Smiles

by mssinglemama on June 16, 2009

The radio booth smelled like old men and dusty records but I liked it anyway.

When Glenn Miller came on I would start dancing by myself. Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer. How can you not dance to Chattanooga Choo Choo?

My Dad had introduced me to The Glenn Miller Band years earlier.

We were cleaning the living room when he popped in his Glenn Miller CD and then told me to drop the broom and “dance with me!” Dancing with him for those few songs, him leading me, trying to teach his high-strung teenage daughter to loosen up is one of those memories I will always keep, the kind no one can take away.

He was always making those kinds of memories for me – teaching me how to live life, to have fun, to enjoy the little things.

Dancing alone in the radio booth also kept me awake.

I was working the 4:00 AM Saturday morning shift, it was my first radio job and a chance to hopefully land a shift in the daylight hours. But for now I was stuck in the darkness – alone and nervous. Whenever I’d turn the microphone on I’d get chills, up my arms, down my neck and sometimes in my throat. The nerves were so intense I would occasionally bumble my words or, even worse,  freeze up entirely.

Between newscasts and nerve sessions I would imagine who had sat in the seat before me, another girl perhaps or maybe a young man who was now old.

They had all warmed the same black bar stool chair with the awkward swiveling motion, they had all pressed their lips up to the microphone and they had all seen that light flick to red -”On Air” – before letting the words fly from their mouth.

If they could do it. I can do it.

I said the same thing when I learned how to drive and then when I learned how to drive a stick four years later.

I had bought the car for myself with a loan co-signed by my father. He had been diagnosed with cancer five months earlier and would be gone in one month.

“I can’t figure it out,” I told him on day, on the brink of tears.

I was so impatient, so headstrong and so determined to learn the stick shift but I kept stalling. My father was standing with me in the kitchen, resting his arm onto the counter for support. He was so light now, so skinny. He had aged 30 years it seemed in just weeks.

“Let’s go,” he said, “I’ll teach you.”

“But Dad, what if…” I didn’t want to say it out loud, so I thought it – what if you puke. He had been so sick. That’s the thing about cancer – it just gets worse as it eats you alive and in my dad’s case it was eating just about ever organ he had.

“Just go, c’mon,” his voice was stern.

So we went.

Out to the car.

He squeezed his long legs, the legs of a man who towered above most, into the back seat of my two-door Nissan Sentra.

“I don’t want you to remember me this way,” he told me between lurches.

“I won’t, Dad, I promise.”

The car jolted forward, or was it backward? Over and over.

I just couldn’t keep the damn clutch from going out. Dad was trying his best to explain, to smile but in the end we had to lurch back home so he could get out of that seat and into the bathroom.

I wouldn’t learn stick that day. It would come to me weeks later but my Dad wasn’t there. By that point he was bound to a wheel chair, unable to leave the house and definitely unable to ride in my back seat.

When you know someone is going to die, when you know they won’t be around for much longer you try to think of things to say, things you may hear in a movie or something but the words don’t come as easily as you think.

“I had a good life,” he would say, “I did. I had a beautiful wife, six beautiful children and I loved my job. At least I had everything I ever wanted.”

But he was pissed.

You could see it in his eyes. He was a physician himself and he knew his cancer was the worst kind of cancer. He knew there was no hope, he knew he was going to die and he was pissed that he had to leave us.

That he couldn’t see his children grow up or live out his life with his wife.

He wanted to stay.

When I would hear him telling my mother that the chemo would be a “waste of time” I would try to say things I thought would motivate him to will himself better.

“Dad, please, don’t you want to see me get married some day? Don’t you want to walk me down the aisle?”

I forgive myself now for saying that only because I was a kid, but it still haunts me.

Of course he wanted that, he wanted that more than anything. Words can’t turn some things around. Some things – like adenocarcinoma and three brain tumors – are unstoppable.

—-

I flicked on the microphone for the 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning newscast. But this time was different. There would be no errant chills in my throat because when I looked up, he was there.

