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 . . .
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 . . .
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??]
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.
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.