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selflessness

Four Kids, A Basketball Game, And A Fake Smile

We weren’t actually there to watch the basketball game. Our primary purpose (or so we thought,) in braving the cold, windy December evening in Chicago, was to catch a few minutes of a half-time cheerleading routine.

The girls stood tall and straight, hands planted firmly on hips, waiting for their brief moment of fame. As the game clock counted down, our granddaughter, Selah, quickly glanced in our direction to make sure we were ready and watching. All smiles, they stormed onto the court. We later complimented Selah on a great performance and her beautiful smile, to which she replied in her twelve-year-old, sassy way: “Oh, that was just a fake smile for the crowd. I don’t really mean it when I smile.”  Clearly, their school spirit was at an all-time high on this evening as the voices bellowing out of their petite little bodies reverberated throughout the gym. Then, in a blink of an eye, it was over.

As Selah joined us in the stands, her mother appeared deep in conversation with the three boys behind us. I turned around just as our daughter, Erin, gave her cell number to them, with instructions to call her if they ever needed anything.

As we bundled up, to once again brave the inclement elements of the outdoors, I heard Erin address the kids: “If you all stay here while I take my family home, I will come back and give you a ride.” Without hesitation, Brandon, the oldest, quickly accepted her offer.

On our way home, Erin filled us in on the situation. Brandon, sixteen years old, assumed full responsibility for his three younger siblings when their mom worked. His twelve-year-old sister was on the same cheerleading squad as Selah. They had walked the mile from their apartment to the basketball game. Brandon never left his two younger siblings alone and he certainly wouldn’t hear of his sister walking anywhere by herself. So, that meant if their sister needed to be somewhere, they all walked her there and back. With no dad in the picture, their mom, principle bread-winner, worked most evenings and weekends.

We shivered as we exited the car. The blessing of a warm home on this night was most welcome. Erin headed back to the school to pick up her new young friends.

She had barely turned into their apartment complex when they, one by one, began voicing their appreciation for the toasty ride home. As the youngest turned to close the car door he exclaimed with all the gusto of a car-crazy eight-year-old boy, “This is the coolest car ever-I’m going to have a car like this someday!exactly the kind of car I want to have someday!”

A few days later, Brandon called Erin to ask for a ride to the school to pick up Christmas presents he purchased for his family the previous day at the school bazaar. The school had called to inform him they would be closing the bazaar room in thirty minutes and he needed to find a way to get the gifts. Erin dropped what she was doing and headed his way. He apologized profusely for having bothered her. She assured him she was more than happy to do it.

She sat in the car as he hurriedly ran up the steps. No more than five minutes had passed when the door to the building flung open and a tall, lanky, teen boy, carefully balancing several bags, emerged. Tears overflowed from his eyes and dripped down his cheeks as he approached her car. In a barely audible voice, cracking with emotion, he told her that the school had bought Christmas gifts for a few of their low-income families, his being one of them. After a little detective work, the school district had identified a few needs/wants of Brandon’s family and purchased special gifts for each of them. It greatly touched Erin to witness the compassion and grateful spirit in this young man’s heart.

Our Chicago kid’s plans for New Year’s Eve included an invitation to the parents of their oldest son’s girlfriend. As they prepared for the evening, Erin received a call from Brandon asking if he and his siblings could come over that evening. There’s one thing for sure: a person with a heart for hospitality never turns down a request from someone asking to come over.

Once again, her ragged little Honda Pilot pulled up in front of the apartment complex where four kids and a grandmother eagerly waited to be picked up. The grandmother, whom Erin had never met, sheepishly asked if she might come too. To which Erin quickly and enthusiastically replied: “Of course you can-the more the merrier!”

The kids all gravitated to the den to play games while the adults gathered around the dining table for an interactive game of Apples to Apples. What better way to get know people than through an introspective game?!

As I chatted with Erin on the phone, I told her what I was writing about. She said what I expected: “Oh Mom, it wasn’t that big a deal to reach out to them. For all they have been through, they are such amazing kids. They have taught us so much.”

