September 1st is a special day. "Why is it so special, Catherine?" you ask. Well, I'll tell you . . .
Today is my daddy's birthday. And he would have been 66 years old.
As most of you know, my dad died four years ago. He was such an amazing man - if you never met him, I wish that you had been able to. He was funny, quick-witted, intelligent, kind, selfless, and a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. We miss him more than I could possibly express. I know that's such a cliche but it's so true - there's just not a word in the English language that's deep enough or sad enough to fully capture what it was like to lose him. He was such an important person to all of us and there isn't a day that goes by that we don't think about him, miss him, and wish with all of our mights that he could be here with us.
After he died, we came up with the idea of celebrating his birthday in a way that would really honor his memory - something that would be really special. So on that first birthday after his death, we went up to the mall and found people who did something nice like open the door for someone, let someone go ahead of him, or pick something up that someone had dropped . . . you know, the kinds of things my dad always did. When we found these good Samaritans, we told them about how special my dad was and how their actions had reminded us of him and then we gave them a $20 bill, just as a little treat to reward them.
And so a tradition was born . . .
We've continued to celebrate my dad's birthday that way but our process has evolved a little since then. Now we each write a little note in a card and explain what we're doing and why we're doing it. After we write the little note, we put a $20 bill inside the envelope and seal it up. Then we head to the mall to begin our search for the lucky recipients of our cards! When we get there, we split up so that we can divide and conquer. Then, after we have all given out our cards, we head over to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner and to tell each other the story of how we gave our cards away. And that's an important rule for the evening: we are not allowed to tell each other our stories until we are all together at dinner . . . because hearing the stories is the best part!!
So that's how we celebrated my dad's birthday tonight. We wrote out our cards with a little note that said: "My dad died in 2006 after being diagnosed with cancer. He was a great man who was always putting the needs of others before his own. He was the most thoughtful and considerate person I've ever known. Today is his birthday so we are celebrating it by looking for people who remind of us him by the way they interact with those around them. I saw you do something thoughtful or considerate and it reminded me of my dad so I wanted to give you this little reward for being special. Thanks for being a part of my dad's birthday celebration!" Then we put our $20 in and headed up to the mall to begin our search for the worthy recipients of our cards.
When we got to the mall tonight, we split up as usual. The kids all wanted to come with me because 1) I'm their favorite aunt, 2) I'm freakin' awesome, and 3) I don't say "no" when we walk past the cookie kiosk. So the kids and I walked around the mall looking for a person worthy of our reward. About 5 minutes into our search, we walked past a Build-A-Bear store and Avery, with an air of forced nonchalance, says "Catchy, we should go check to see if there's anybody nice in that store." She tried to say "that store" very casually, like it was just any old boring store and she'd really rather do ANYTHING else but go browse around "that store." But I had her number. Oh yes - I had her number.
I quickly realized that the kids and I weren't on the same page when it came to the specific characteristics we were looking for. I tried to explain that we were looking for people who were being thoughtful and considerate - the way that Grandpa always was. But Ben just wanted to give his card to every person he saw being "lovey." So every couple he saw made him shout things like "Catchy! They're holding hands! Let's give them a card!" or "Oh my gosh! Look! They're being lovey! Let's give them a card!" And Avery wanted to give one to the guys at the massage kiosk every time we passed them because, as she said: "They are sooooooo nice - they are just giving EVERYONE massages." I didn't have the heart to tell her that they were being paid for their services. Then, after I had steered Avery away from the massage kiosk, Emma tried to nonchalantly suggest that we look for worthy recipients in the pet store.
I'm telling you - these kids are sneaky . . .