My father had taken a detour on the way home from his overnight shift at the Emergency Room to watch me give a live newscast. He had volunteered to come, wanting to see his “little girl on the radio.”

I glanced up between stories and I could see his face through the small tiny glass window of the thick padded door – he was smiling, from ear to ear.

Kind of like he is in this picture.

dad

—-

“Did you make someone smile today, Alaina?”

He asked me this often during my childhood.

“I think so,” I’d say.

“Did you know that when you make someone smile, just once, they’ll be a little bit happier and then they’ll make someone else smile. So for every person you make smile you could make dozens or even hundreds of other people smile.”

I think that was his secret, smiling and making other people smile.

—–
When that awesome story appeared in the Columbus Dispatch this Sunday a lot of you read it, including an old college friend who promptly sent me some photos he’d stumbled upon recently, “profile photos of a great Doctor, and a great man,” he wrote in the e-mail, “one who saved my life a few years earlier when I had a severe allergic reaction to penicillin. I wanted you to have them, as well as the knowledge of how much he garnered my respect and adoration.”

It would have been my father’s 61st birthday this week.

And today, he would want each and every one of you to make someone else smile.

Related posts:

  1. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy (!)
  2. Cancer SUCKS.
  3. His eyes, the Governor & Dave.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Martini Mom June 17, 2009 at 4:09 am

Beautiful.

My dad died about 8 years ago. He was one month shy of meeting his first grandchild, my son. He was a good man – my best friend – and I miss him terribly.

Your dad sounds amazing. "Did you make someone smile today?" What a beautiful question. We should all ask ourselves that. No wonder you grew up to be such a thoughtful woman, reaching out to so many people. He would be so proud of you.

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Lisa June 17, 2009 at 4:11 am

Been reading for awhile but this is my first comment.

This post brought tears to my eyes. I lost my mother to gall bladder cancer two years ago — she was only 56 and was diagnosed nine weeks before she died — and I miss her every day. She was one of the nicest people I know; she had a smile for everyone.

She'll never have the chance to (I hope) see me get married or be a grandmother, so I can empathize with the pain you feel.

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won June 17, 2009 at 4:39 am

You moved me with this one girlfriend.

Happy birthday Dr Dad.

She told me the same thing. "Momma", she said "I don't want to die yet. I still have too much to do."

Rest. Peace.

Cancer in a brain means things will never be the same. Cancer sucks. Love never dies.

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Lindsey June 17, 2009 at 4:40 am

"Did you make someone cry today Alainia?"
YES!! Omygod… can't stop.
I love my Dad to bits and so sorry you lost yours. Sounds like he was amazing.
Hugs to you.

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Lindsey June 17, 2009 at 4:41 am

Oops. Sorry for the name typo Alaina!

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jen June 17, 2009 at 4:48 am

I like that 'did you make someone smile today?' I must ask my son that instead of 'how was school today?'

What a beautiful trip down memory lane.

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Candace June 17, 2009 at 5:06 am

This is my first time reading your blog. What a beautiful tribute to your dad. Thank you. My dad also died from a brain tumor 10 years ago when he was 53. He taught me how to drive a stick shift too; what a fun and scary process that was. I always use "what did you learn today?" But, I want to remember to add "did you make someone smile today?" That's awesome.

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Busymomma66 June 17, 2009 at 11:10 am

Oh so beautiful.

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tela June 17, 2009 at 11:14 am

Oh wow, Alaina. That was beautiful. Made me cry early in the morning–and I'm not a crier!! My throat is still tight.

I think your dad would be real proud of you, girlie. And I think a lot of people are going to start asking their kids "Did you make someone smile?" after reading this…

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Ms. Single Mama June 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

You are all so sweet. Yes, please – make the kids smile and teach them how to make others smile. We'll make the world a better place, smile by smile.

Smiling actually makes you happier. Really.

Awesome. Thank you all so much.

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GracePlz June 17, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Beautiful!

Thank you for sharing because it has reminded me of all the wonderful memories I have of my mother and father.

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jen_k_ June 17, 2009 at 5:12 am

What a beautiful story. I see your dad in you.

