanish to him. His name was Enrique and I explained what the card was and why he was getting it. He was very nice and told me he was very interested about what we were doing. We wished him a good night and went on to the Cheesecake Factory.

Once we were there, Erin found her deserving person. Here is her report . . .

From Erin: we went in to Cheesecake Factory and all of a sudden Emma gets really giddy and runs up to me and says, "Auntie Erin, JACOB IS BEHIND YOU!". I was soo excited myself because I assumed she meant the werewolf Jacob. I mean, there any other Jacob. I figured if Jacob was behind me, a Cullen must be near by. ANYWAY, wasn't werewolf Jacob. It was a waiter that they had had the last time they were there and from the looks of it, Emma thought he was the best waiter ever. When we walked outside to our table, they had set up an Adult skate table and a kid skate table. All of us got situated and the adults start talking about our night when we heard the kids erupt in laughter and sheer joy behind us. We all looked and there was human Jacob just hanging with the kiddos and making them laugh. He was kneeling down on their level and just being really sweet to them. And he wasn't even our waiter for the night! So OF COURSE we thought that he most definitely deserved the card. My Dad always had time for kids and was never afraid to get down on their level and just have a conversation with them or tell them a funny story or have a fake bear fake tee tee on their hands - which is another story for another time. I miss my Dad so much, so it's nice to see little reminders of him in people like Jacob.

Tammy got back from Barnes & Noble and told us that she had found a lady at Barnes & Noble who had gone above and beyond for her just now. She hadn't given her her card and was regretting that she hadn't. So, after we placed our order, she and I walked back over there and tried to track her down. We didn't see her anywhere, so we had to ask around. One lady said it sounded like we were talking about Wanda and she described Wanda as a buxom lady. For some reason, I found myself feeling competitive. Is that weird?

ANYWAY, here is Tammy's report:
A month or so ago I went to B&N with my friend Jamie. When we went to pay for our books, we both took out our discount cards but Jamie's was an Educator's discount, which means that she gets 20% off instead of the usual 10. I asked for one of those since I, too, was a homeschooler. The cashier said I needed special ID to qualify and apply so I couldn't get one.

Tonight, when I went in B&N, the cashier asked if I was a teacher & I said that I was a homeschooler. She (Wanda) said that was "teaching to me," and gave me the special application so that I could get the discount. She even had me fill it out right then and there, even though the line behind me was HUGE and she had been called up there for emergency back-up at the register. After I had finished filling it out, she gave me the Educator's discount card right then and there! I was so impressed that she took extra time for me even though there was a very long line behind me and extended a courtesy to me that the other lady wouldn't. When I went back to give her my card, she got a little teary & told me about losing her sister and Dad to cancer. She was very appreciative!

We were glad that we had all found someone special to give our cards to and we were sitting around the table sharing our stories one by one. As we were talking, I looked up and saw Enrique (the guy I had given my card to) standing about two feet away from our table with a young lady, talking to a manager. He glanced over at our table and I caught his eye and waved at him. He pointed at me and exclaimed something and then waved the manager off. He and the girl (who turned out to be his daughter) came over to our table to tell us that, after we had left his car, he had given the card to his daughter and had her read it to him. He was so touched that he parked his car and then spent the next thirty minutes walking all over the area looking for us to tell us how touched he was. He told us how special it was to him and that he was going to put the card and the $20 bill in a frame and hang it on his wall in his office so that he would always remember us and this night. Turns out that he is a lawyer in Mexico and has a house in The Woodlands and that, when he gets back from a month-long trip he's taking back home, he wants to have us over to his house because this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And then he told us that this moment and this night were very special for him now and that our dad was very happy tonight.

Wasn't that so sweet?? I was so touched that HE was so touched and that he spent so much time looking for us. It was the perfect ending to our card-giving adventure!!

Enrique: Mucho gusto de conocerle! Espero que tengamos una amistad muy larga!!

Our waiter for the evening was named James and he was a very nice guy who was very touched by the whole thing. He kept telling us that he was on the verge of crying because of what we were doing to honor my dad. Apparently, he even called his pastor at some point in the evening and they prayed for us. Isn't that cool? Here is James . . .

But I think my favorite part of the evening (except for Enrique) has to be this:

When I was inside taking the picture of Jacob and the kids, Emma did the splits in front of the cheesecake case at the front of the store. Before I knew it, one of the managers was down on the floor with Emma, showing off HIS gymnastic skills!!!
HILARIOUS!! I laughed so hard I was afraid that my picture wouldn't turn out because I couldn't hold my phone steady!! What a great sport and what a PERFECT way to end the night! It was the cherry on top of a VERY special day.

So that's it - that's the story of our celebration of the most wonderful husband, dad, father-in-law, and grandfather EVER!!

So remember to be at the mall opening doors for people next September 1st! :)


Emma said...

AWESOME! You did a great job retelling it all!! Thanks, Catch!


Unknown said...

Such great stories! I think Nora's might have been my favorite in the retelling (although Erin getting excited about Warewolf Jacob was pretty classic!).

Unknown said...

Good day Catchy, good day! ALWAYS glad to hear about this special day from you!

Anonymous said...

I don't cry much, Big Fish, Brian Song and when the little Vietnamise boy was looking for PEEtersaaahn at the end of The Green Berets, but I laughed a lot (two words Nora, envelople worthy?) and cried a little reading those stories.
P.S. Isn't a "round-off" really just a failed cart-wheel?

Phyllis Eddings said...

Tears welling up in my eyes as I read this at work. There should have been a warning label.

kbjohnso said...

Sweet Catherine, I loved your stories about celebrating your dad! Thanks for sharing. What a wonderful tribute you and your family give to remember this great man. My dad is 95 and in a nursing home in Indiana. he is a gentle man, like your daddy. I visit him every other month and talk to him every day. he has dimentia, and today was difficult. Your stories made me laugh and cry.

Tracy said...

what an awesome way to remember Charlie!

Christi said...

I'm in my office right now- totally bawling... that is the sweetest thing I have ever heard! What a way to honor him! Oh how I wish I had known this awesome man. I feel so blessed to just know OF him through you all. Thanks for sharing.