After we had walked around the mall a few times, we walked over to Barnes and Noble, which is in this outdoor shopping area that's part of the mall area. As we were walking into Barnes and Noble, a lady in front of us held the door open for the kids. Immediately, Emma turned to Savannah and said "Should we give her our card?" Savannah quickly agreed so they gave their card to the lady who had opened the door. Emma explained that we were celebrating her grandpa's birthday by looking for people who do nice things. The lady (Ruth) was so touched that she gave Emma a kiss on her forehead. We left Barnes and Noble and that's when I realized that we hadn't gotten a picture of Ruth. So we rushed back to Barnes and Noble and the kids began to search for her like they were little detectives, saying things like: "She won't be in the kids section - she'll be in the adult section. Because she's an adult." or "That's one of the friends she was with so she must be around here somewhere." They found her pretty quickly and, by this time, she and her daughter (LaShanda)had read the card and were so touched by what we were doing. Ruth took the time to tell us that she had recently lost her own mother and that her mother's birthday is next week so the sentiment in our card was really touching to her. She and LaShanda were so sweet and chatted with us for a while. Here's a part of our conversation:
Ruth: You just have no idea how much this means to me.
Me: Well, thank you so much. I'm so glad.
LaShanda: We almost weren't even here!
LaShanda: We're new to the area and we got a little turned around so we almost just went home a little while ago. But for some reason we just decided to come in here.
Ruth: It was Jesus, that's what it was.
Me: Oh my goodness - well, I'm so glad that y'all DID!
Ruth: So am I.
Me: [caught up in the sweetness of the moment]
Ruth: I was having a very hard day. And you have brightened my day with this.
Me: Well, thank you so much. That really means a lot. We were glad to find you! Right guys? [I wonder what these kids are thinking right now? This must be pretty cool for them to have this kind of conversation with this nice lady. Such a neat experience for them . . .]
Savannah: Yeah. We were like "We need to hurry up and get this DONE so that we can go EAT."
Me: [Oooooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaaay . . . Not the sentiment I was shooting for but-]
Ben: Yeah - my cousin Avery [taps Avery on the shoulder] - she saw a teenager open the door for us and she wouldn't even give her her card! We were so mad because we just want to go EAT!!
Me: [Wow. This is just . . . awesome . . . pure awesomeness.] Okay! Well, we better run!!
But then, on our way out of Barnes and Noble, Savannah said to me: "Catchy, she said that we brightened her day. But you know what? She brightened MY day - she was really nice." And she really was! Here she is with Emma, Avery, Savannah, and Ben:
As we started to head back to the indoor part of the mall, Avery decided to address the accusations that Ben had laid at her feet. You know - about not giving her card to a teenager who had opened the door for them. Apparently, she didn't like the implication that she had been too picky. So she took my hand and said "Catchy, know why I didn't give that girl my card when she held the door open for us? It's because she was not a big 'dult [that's "adult" to you and me, folks] so she doesn't need so much money. Cuz what is she even gonna buy with so much money??"
Oh . . . to go back to the days when $20 was more money than you could imagine spending . . .
When we were back in the mall, we ran into Erin who still hadn't found a person to give her card to. So Savannah and Emma decided to go help Erin with her quest and Ben and Avery stayed with me. We looked everywhere and just had no luck. Finally, we saw a huge, tatted-up man holding the door open for an older man. The kids decided that they wanted to give him their card so they ran over to him and handed them their card. Tammy was with us by that point so she helped explain what we were doing and what the card was for. The man told us his name was David and he took a picture with the kiddos:
Just as I was putting my camera up, I noticed a young couple coming through the doors of the mall and heading to the plaza where we were standing. The husband (Tray) was pushing a stroller and, as he was pushing his stroller out one door, a young lady was pushing her stroller in through the door right next to him. Her stroller got caught in the little hump in the door jamb so Tray leaned around his stroller and helped the other lady out by pulling her stroller over the hump. I thought that was so nice of him. I mean, he had his own stroller to deal with and he could have just kept going but he went out of his way to help another person. Plus, my dad was always the epitome of a Texas gentleman and I liked that Tray was being a gentleman - it felt like the perfect reason to give him a card in honor of my dad. So I stopped him and gave him the card and told him about my dad. He and his wife Carolyn were so sweet and told us that they were going to read their card over dinner tonight:
After I had handed out my card, it was time for us to all head to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner. My Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mary had sent us a BUNCH of gift cards for us to use for our celebration dinner so Erin and I decided it was a good night to order the steak. You know - since Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mary were treating and all . . . :) After we got our orders in, we began the story-telling. The kids went first, telling every detail about their adventures in the mall, the people they had met, and their near-starvation. Avery and Ben told us all about David, and Avery even made sure that every knew how tall David was:
And then Emma and Savannah gave an animated account of trying to track down our friend in Barnes and Noble so that we could get her picture:
And after the kids were finished, the rest of us shared our stories . . .