Wouldn’t your dad be proud to know how his words are *still* touching people? That’s the mark of a phenomenal human being.

Thanks for sharing this. I’m off to make someone smile today, and to teach my son to do the same.

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Kate Savage June 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Thank you soooo much for that. I wasn't expecting to tear up when I stumbled upon your blog, but holy crap. I have to go for a Kleenex, and right after that, I'm going to do my best to honour those very wise words…

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Erin June 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Oh my goodness, I'm crying. This post really moved me.

And Alaina, you make me smile every time I read your blog. .

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Meg T. June 17, 2009 at 1:58 pm

This was indescribably lovely. Thank you.

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Tammy (CruisinTam) June 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm

My dad passed away 14 years ago last month. My awesome father in law of 29 years is not doing well. He won't be with us much longer. My words to my husband last week – "go sit with him. Spend time with him while you can. I would give ANYTHING to have 5 more minutes with my dad."

(Deep Breath) – That was an awesome post. Your dad is very proud of you.

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Kristy June 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Thank you for sharing that with us. My mom passed away 2 years ago from cancer. No matter how much you prepare yourself or others try it is still so hard to deal with. My mom never liked to talk about being sick. I remember asking her once a while before she passed if she was scared of dying and all she said was that she didn't want to leave us. That was the only time I saw her sad or upset that she was dying. It makes me feel better when I remember all the great times with her. What kills me is that she won't see all her grandkids grow up.She has 5 of them and she loved each one so much.

Thanks again for sharing that that with us. BTW, the necklaces turned out great.

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Mary June 17, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Such a beautifully written post. I had someone very close to me pass away from cancer and had to watch people I loved attempt to find those right things to say. In the end, those aren't the things you remember, it's their smiles.

Thank you.

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Danielle June 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Great story! I got goose bumps. You are so lucky to have had that kind of relationship with your dad.
Have a good week!

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Sheila June 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm

What a beautiful story and wonderful tribute to your dad. Brought tears to my eyes. He had such a great perspective on life.

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arscuore June 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Beautiful. Thank you! : )

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Megan June 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Such a beautiful post and so touching – you and your father are so blessed to have had each other. The photo of your dad radiates kindness, as do yours.

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Brittni June 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

That was so beautiful and well written. Your dad would be so proud of you. I hope that what he told you will stay with me every day because it is so true, and that is the person I want to be. Thanks so much for sharing.

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Juggle Jane June 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I'm smiling through my tears.

That was such a beautiful tribute to your dad. I can only imagine how proud he must be of you.

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Mindy June 17, 2009 at 8:26 pm

If you ever want to see your father… look in the mirror. Your dad left a legacy and that is you and your siblings and I am sure he would be most proud! Thank you for the tears and the smiles. My kids will surely be hugged and kissed today!

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TsQuest June 17, 2009 at 9:14 pm

That was beautiful. My grandma died last night and I have high hopes she's dancing with my dad now. They didn't love each other on this earth but perhaps past these heavy bodies, their spirits recognized each other…

Thank you for reminding me that I need to love my kids right now. Because this… this life is not permanent. And we should all remember to make someone smile.

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Irishmom June 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Oh Alaina, this is so beautifully written. I'm sorry your Dad couldn't be here to share the wonderful things you've achieved. But he's proud of you. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer last year and his life has also been changed irreversably. I haven't seen him in three years due to distance and the cancer, but am trying to get to Ireland where they'll be heading this summer. He too is a wise man and has taught me so much about life. Thank you for sharing this. :)

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abrookshire June 17, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Alaina, this was absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I love seeing how the legacies of people we don't know can come through and touch our lives and your Father's did that today. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post with us.

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LiLi June 17, 2009 at 11:02 pm

That was sad, but what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it.

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TorontoMama June 17, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Beautiful.
A reminder to all of us. To smile, to make others smile. To live.

Thanks Alaina. ::)

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amy June 18, 2009 at 1:40 am

What a wonderful attitude your father had. So sorry you lost him too soon.
I love his mantra and am going to adopt it as my own. Thanks for this post, beautiful tribute to what must have been an incredible man and father..