Fond memories, in spite of the wicked weather, of this December 2017 trip will stay with me for a long time, but the memory that warms my heart the most began with a simple, “Hi, my name is Erin. I think I’ve seen you here before….

And one more thing: I pray that my amazing, cheerleading granddaughter took careful note of her mother’s generous act of kindness. Who knows the impact this has had on her?

I have no doubt that someday she will learn the fine art of how to put on a real smile!

 

A Man’s Man

As I pored over photographs,

a particular one, my dad and I performing our Sunday afternoon ritual of reading the funny papers, caught my attention. Sprawled on the living room floor under the swamp cooler, I (four years old), in a summer dress, and he, clad only in his jeans, together, looking peaceful and relaxed. That was how our relationship developed, and blossomed through my childhood. KarenDadComics [38828]

 

A quiet man by nature, he didn’t talk much, but we did things together. I watched him, and I learned.

 

Sunday mornings, I, along with my sister, walked with  Dad the few blocks to attend Sunday School. Mom usually drove to church after she finished straightening the house. It never occurred to me to question attending Sunday morning and evening church. My dad established this priority early in our lives. He consistently led by example.KarenDadSherryDressedUp [38829]

 

When I was nine years old, his employer sent him to work in the devastated area hit by hurricane Carla. He had never been absent over night, so these two weeks seemed an eternity in the mind of a young girl. What an exciting day when he safely returned, bearing presents for my brother, sister, and me. They weren’t expensive gifts, but I thought the frog slinky he brought me was the coolest toy ever!

 

Following the birth of my youngest brother, as I was about to enter fifth grade, our family of six had outgrown our small two-bedroom home. A house in a neighboring town, a perfect fit for our family, came up for sale. An acre of land, complete with a barn and tool shed, provided ample space for a garden, a clothes line to hang diapers to dry, and plush carpet grass to play on.

 

After sealing the house deal, Daddy wasted no time plowing a portion of the land for a garden. I frequently observed his “go-to” book, pages worn from daily use, laying on the coffee table. The author, Adelle Davis, a pioneer in her time on recommending methods of healing the body naturally with vitamins and minerals, presented methods for growing food organically.

 

Many days, after supper, we made the ten-minute drive to our thirty-two-acre farm across town. Much more comfortable with my driving than my mom, Daddy would take his place in the passenger seat, which signaled that I was doing the driving. I much preferred the rustic outdoors to being indoors. A large pond, teeming with fish and frogs, and our small herd of cows added even more motivation for these weekly farm visits. The wide open space provided the perfect setting for us kids to explore without interruption.
Vivid in my mind’s eye was the night I held a light while Daddy assisted our oldest cow (Beauty) with the birth of her breech calf. Arms, deep inside her, he grabbed the stubborn little guy and turning him, assisted him through the birth canal and safely into his new world. Looking back, I am amazed that observing this birth didn’t seem the least bit gross or strange. We had watched, and even participated in all types of animal activities (cattle branding, administering immunizations, doctoring wounds) since we were very young children. Nothing seemed gross, just a natural part of life. We had also been taught the value of life, even that of a tiny calf.

 

I loved to go places with him. Fond remembrances of a weekly Greek class ranked as one of my favorite Dad and Daughter Activities. I, thirteen years of age, and the youngest member of the class, felt special and valued, believing that my dad thought I was smart enough to attend this class.

 

A few times a year my dad was asked to replace and adjust lights at a ballpark in a neighboring town. His occupation, an electrical lineman for CPS (City Public Service) in San Antonio, more than qualified him for this task. On these weekends he was allowed to take his pole-climbing equipment home from work. I felt proud, but also frightened for him, as he made the dangerous ascent up the tall creosote poles. Once at the top, he appeared as a tiny stick figure hanging in the clouds high up in the sky.