After walking the mall a couple of times I decided to plant myself at one of the escalators thinking that could provide some nice opportunities for courtesy or chivalry. There were definitely opportunities but no takers! Then I watched as a young couple headed towards the escalator and I saw the guy step aside and wave the girl forward. For a second I thought that was nice but I should hold out for something more notable. But then I saw that the girl did not get on the escalator. It all happened very quickly, but I saw her look down at the escalator and hesitate for a nano-second and recognized myself in her.....an irrational yet firm "fear" of getting on an escalator!! As she was doing that dance of which foot to lead with, her beau stepped on the escalator backwards so he could face her and maintain eye contact with her in order to relieve her nerves.... I thought it was very touching. As they arrived on the second floor I went over to her and asked her why she had hesitated and she confirmed my thoughts that she has a hang up with escalators. Then I asked him why he had gone up the escalator facing her and he confirmed that he rode backwards to help her because he knew she was nervous. They were very sweet when I explained what it was I was doing.....I was glad I got to share with them!!
Ok, so I actually found two people who deserved a card. The first one was best, so I will save it for last! My second one happened after I gave up walking the mall after roughly 306 laps. I had Emma and Savannah with me and I asked them if we could sit for a bit so I could rest my knee cause I'm gettin' the olds real bad. Then, we see Dearsie and Tammy and we flag them down and see how their doing. I explained to them that I couldn't find anyone to give my card too and that I was just taking a quick break. That's when Tammy, who apparently sees the desperation in my eyes, takes matters into her own hand. In one swift movement, she hikes her purse up on her shoulder and with ninja like movements she reaches in and tosses her iPhone out of her purse and onto the mall floor!! We all look down and then look up to tell her, but she is giving us that evil eye that's telling us to shut our pieholes. So we all are really quiet (and slightly terrified) and we wait. Sure enough, a young 20-something girl had seen it and stopped dead in her tracks to see if we were going to pick it up. She hesitates for a minute because I'm sure she is wondering how we didn't hear the thing slamming into the ground and probably because we are all suspiciously still and avoiding eye contact with each other. Then she walks over and taps Tammy on the shoulder and tells her she dropped something. It was so fun being part of a set up!!! We told her right away that it was a set up and she passed the test. It was really cute and I was explaining to her what we were doing. Then I gave her the card and was in the middle of telling her that it held a note explaining in more detail about what we are doing, when Savannah cut in and shouted, "yea, there's 20 bucks in that thang!" So thank you to Nikki for stopping and passing our test!
