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 . . .
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 . . .
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 . . . :)