September 1st is a special day in my family because it happens to be my dad's birthday. And he would have been 71 this year.
You see, my dad passed away 9 years ago after a short bout with cancer. We took him to the doctor in December and he was gone 7 months later. It was like a terrible whirlwind that we couldn't stop. And it ripped my dad away from us. Suddenly, the man we'd all looked to as our steady and unfailing rock was gone. And it changed everything. For all of us.
My dad was one of a kind. "Oh, Catherine. 'One of a kind' is so cliche," you say. Well, maybe. But it's true. He was the kind of man who wouldn't eat the last of anything, no matter what it was or how much he wanted it. The kind of man who wouldn't let any of us pick up broken glass because he didn't want us to get hurt. He was the kind of husband who wouldn't let my mom get into her car without warming it up or cooling it down for her. The kind who would put Payday candy bars under her pillow sometimes to surprise her with her favorite treat. He was the kind of dad who would scratch our backs as long as we wanted. The kind who would drive all the way to my house at midnight to kill a roach if I wanted him to.
Aaaaaaand he was also the kind of dad who would cheat at UNO. So, you know - can't have it all . . .
Someone like that leaves a huge void when he leaves you. And it could have been really hard to see September 1st roll around every year. But, luckily, I also have a one-of-a-kind mom who thought of the PERFECT way to celebrate my dad's birthday after we lost him: Each year, we get together at my mom's house, write about my dad in a card, and put $20 in it. Like so:
Then we head to the mall to search for someone who does something thoughtful or nice and we reward them with our card, in honor of my dad. It has turned September 1st into a day we look forward to all year, rather than a day we dread. And we LOVE it.
This year, we got a bit of a late start because of school and work so we got over to my mom's, wrote our cards, and headed to the mall around 7 p.m. When we got to the mall, the kids and I started our annual prowl. We noticed that the mall was particularly quiet. And empty. Yet, somehow, we all had a good feeling about this year and discussed it as we walked. We just KNEW that people were going to impress us! We just KNEW we were going to wish we had more cards with us! We just KNEW this would be the best year yet!
Turns out, we knew nothing.
We walked up and down the mall, looking left and right, up and down. We waited outside the elevators to see if anyone let another person in or out before them. Nothing. We stood by the doors searching for some good, old-fashioned chivalry. Nothing. We walked down to Barnes & Noble to see if we could find a thoughtful bookworm. But the only thing we found there was a Starbucks employee who seemed visibly angry that we actually wanted to purchase something from him. It was a disappointing start to our evening.
We headed back into the mall, anger-laced frappuccinos in hand, and walked up to the food court to see if we'd have any luck up there. As we walked around, we saw a Harris County Deputy in uniform eating dinner with his family. That's when Ben decided he had found his card recipient at long last . . .
From Ben (11 years old):
I saw a police officer in the food court. He was eating dinner with his family. I walked over there and said "Hi." I started explaining what we were doing for Grandpa's birthday, but I felt like I was messing it up, so Catchy finished explaining for me. I said "we are out here looking for people who do nice things, because my Grandpa always did nice things and you spend your WHOLE life doing nice things." That is when Catchy stepped in for me. His name was Deputy Garcia and he was very nice and appreciative.
After Ben gave his card to Deputy Garcia, we resumed our prowl around the mall. Ben was adamant that the girls would DEFINITELY find a nice person in the Lego store and that it was, therefore, worth a stop. They were not convinced. They felt that they would have more luck trying to set something up. To maybe drop their cards to see if anyone would pick it up. So they walked and dropped, dropped and walked, all to no avail. Savannah then decided she'd sit on a bench and, when someone was walking towards her, she'd stand up and walk away, leaving her phone behind her on the bench. She did this 4 times. On 4 different benches. And people just walked on by. The mall was about to close and we were on the verge of giving up when we saw something that caught Savannah's eye . . .
From Savannah (12 years old):
This year took us longer to find people but I ended up finding some really good ones! So Catchy, Emma, Avery, and I were standing in the middle of the mall just talking but still looking around. I looked over at the escalator and I saw a lady helping her grandma on the escalator!!!! So we ran up the escalator to catch up to them and I tapped on the lady’s back and told her our story about grandpa. There were three women together: one was the daughter (Katie), one was the mom (Denise), and one was the grandma (Marilyn). They were all so nice and so happy that Katie got the envelope. The grandmother told us that her husband had passed away a year ago, and so I realized later that Katie had lost her grandpa just like me so I think she was meant to be! They were all so surprised and it was just great! I am so glad I saw her help her grandma up the stairs because I know that is something my grandpa would have done! That is my story about my people! :)
After Savannah gave her card to Katie, we realized that we had run out of time and that the mall was already closing. So we walked on over to meet the rest of the family at Cheesecake Factory for dinner. We were so bummed that Emma, Avery, and I still hadn't given our cards away. But we knew that we had a few minutes before our table would be ready so the girls and I decided to sit outside of the restaurant to see if we could spot any last-minute deserving recipients. The bench we sat on afforded us a good view of the doors to The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's. Surely we'd see someone opening the door.
We sat there, slack-jawed, as we watched person after person open the door and then walk right in without even holding it for the person they were walking in with. We started trying to will the next person to hold the door open by quietly repeating "Holditholditholditholdit." No luck. But then, just as we were about to give up, Avery spotted someone she deemed worthy of her card . . .