BUT . . . my first find was really fun! Every year my mom's job is to find a man that takes his hat off in the food court or the restaurant while he eats. We have found someone only once and it earned him 50 bucks! We have never been able to find anyone since, so my mom keeps the reward at 50 because it's so hard to find someone who does it . . . so they are extra special when we do. Anyway, I'm walking and I see a cowboy. And I don't just mean someone wearing one of those fashion cowboy hats (nudge nudge wink wink). This guy is the real deal...ironed crease in the jeans, handlebar mustache, I mean ever-thang. So naturally, I decide to stalk him. I follow him everywhere. I mean, a cowboy has to eat right? FINALLY, he heads over to the food court and I say to myself, "ba BOOOOOOOM" cause I know it's coming. I know he is gonna do it. He goes and waits in line at Wendy's of all places. It's the only place with a line. Of course. I mean, even Chick-Fil-A was empty. My pits are sweating in anticipation, but I manage to find a small hidden table to sit and stare....and wait. And wait. I suddenly feel like I'm being watched and I can sense someone way too close to me, so I look up and see my brother-in-law, Brian, standing by the trash can watching the same guy. Huh uh. Nope. This was MY GUY. I have a restraining order to prove it! So we joke (I mostly pretend to joke that this is my find) and laugh and watch as cowboy goes and sits down and.........DOESN'T take his dang hat off!!! We were sooo disappointed. So, Brian turns to go his way and I turn to go mine and I take one last look at my massive let down, and I see a bald head!!! I literally - yes . . . literally, Catherine - start jumping up and down clapping and run after Brian to come see!! We call my mom to bring her envelope and she and Tammy sprint to the food court and that's where my story ends and my mom's begins!!
From my mom:
My job is always the food court. Every time Charlie and I would sit in the food court he would shake his head and wonder why parents don't teach their sons to take their hats off when they sit down to eat. So my job every year is to find some man in the food court who has taken his hat off. There were slim pickins this year when I first got there. I made the rounds several times before deciding that I would join forces with Tammy to see if I could help her find someone for hers. So I met up with her and we walked around the mall looking for the perfect recipient.
Brian's story, as told by my mom . . .
Brian wanted me to be his "spotter" - he wanted to walk ahead of someone and "accidentally" drop a credit card to see if someone would return it. I guess if they didn't, I was supposed to tackle and cuff 'em. He picked this couple walking toward an exit and started walking in front of them and almost immediately dropped his credit card. As soon as Brian dropped his card, the woman starting calling after him "Sir, Sir, you dropped your credit card." As Brian turned around and started walking back the woman tried to explain that she would have picked it up but couldn't bend. At that point I joined the party while Brian explained about the envelope he was handing them. The woman (Cathy) started to cry. We were both about to panic because we never made anyone cry before! But through her tears she started to explain that she was a home pediatric aid and that she takes care of a little 13 year old boy who can't walk. She said that just that day his mother had been thanking her and telling her how good Cathy was to her son and how devoted she was to making him comfortable and keeping him happy. The boy's mother told her that she hoped Cathy would get a blessing that day for all her good works. At this point, she was very close to sobbing. (I was close to sobbing too because there was only 20 bucks in the dang envelope and I suddenly wished there were more!!) As we stood there listening about what the mom had said to her, Cathy explained that it meant a lot to her because the little boy's birthday was in a couple of days and now she would have something to give him. At that point, I reached into my purse and gave her my other envelope and told her to give it to the little boy on his birthday. (I always have two envelopes: one regular one and the "special one" in case I can find some hatless guy at the food court.) Boy, we certainly had no idea when Brian hatched that plan what a touching, beautiful story we were going to hear. You could tell that she loved that kid even though it was her "job". He must be a sweet child to engender that kind of devotion. Good find Brian!
Note to self: get Mom photography lessons . . .
I want to say here that my brother-in-law Matt (Erin's husband) LOVES this tradition and looks forward to it every year. But he came down with a stomach bug this afternoon and, while we were walking around the mall and yukking it up at Cheesecake Factory, Matt was home puking his guts up. Poor guy. So when he feels better, we are going to go to the mall with him to let him find his recipients and then we'll go to dinner with him so we can hear HIS story.
So that's it! That's how we spent the evening celebrating my daddy. It was a lot of fun and we had a great time honoring his memory. I hope that my dad is proud of the way we have chosen to help his memory live on. I know I'm proud to have a dad whose memory is worth celebrating . . .
Happy birthday, Dad!!!