 

Although his occupational work required mostly physical labor, he exercised his mind by reading and seizing every opportunity to acquire knowledge. As a result, there was little he couldn’t figure out how to do. This “life-long learning” gene, most likely passed down from his dad, has continued to show up in various members of our family. I feel blessed to have inherited this love for learning.

 

On work days, rising early before anyone else, Daddy prepared his breakfast; usually eggs scrambled with peppers from our garden, bacon, toast, and coffee. The peppers, spicy hot, triggered beads of sweat that trickled down his forehead. As he ate, he read from the Bible and Reader’s Digest..

 

When it came to singing with his quartet, he easily overcame his natural shyness. When they practiced at our house, I, always an enthusiastic spectator, loved listening to their toe-tapping, acappella renditions of Stamps-Baxter songs, such as “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”.  Leading singing at church proved more challenging for him. He had perfect pitch and a beautiful voice, but his nervousness, evident when standing in front of a large group of people, kept him from volunteering too often.

 

My dad, a handsome man, with black curly hair and dark skin, looked younger than his age. Although, standing only 5’8” tall, he always seemed taller to me. A friend from High School, who used to sometimes come home after school with me, shared she had a crush on him. At the time, I thought this to be so peculiar, but it explained why she would always finagle a way for him to drive her home. Of course, I would always go, too.

 

A hard and conscientious worker, both on the job and at home, he would have never considered hiring anything done. Besides, there was no money in the budget for such extravagances.

 

He was highly respected by fellow employees, relatives, friends, and church people.  Ready and willing to help anyone in need, he did so with humility and selflessness. I never observed even an ounce of pride in his attitude.

 

My grandmother (called Mickey by her grandkids), a positive influence in my dad’s life, consistently modeled Godly character. Her unfailing demonstration of these values in our lives spoke volumes. I don’t remember her ever saying a negative word about anyone. She worked hard (even into her 70s), alongside my grandfather, in a hot and dirty plumbing shop, and never did I hear one complaint uttered from her mouth. I will be forever thankful for her example that contributed to the amazing dad he was.

 

Forced into early retirement, he fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. I remember, as a child, feeling blessed to have a dad who lived such a healthy lifestyle, and thought this most certainly guaranteed him a long and good life. I also felt blessed to have had a dad present all the years I was at home. For reasons we had difficulty understanding, God chose to take him much earlier than any of us were prepared for. I always wondered if the creosote (now known to be a cancer-causing agent) in those poles he climbed may have triggered his cancer. Due to the altered state of his brain following the cancer surgery in 1975, he wasn’t the same man I had known as “my daddy.” He lived twelve more years, seemingly at peace with the changed person he had become.

Rare is a man who possesses the integrity and honesty my dad practiced his entire life. A close friend paid quite a compliment by writing a poem for the memorial service entitled “A Man’s Man”:

You really never really know a man

Nor just how much he’s worth,

Until you’ve seen him tested

In the fires of this earth.

The measure of a man is not

The way he uses tools,

But a man is big or little

By how he suffers fools.

It’s not how hard that he can hit

Nor paint his opponent black,

But rather how hard a punch he can take

And still come bouncing back.

If he can laugh a belly laugh

And shiver when he fears,

Or love with all his openness

And not ashamed of tears.

A man will do what he must do

Sometimes that’s all that he can,

But when he does what he should do

Then he knows that he’s a man.

I know an awful lot of males

Acquaintances without end,

But I know a man who is a man

And count him as my friend.

Kenneth Young-As I saw him, by Ben Clement

 

We chuckle at a young grandson who contends that you are not a man until you have your very own pocket knife. I find myself wishing he could have known my dad. This grandson will someday realize what it really takes to be a man and I have no doubt that he, like his great-grandpa, will understand.

“But when he does what he should do

Then he knows that he’s a man.”

 

I feel sure all who knew my dad would agree he demonstrated the attributes of a Godly man in integrity, work ethic, strength of character, and selflessness.

 

He will be remembered as “A Man’s Man”!