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The Sweetest Song

     Today is my late father's 80th birthday. Many warm memories of his life still echo within me and around me. I've mentioned before how Dad was part of our American history during his days at Westinghouse. He was part of a team of workers who assembled the cameras used during the Apollo lunar landing missions. Those first images beamed back to Earth from the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor were brought to you by Dad (among others).

     I want to share a different kind of story about Dad today. It's a story that illuminates his human side, the best of himself, a caring, giving heart he shared freely with others he met along the way.

     When I was about five years old Dad, Mom and I moved into a suburban house on a dead end road not far from what was then named Friendship Airport. It was quiet, a wooded area away from the bustle of the city (Baltimore) which pleased my dad's country boy soul. He'd spent the first several years of his life in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, moving to the city at age ten after losing his mother.
     In those friendlier days we got to know our neighbors. We lived close enough, by suburban standards, to walk to the elementary school half a mile away, every school day.
     Our neighbors at the end of the road included my first grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, her ailing husband and his sister. Mrs. Johnson was entering her last year of teaching before putting away her chalk and erasers for good. The summer before my school year commenced Mr. Johnson died of a heart attack. It was sometime after this event that I saw Caroline for the first time.
     Caroline Johnson was an old woman who was 'feeble-minded,' a description during that time for someone with limitations in her thinking and reasoning abilities. Sometimes what she said and did were nonsensical. As many times as I told her my name she could never remember to call me Curtis. She would refer to me as Kelly. She enjoyed seeing the children playing, riding their bikes, bouncing balls, skateboarding etc.
     Beyond where the Johnson property ended there were woods and railroad tracks. Along the fence surrounding the power station for the electric rails there grew blackberries. My dad loved them and when they were in season he would carry a bucket or two and go pick the little fruit which Mom would later back into pies. I never liked the berries or the thorns which ripped at my flesh as we harvested them, but I was glad to spend time with Dad on his days off from work.
     While returning from one berry picking excursion Caroline came to the end of her driveway and began talking to us. It was never long before she was called back to the house for fear of her wandering away or annoying someone. I didn't mind her at all. Kids like adults who pay attention to them. I was anxious to get back home and so Dad sent me home with the buckets of blackberries as he stayed with Caroline for several more minutes.
     A week or two later Dad set off with a small brown bag from the five and dime store in his hand.
     "Where you going, Dad?"
     "I'm going to give this to someone."
     "What is it?"

     As Dad told me later, Caroline burst into tears when she saw his gift for her. She'd told him how much she wanted a harmonica just like when she was a girl growing up in North Carolina so many years before. She put the instrument to her wrinkled mouth and began playing an old tune, closing her eyes, savoring the sound of sweet old music from long ago.
     Dad's greatest gift to Caroline that day wasn't the harmonica, it was understanding and respect, an acknowledgement of her value as a person regardless of her station in life. Friends may come from unlikely places, uncommon places, but kindness, compassion and acceptance are powerful tools that can lift the human spirit far above the moon and stars.

     I am thankful for the example my father set for me when he extended his hand to a stranger, making a friend and making a difference when he had nothing to gain from it. I honor his memory today with this anecdote.
   Thanks for everything, Dad. I love you!



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC)
Thanks, Curt.
Apr. 8th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
Thanks for visiting my page, Laird.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )