Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Happy birthday, Daddy!!

Saturday was my dad's birthday.  September 1st . . . he would have been 68 years old.  Every year it comes around and every year I can't believe he's gone.  It just doesn't seem possible. 

Sometimes I like to imagine what his birthday would be like if he were still here.  I probably would buy him yet another book about the Civil War and he would say "oooooh!!" and talk about how interesting it looks.  I would give him a funny card that I hoped would make him laugh.  And he would laugh at it - even if he didn't think it was funny.  My sisters' kids would each make him a card and he would go on and on about them, making them each feel so proud and special.  They would probably all fight over who got to sit by him rather than fighting over who got to sit by me.  But I wouldn't mind . . . well, maybe a little bit.  And we would all sit around the dining room table at my parents' house, singing happy birthday and celebrating the greatest dad who ever lived.

But, unfortunately, that can no longer be.

See, my dad died of cancer about a month before his 62nd birthday.  As September 1st approached that year, we were dreading it because we thought it would be just too sad.  But my mom had a great idea: she proposed that we each take a $20 bill up to the mall, look for people who were doing nice things, and give them the $20 as a reward.  So that's what we did - and we had a blast!  In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to make a tradition out of it.  Now each year, we write a message about my dad in a card, put a $20 bill in it, and then go looking for people who do the kinds of things my dad always did for us and others.  You know - things like opening the door for others or letting others go first on the escalator . . . little things that make a difference in someone's day.  We have such a fun time telling people about my dad and rewarding them that September 1st has become one of our favorite days of the year, rather than a sad day that we dread.     

So this year we continued with the tradition.  We met over at my mom's house and wrote out our cards for our lucky recipients.  We decided to write the same thing that we had written last year: "I lost my Dad (father-in-law/husband/grandpa) six 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 part of my Dad's birthday celebration."  Then we put a $20 bill in each card and, once we had all the cards locked and loaded, we headed up to the mall to begin our search.

I parked my car in the parking garage by the mall and started to walk over to where we were all supposed to meet up.  I had to cross a street that runs around the mall and there was a lot of traffic there for some reason that night.  I was waiting for my chance to cross and, because it had rained earlier and was still drizzling just a bit, I was NOT excited about having to wait.  Suddenly, like a scene out of a movie, a car hit a pothole and splashed me with water.

It was an awesome start to the evening.  And I did NOT give that driver my card . . .

We all met up once we got into the mall and then we split up and spread out.  Avery and Ben went with me because . . . do I seriously have to finish that sentence?  You all know why.  Because I'm AWESOME.  The three of us walked around, staying SUPER focused.  We did NOT go into the pet store to "look for nice people."  We did NOT stop for cookies TWICE.  And we did NOT practice our modeling moves:

We were on a mission and were NOT to be distracted . . .

It seems like it gets harder and harder to find nice people at the mall.  This year was the busiest I've ever seen it on my dad's birthday and yet . . . NOTHIN'.  For the first hour and a half, the only excitement we had was when my mom and Tammy got a man thrown out of the mall for wearing a shirt with the F word on it.  Yes - we're THAT family.

[Ps - if you're that man and you're reading this blog, I'm toooooooootally kidding.  It was SO not my family that did that.  No effing way . . .]

And then, it happened - I saw my guy.  The kids and I were in the food court and I looked to my right and saw a young boy - maybe 12 or 13 - who was eating with his mom and younger brother.  He put all their trash onto his tray and walked over to the trash can to throw everything away.  I was so impressed with him because there are a lot of adults who won't go to the trouble of throwing their trash away (I'm talking to YOU, Mom . . .) and yet here was this young guy being so responsible and thoughtful.  And I love that he was taking care of his mom - that she wasn't having to clean up after HIM.  My dad never let any of us take the trash out or throw our own trash away.  He always wanted to do that kind of stuff for his girls.  So I knew that this sweet young man was going to get my card.  I walked over and introduced myself to him and his family and explained what we were doing and why he was getting my card.  His name was Dolapo and he was so sweet and kept saying "thank you" over and over, so sincerely.  Giving him my card made my night - I definitely picked someone who epitomized my dad's sweet spirit.

