I thought I would share this memory of my dad that I wrote for School Library Journal a couple of years ago. I’ll miss him forever.
I’m the youngest of three boys… Lance, Linden (we call him Lindy) and Loren. My childhood was great. Christmas was magical. I could tell you of many wonderful Christmas memories and traditions but today I’d like to share a story about my Dad on one Christmas in particular. It’s not a childhood memory, I was a bit older. Dad was a salesmen for a building supply company. We were not affluent, my brothers and I did not get a lot of extras, but we were well taken care of. Born in the Depression Era, Dad was old school frugal. It seemed no matter what I asked for in those days, Dad had one answer…”no”. I must have asked Dad for help buying a car dozens of times. The answer was “no” (I bought my own car but it was lame). If money was involved, Dad’s answer was “no”. By my junior year in College, I had finally decided to try to become an artist for a living. At the end of the Fall semester that year I picked up a flyer from the art department announcing something called The Kentucky Institute for European Studies. It was a program where students could go abroad for two months in the Summer, study a certain discipline and get college credits. I enthusiastically read how I could go to Florence, Italy and study art history and take an independent drawing class for two months in the Summer of 1986, I could roam the Italian streets and draw whatever caught my eye and experience famous art and architecture up close instead of a text book. The Institute would take me on weekend excursions to Assisi, Rome, Siena and Venice, all the while getting college credits to help me earn a degree. I was convinced that this would greatly enhance my quest to somehow become a professional artist. There was only one problem. The cost of the program was several thousand dollars. Where would I get the money? I’d have to go ask Dad and of course, I knew what the answer would be. His answer would be “no”. All hope was gone. I didn’t even bother to practice my pitch before approaching Dad about the opportunity. I could hear him say it already…“no”. Still, I went through the motions, giving it the best attempt I could muster, including what it could mean to me and my future as some kind of artist. Dad sat quietly as he often did…typically waiting for me to bury myself with flimsy logic. As I finished my plea… he quietly looked over the flyer. Silence. My ears were conditioned to hear what came next. So they could hardly comprehend when he looked up from the flyer and said, “I’ll talk to your mother.” I was shocked. My Dad didn’t say “no”. He was going to talk it over with Mom. I had a chance! I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone to Europe and there was a chance I could go to Italy to study art as a 22 year old kid for nearly an entire Summer. Nothing was said about it for two weeks. I wondered if the Italy trip was ever going to come up again. Christmas was great. My brothers and I gathered with Mom and Dad and enjoyed a meaningful time together as we always did. Christmas morning, I had opened a sweater or two and some socks (the kind of things college kids get, no exciting bikes or G.I. Joes). And then Dad handed me a box that felt like a shirt or something. I opened the box to find the Kentucky Institute for European Studies flyer. Dad said “I think this would be good for you son, we’re going to make it happen, Merry Christmas.” Dad followed through and went to the parents meeting with me that February. He made sure I had all the clothes, art supplies and essentials that I would need. He gave me an extra amount of spending money to take for the Summer. And he and Mom drove me to Atlanta from Lexington to meet the other kids for our flight abroad. It was the Summer of my life. Dad was right, it was good for me. I believe it inspired my career as a young person who wanted to create art for a living. I can say it changed my course and set my path.
Years later as I was a working as a freelance illustrator Mom and I were talking and she happened to mention in passing that Dad had finally made the last payment on that Italy trip. And she immediately put her hand over her mouth as if to say oops! When I pressed her for an explanation it came out that my father had taken a home equity loan from the bank so that he could send me to Italy that Summer to study art and follow a dream. I never knew. He had been making little monthly payments all the while to pay it off.
This Christmas will be my first Christmas without Dad. Sadly, we lost him this past April. I’ll miss him forever. And if you ask me if I’ll ever forget that selfless sacrifice he made for me that Christmas in 1985 ,of course, like Dad, I’ll say “no”.