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piscehanna June 18, 2009 at 6:20 am

Thanks for always sharing meaningful, inspirational stories with us Alaina. You make me smile, mos def. Here's to you and your dad :)

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Alicia June 18, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Alaina:
I'm reading this at work and crying. You write SO poignantly. And you have your father's exact smile. Thanks for sharing – that is an incredible tribute to him – and I'm sure he's looking down on you and is soooooo proud!

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Bear June 18, 2009 at 3:38 pm

I'm so very sorry.

He sounds like someone who would have been very proud of the person you've become.

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Jim Everson June 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

One of your best Alaina. Thanks.

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Nani Ardine June 19, 2009 at 12:46 am

Your dad was obviously a great man. You know what they say: The apple doesn't fall far away from the tree… I just stumbled into your blog and being a single mom myself, I couldnt but read everythig you had to say at once!!! Hats off.

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Janet June 20, 2009 at 1:28 am

This was such a beautiful post. I have tears in my eyes.

I have no doubt that your father is still watching over you and is quite proud of the woman you've become.

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Single Ma June 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Alaina

This is a beautiful tribute to your father and it made my eyes wet – I won't say "tears" b/c I don't cry. LOL! I can tell that his legacy lives on in you because you also have a very nurturing spirit (and look JUST like him too!). By sharing his words of wisdom (did you make someone smile today?) with us, they've now touched more people than he probably ever imagined. He would be so proud of you! I'd like to plant this seed with my daughter and take heed myself.

Thank you for sharing. And Happy Father's Day!

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Lucy June 21, 2009 at 1:29 am

Such a beautiful post.

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Annelise June 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

This brought tears to my eyes Alaina. My heart aches for the pain you went through, but also envies each and every moment you got to spend with him. I am so jealous of my brothers for having memories of my father, Leslie, and I hope that every one of you who has lost a loved one cherishes those memories. Our fathers were amazing men who were taken from this world too early, and although I know my life is shaped by their existence, I will forever wish I could remember their face…their voice…their touch.

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Valerie September 9, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Annelise,
Your father was nothing less than Raymond’s best friend. I will never forget driving to your home for the funeral. Except for Mozart’s Requiem on the stereo, it was a quiet ride filled with the emptiness of profound loss. “Why,” he asked, “why?”
Raymond missed his big brother in so many ways. How many times he would say, if only Les was alive. Your father was our adviser, our friend and our “go to man” with questions big and small. I remember well those first dates — accompanied by both brothers! We had so many good times. . . . Laughing through the streets of Chicago, Second City, Rush Street, Lake Michigan . . . we had so many good times . . . there are so many good stories!!

They were remarkable men . . . so different and so much alike. . . considerate, kind and loving. However, Les had a droll sense of humor. Your parents visited soon after Anna was born . . . she cried that entire weekend. Our house was small, it was winter, so I would walk my sweet but loud baby outside in the snow so that the others might have a few moments of peace. Les insisted that we go out for dinner so I would not have to cook – but Anna hated the restaurant so we went for a long walk. As Les was ready to leave, he paused, turned around and looked at me and asked, “Does she ever stop crying?” I answered, “No.” We all laughed!

The most important thing I remember about your Dad is that if we ever needed anything, he would help without question. It is not too often in life that we can say that. Since Raymond died, I have wished so many times that Leslie was still only a phone call away for advice and kind words — and even his biting humor!

I cannot imagine your deep sense of longing. . . Just know that your father was remarkable – a trusted friend and devoted brother. Indeed, Raymond would often say that Les taught him just about everything that he needed to know!

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Angela July 31, 2009 at 8:23 am

I am new to your blog and so I am catching up on older posts. This one made me tear up at my desk and then smile! Thank you for sharing that story and passing on your fathers wise words.

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amy March 1, 2011 at 12:36 am

You lost your wonderful Dad way too soon and way too young for both of you.

I love his mantra though and try to practice it daily :) Being happy and nice has such such wonderful rewards… Making someone smile so priceless..

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