After we met Dolapo, the kids and I headed back downstairs.  We decided that we'd head over to Barnes & Noble because we've had luck finding nice people there before.  As we were walking outside of the mall, we saw a young boy - maybe 5 or 6 years old - run ahead of his family and open the door for them.  We all three started talking about him right away and the kids were trying to decide who should give him a card.  In the end, Ben grabbed his from me and ran after the family.  By the time we got to them, the little boys were playing in this little plaza outside the mall and their parents were sitting down watching them.  I approached the little boy's dad and explained what we were doing and told him that we'd like to give his son a reward for opening the door for his family.  His father jumped right up and called the little boy over so that we could talk to him.  Ben wanted to handle this one himself so he walked over to the little boy, thrust the card at him and said "You get twenty bucks."  Wow.  As you can imagine, such a sentimental display brought a tear to my eye.  But, after I regained my composure, I intervened to explain to little Javier that we were celebrating Ben's Grandpa's birthday and we wanted to give him a reward for being such a gentleman.  And he was SUCH a sweet and appreciative little guy. 

So now that I've told you what happened, here's Ben's version of things . . .

From Ben:

This boy opened the door for his mom, his dad and his younger brother.  And so I thought maybe I should give him my card.  So my cousin and Catchy were telling me that I should.  So I chose to go over there and stop him because he was running around by Pottery Barn.  And so we stopped and then we went over to his parents and the dad called his son over and I said "you get 20 bucks!"  Then Catchy interrupted and told them about my Grandpa and how he died and how we celebrate his birthday every year.  And then we found our Grandma - we call her Dearsie.  And then Dearsie & I went over to my mom. The End.

After Ben left with my mom, Avery and I went back inside the mall.  We were DETERMINED to find someone perfect.  Earlier in the evening, we had walked past a World Vision kiosk and had met a young girl.  In case you're not familiar with World Vision, it is a child-sponsorship ministry.  This 10-year-old girl named Laura was working the kiosk with her mother and brother and she stopped us to tell us all about these young children who have to walk 3 miles to get water for their families and that, most of the time, it's not even fresh water.  We were so impressed with her passion for telling people about the plight of these kids and trying to get them to help.  She was impressively bold about walking right up to adults walking past her and talking to them.  When Avery and I were walking back by Laura's kiosk, Avery had an epiphany: Laura should get her card for giving up her afternoon to come out to the mall to work so hard for all those little kids.  We walked over to her and told her about what we were doing and she was so sweet.  She looked positively horrified to hear that Avery's grandfather had passed away and she was overjoyed that we were wanting to give her a prize for her generous spirit.  Avery was so happy to have given her card to someone so sweet.

But maybe you'd rather hear it from Avery herself . . .

From Avery:

I was in the mall just walking around, walking around with Catchy and I ran into this girl and she told us something about kids and then we left.  And then I had the idea to give my card to the girl who was trying to help all the kids! She was trying to get us to mail water to these kids that are turning 3 and have to get water on their birthday for their family and her name is Laura and she is 10 years old and in 5th grade.  Then we took a picture and then we went to dinner.  She reminded me of Grandpa because she was trying to help others and save others.  

And I have to give Laura props for making sure that she got the World Vision card in the picture - she is GOOD at her ministry!  So, to help her out, the website is www.worldvision.org - check it out if you're interested in sponsoring a child.  Or, as Avery says, mailing water to kids . . . :)

So, after Avery and I gave her card away, we headed over to a restaurant called Mi Cocina to eat and hear everyone else's stories.  And so I think it's time YOU heard everyone else's stories, too . . . 


Since Brian IGNORED my instructions and did NOT send me his story about his lucky card recipients, I will tell it in my own words.  But let's all take a moment to shake our heads in his general direction and say "Bad Brian.  Baaaaaaaad Brian."

Brian saw a couple holding hands and being very loving with one another so, naturally, he started following them.  As he watched them, he was impressed that, even when the husband was opening doors for his wife, he never let go of her hand.  That reminded him of my parents and the love that he always saw in their relationship.  They were the kind of couple that would walk the mall, holding hands, talking and laughing.  Brian was so struck by this couple that he decided to give them his card.  He found out that their names were Gene and Linda and told them about my dad and why he was giving them his card.  They were so generous that they gave him the twenty dollar bill that was in their card and told him to give it to his church.  Thanks for that, Gene and Linda!  Church Project thanks you!

And now for the rest of my family.  You know, those who DID follow my instructions . . . :)

From Emma:

Savannah and I were sitting in front of Pinkberry (BEST frozen yogurt place EVER!) and we saw an Aggies fan open the door for two ladies.  He and his girlfriend were about to walk into Banana Republic so I ran up to him and stopped him.  At first, he looked like "why the heck are you talking to me" and then his girlfriend stepped aside so I could talk to him.  I started explaining to him what we were doing and then I handed him the envelope and asked him if we could get a picture.  And Mom said that Catchy would be very happy that he was an Aggies fan!