From Avery (10 years old):
So this year when we went to the mall there were a few nice people here and there but nobody really got my eye. So towards the end of the night I was really searching for people who are good people and there he was. That was the person that actually reminded me of my grandpa because he held the door open for not only his family but everybody that needed to go in and that was something that really caught my eye because I felt like my grandpa was right there in front of my face! Then I went up to him and started a conversation with him and found out his name was Deion. Not only did he look like a nice guy, he truly was!!!!! This year I might not have gotten my person fast but at least I got someone that I actually could see my grandpa doing the exact same thing and that really warmed my heart! Thank you everybody for being nice people just like my grandpa!! 💗💗❤️❤️💗💗
After we chatted with Deion, Ben told us that our table was ready so we headed that way and sat down and got ready to hear everyone's stories about giving their cards away. That's when we found out that everyone else had had a tough time finding a recipient. In fact, 5 of the 10 of us still had our cards with us!!
So Ben, Savannah, and Avery told their stories and then we heard from Tammy and Erin . . .
I need to start by saying that I totally found my person first. I think it was the first time I wasn’t the last man standing, so I was very impressed with mahself, thankyouverymuch. Matt and I ran into my mom at the food court and we were just chatting about how it was going to be hard to find people this year because the mall was so dead. I saw this young girl walking up to us and smiling, but she was a little hesitant to say something. So I smiled at her and she came up and asked if we were looking for coffee or smoothies while we shop. I realized then that this little girl, who was about the same age as Savannah, was a salesperson!! Just like my daddio!! She was so precious. It’s hard for me to explain it in writing, but I was so struck by how brave she had to be to walk up to total strangers in the mall and encourage them to come try her mom’s coffee. I know she was wanting to sell her product, but it was so much more than that. She was so sweet and well spoken and I was struck by how young she was and what a fabulous job she was doing. Even if we weren’t out there for my dad’s birthday, I still would’ve bought some coffee. So anyway, I tell her about what we are doing and she is REALLY listening to me. I asked her if I could walk over with her to her mom to ask about taking a picture with her. She agreed and as we walked over she was asking me on her own about my dad and how he died. Such a good little conversationalist! The thing I loved the most about this little girl was that she seemed to be more blessed by the story and the fact that I gave her a card (she said she loves getting handwritten cards) than the $20 bill. I talked to her mom and told her what had happened and what a fantastic job she is doing and her mom was so proud, too. Matt and I both ordered a drink and then her mom wouldn’t take our money!! She said they were on her!! I feel like I was the one who was blessed by this whole encounter. So, Amina, if you are reading this THANK YOU SO MUCH!! It was so fun to meet you and to see you working so hard to help your family and blessing people along the way!! You reminded me so much of my dad with your ability to sell me coffee at 8:00 at night, your sweet face, and your friendly attitude!!
The mall was pretty empty and not very promising this year. After walking around a good hour and not really seeing anyone exemplifying my Dad, I ran into Catchy and the kids. The four of them were telling me just how shocked and disappointed they had been in people…customer service folks. My Dad was a salesman and all about customer service! So not only were they not finding people worthy, they were running into people completely contrary to what we were seeking. Their "worst" episode was at the Starbucks in Barnes & Noble and, while listening to them talk, I thought something from Starbucks sounded goooooood. BUT I knew better than to go to the one in B&N!!! So I headed down to the new one outside of Forever 21. As I got closer to the counter, this young girl slapped her hands on the counter and very cheerfully said "How are YOU today?? I hope you have had a GREAT day." I loved her exuberance and, maybe even more so, her sincerity. I engaged her for a little bit and the conversation was joyful and energizing. I couldn't help but smile while talking with her. And also to mentally compare my experience with that of the kids…I thought, "My Dad would like this girl and her positive attitude! She HAS to get my card!" She was one of those who seems genuinely surprised to be rewarded for doing something that just comes naturally and that made me like my choice even more. Her name was Alyssa and she is a lovely spirit. If you see her next time you are in there, smile big!!
As we ended the night, we all decided that Matt, Brian, Emma, my mom, and I would all try to give our cards away the next day if we could. Luckily, Matt and I were successful in our quest . . .
After not having any luck at the mall last night I was able to give my card away to someone who truly deserved it. Chris Ciancimino aka Stretch, is one of my production supervisors at work and is my right-hand man. Any time I need a project completed I go to him and he never lets me down. To be honest, I would not be able to do my job without him. On Monday we were shooting the breeze and I mentioned to him how Avery was collecting Gatorade labels as a fundraiser for her softball team. Stretch is always interested in hearing stories about my girls and how their softball tournaments went over the weekend. After our discussion on Monday I didn't really think much of it. Sure enough, when I came to work this morning Stretch had 10 Gatorade labels and said to be sure and give them to Avery and that he would continue collecting until the fundraiser was over in MARCH!! I gave him my card without delay and told him how much I appreciate everything he does for me. He is an outstanding worker and friend, and is always willing to help out any way he can!
My mom and I decided to spend the lunch hour at the mall that next day to see if we could find anyone. Again, we walked and walked. My mom prowled the food court for someone who had taken his hat off while he ate. And I was strolling around looking for someone thoughtful. I ran into a friend of mine outside the mall and, as we were chatting, I saw two sisters hold the doors open for a woman who was pushing a big stroller. They were both super cheerful while they did it and were laughing with each other. So I decided to give them my card. Their names were Lisa and Sandy and they were so nice and seemed genuinely touched by what we were doing to honor my dad. They told us that they had just lost their step-father about a month ago so I think it made it even that much more special to to them.
Unfortunately, my mom, though she walked and walked and stared awkwardly at people's laps to see if there was a ball cap sitting there, was not able to give her card away . . .
From my mom:
So there you have it. That's our 2015 celebration of a man I really wish you each had known. I man I really wish was still here. But I guess that's what these September 1st celebrations do for us: they show us that, even though he's not physically with us anymore, we can still find my dad in others when we look. He's in that pleasant salesman who makes our day. That person who holds the door for us. That loving relative who helps us along when we need it. That friend who does thoughtful things for us. Or the police officer who sacrifices his comfort for ours. People like that are one-of-a-kind.