[Catchy is happy, indeed, Emma!  And I believe that calls for a . . . WHOOP!]

From Savannah:

So I was walking down the mall and I dropped my envelope and this man said, "OH OH right there!" He was so nice so I gave him my envelope and told him the story of my grandpa.  He was so thankful and he asked me if he could open it and I said sure.  His name was Frank and I took a picture with him and he was so nice just like my grandpa and so it reminded me of him.  And his wife was really nice too!

From Dearsie:

Every year I have a very special task: I roam the food court looking for a young man who has taken his hat off while eating.  This lucky guy gets an even bigger gift of $50 because men eating with their hats on was always a pet peeve of Charlie's.  Whenever we stopped for a bite to eat at the mall and he noticed a young man still wearing a hat while eating he would always say "don't parents teach their boys to take their hats off at the table anymore?"  From my experience I can pretty much say - No! But I understand because it used to be a simple thing to sit down with your son for a bite to eat and say "take your hat off son."  Now, things have become a little more complicated and that same dad would have to say "son, stop texting, take off your hat, stop texting, pull your pants up, your underwear is showing, stop texting, and don't use that language at the table!"  For a while this year I thought I was going home with my $50 card.  After two hours of roaming, I gave up and was weaving my way through the tables on my way out when I happened to notice two guys sitting at a table with . . . YES . . . A BASEBALL CAP  ON THE TABLE!  I quickly sat down beside the young man closest to the hat and asked him if he would mind answering a question.  He said "sure."  I asked him: "Why is your cap on the table instead of on your head?"  He was genuinely taken aback for a moment as though I had asked a silly question.  He said, "because I'm eating."  I pumped my fist and said yeeeeeessss!  He was really looking confused then.  But I wanted to know more so I asked him: "Well, why take it off just because you're eating?"   Still puzzled, he said "Because I'm a country boy and my Mom and my Grandma taught me to take my hat off at the table."  Another fist pump!  I explained why I was at the mall with my family and why I was handing him this envelope.  I told him I was sitting down just a few minutes before I found him thinking "Where are all the cowboys?  If I could just find a cowboy I know he would take off his hat."  And his friend Mike, who was sitting across from him, pointed to him and said "And you just found one."  My country boy's name is Chris and he agreed to have his picture taken with me.  We shook hands before I left and I'm sure he sat there for a while wondering what the heck was such a big deal about taking your hat off while you eat.  Well, Chris, it was a big deal to someone special to me and that makes it a big deal to me.

From Tammy:

After walking around the mall for over 2 1/2 hrs with no luck, I thought I would stake out the exterior door by Banana Republic again.  I stood there for some time before I saw a mom coming towards the door (from the outside) pushing a stroller.  My instinct was to go open the door myself, but I looked around to see if anyone would jump in there.  From behind me came another mom (heading out of the mall), also pushing a stroller.  This mom sped up a little to try to get to the door first and pushed her stroller aside just a bit and opened the door wide for the other mom.  She then got her own stroller and headed out.  The more I replayed the scene in my mind, the more I was impressed and knew I had to chase her down!  And chase her down I did!  Her name was Heather and she was very warm  and friendly.  She seemed moved by the gesture and story of Dad's birthday celebration.  I took a picture of her and her precious baby and then she gave me a big hug.  Great family.....I was thoroughly pleased with my encounter!

From Matt:

I normally am one of the first ones in the family to find someone doing a nice deed.  I usually have given my card away within the first 30 minutes of our search.  This year, that was not the case.  I don't know if people are just not as nice as they used to be or what, but 2012 was a challenge.  As I stood near one of the exits of the mall, hanging my head due to the fact that I hadn't found that someone special, I saw Joshua and his mother enter the mall.  As they made their way to the door, Joshua literally ran ahead of his mom to open the door for her.  It was just a mom and her son, which reminded me quite a bit of my childhood.  I wasn't going to give him my card just for opening the door for his mom, I needed to follow this kid to see what else he had in store.  As they approached Erin and me, Erin smiled at him.  He smiled back at Erin with such a sweet, genuine smile, that I knew this was my guy.  I approached him and his mom and told him about our annual tradition.  His mom became emotional, especially when I told her how fine of a son she had raised.  I took a picture with him, gave him my card and we went our separate ways.  I watch the mother and son as they read his card while walking.  It took Joshua a while to read his card, but you could see the excitement from a mile away.  It may have taken me two hours to find the right person, but it was definitely worth the wait.  I can't wait for September 1, 2013...

From Erin:

Matt and I were walking down the mall when we saw an empty potato chip bag on the ground.  I was THIS close to bending down and picking it up (we take the whole Don't Mess with Texas thing very seriously in our family, thank you very much Charlie Palmore!) when I had an epiphany.  I told Matt, SOMEONE will pick that up.  I just know it.  So we just stood right in the center of the mall for a good 10 or 15 minutes watching as people stepped over it or looked directly at it and stepped ON it. We even watched one kid taking a running jump to pounce on it.  We were juuuuust about to give up and throw the dang thing away ourselves when I saw her.  It would be an exaggeration to say I could tell from a mile away, BUT since I am no stranger to exaggeration that is what I shall go with.  I saw a woman wearing a Tim Tebow jersey and FROM A MILE AWAY I could tell by her face that she was going to pick it up.  I told Matt, SHE is going to do it.  Her eyes were on it and she was on a mission.  Sure enough, she bent down and snatched that thing right up and walked over to the nearest trash can to throw it away.  Oh my goodness, I was SOOO excited!!  I was jumping up and down and I'm pretty sure I got my old school fist pump on, but that's neither here nor there.  After I gathered myself, I walked over and caught up with her to tell her about what we do and why she was picked. Well, I was just a hot mess for some reason.  I always get a little emotional, but this time I could hardly even talk.  She was so sweet.  Once she got the gist of what I was saying she just scooped me up into best hug I've had in a long time.  Her dad even gave me a hug and a kiss on the forehead.  Her mom was there too and Matt told me later that when I first started talking, her mom was actually bending down in front of Gymboree picking up a bag of trash there.  That made it even more special to me.  All three of them were just the nicest and most sincere people I could have hoped to find.  My lady (and I'm so sad I got caught up in the moment and didn't even ask her name) told me that she was going to remember my sweet daddy tonight in her prayers.  And, I know she wasn't just saying that.  I would bet money on the fact that she said a prayer for him that night.  To wrap up,  I don't know if y'all remember me saying that she was wearing a Tebow jersey, but let's just say...well, I'll just let you see the pic for yourselves.  WINNING!! 

[And to Erin's Tebow friend: if you're reading this, please let us know your name so we can include it here!]

So that's it - the 2012 Charlie Palmore celebration.  It took us a while to find them but, in the end, we met some great people.  I hope that we made them feel special.  I hope that we inspired them to keep doing nice things for others.  And I hope that they realize that we could not have paid them a higher compliment than comparing them to our sweet dad.  Because he really was one-of-a-kind.  

So happy birthday, Dad!!  I hope we made you proud!


Matt Pemberton said...

Great blog to finish up a great weekend! The picture of Avery modeling is FANTASTIC!

Tracy said...

Great tradition to honor your Daddy! Also? Tears are streaming down my face! Xo

Unknown said...

This is brilliant. And precious. And. . .and. . and. . a lot of other things, too. I'm so glad you shared this story. What a fabulously fun thing for a family to do together!!! And how blessed your dad must be, to look down on all of this. :)

Mel said...

Sweetest tradition, ever. Thank you for sharing it. I'm always looking for ideas like this to do with my kids for spreading God's love. This is a fabulous idea! God bless you. I lost my dad when he was 53 to cancer and it sucks to be w/o them for so many things. What a wonderful way to remember him!

Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

Becca-expressions said...

Today would have been my in-laws' 63rd wedding anniversary. We lost my MIL two weeks ago. If you don't mind, I think I would like to steal this idea and look for a couple at the restaurant tonight to treat to dinner.

Anonymous said...

Hey Erin and Family!!
Jordan had told me about this tradition a few years ago. At the time, I thought it was wonderful. I am so excited to read this blog. It really gave me a chance to feel your pain, and feel your joy too. And, I got to see a pic of your incredibly handsome Dad!! Gosh, I am 56 myself - 62 is so so young. I am so impressed with the legacy he left you all with. Anyway, thank you for sharing this - you have found a way to make his life go on. Amazing family!!

Cathy said...

I so love reading this every year! Thanks for sharing your precious Dad and the rest of your family with us!