Monthly Archives: February 2015

One year later

 Dad was diagnosed one year ago today.  This  evening, we held a tribute benefit for HopeLink where I work and these were the words I delivered to the 175 in attendance.

My dad and I met for coffee this morning.

It was about 3am, my usual wake up time.

I got out of bed, took the dog out to pee, brewed a pot of coffee and sat in the living room to watch him work in the stillness of the morning like I’ve done so many times in my life.  I scanned from frame to frame watching his broad strokes of genius on each of the memories hanging on my undeserving walls.  We exchanged opinions about the lighting in each scene, his choice of shadows, his mix of colors and over his shoulder, my tears dripped onto his palette as he again dipped his brush to paint his sky as they have each morning about this time for the last few months.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

It was July of last year when my boss at my new job called me into her office and closed the door.

She said they were beginning to plan tonight’s event and she delicately asked if my dad wouldn’t mind if we paid him a small tribute this evening as part of this celebration of art, artists and artisans of many genres.

I was enroute to visit him in California that evening, midway through the battle that took him home last October.

I told him of her proposal for the February event and, predictably, he said that while he’d be honored  by the thought, I should hold off buying him a ticket.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

Not just  a creative genius, he was a funny, funny man.

I’ve never written a tribute speech.

I spoke at his memorial.

But even there, he one upped me and everyone else in attendance  if you recall.

But tonight is no memorial.

Tonight is a celebration of the arts and what they give to us.

It is, indeed, a night about giving.

Mike Miller gave us a lot more than we realize.

He gave us countless pieces of beauty captured eternally on the canvasses of our walls.

He gave us big pictures of scenic designs  in many of Disney’s  first animated films.

He gave us caricatures, cartoons and creative campaigns of art and illustration.

He gave us bronze sculptures, mountain men and a glimpse into the hard life of the old west.

He gave us award-winning, provocative advertising, slogans and designs for 50 years.

He gave millions of dollars to the university and traded them a buck for it.

He gave thousands of children reading adventures withTomas the Tortoise.

And, he gave me, hands down, the best campaign signs for high school student body president, bar none.

Mike Miller may be gone, but he will never be absent.

The most unique attribute of art, is that it  continues to give well after the artist is gone.

Few of us will be able to do that in our lifetimes.

You see, the true heart of giving is not merely about that moment.

It’s about a contribution to a moment  that will inspire future moments

That will inspire future moments

That will inspire future moments of giving.

It’s about being the artist.

Truly, giving is about the artist in us all.

What will we create for others that will last well beyond our years?

What picture will we paint that will change the normal for so many who know no different?

The very last conversation I had with my dad at his bedside before he died wasn’t about his art.  It wasn’t about his childrens’ books.  It wasn’t even about “Hey Reb!”

It was about how proud he was of me of the choice I have made in my own life to do the work that I do that changes lives.

In essence, he called me his peer, an artist, who, by my work, will leave impressions on people I may never know or see.

Mike Miller gave so much.

He may be gone, but he will never be absent.

He mixed  his final stroke with my tears on the palette, and it was a masterpiece at 3am. The coffee was cold and I told him it was gonna be a busy day today getting ready for tonight’s event. I said thanks for giving a few of his pieces for tonight’s auction and for the memories. He said pick some nice pieces, Don.  It’s a great cause.

And could feel that funny grin over my shoulder….and he said, very quietly….

“But tell them I’ll be watching who’s bidding and how much.”

My little Valentine

She said she had another date lined up, but now he couldn’t make it.

So I mustered the courage at the last minute and asked if she wouldn’t mind having Valentine’s day dinner with me.  I’m single.  She’s single.  Neither of us had plans or any love interest on nearby horizons, so when she jumped at my invitation,  I knew we were liable to be a great match.

Though a  little shorter and older than my usual type, knowing she was available, I couldn’t pass up the chance to spend the evening with this beautiful woman.  As it turned out, we ended up spending the entire day together.  I came by with a morning flower and we sipped fancy coffee together. I’d also brought some authentic German pastries. She had a beautiful smile, even with the crumbs.

We talked through a few cups about so many things while the time passed, and we shared so much of what we had in common.  Her eyes were soft, her home immaculate, and her colorful walls were full of life, love and memories past.  Particularly fond of her stories of family and friends, she made us laugh and cry at the same time. She was a wealth of remembrances and nostalgia wrapped up in a pretty little Valentine’s dress for the occasion.

The day wore on into afternoon and I helped her with some things she hadn’t reached nor repaired in some time.  She hadn’t had a man around the house for a few years now and I tried to show off a little by doing chores she couldn’t and getting dirty for tasks she wouldn’t.  I rather enjoyed impressing her and she was every shade of thankful.  I love that in a woman.

In the car, I’d placed the wrapped box of her favorite See’s candy on her seat as a surprise, and her appreciation was absolutely glowing.  Given the month and the day, neither of us seemed very alarmed at the love and care we obviously had for one another.  Admittedly, the holiday was a little awkward for both of us in our own ways, but throwing caution to the wind, we warmed up to the idea.  I kissed her cheek.

I’d chosen a nearby restaurant where we ate by candlelight and talked and laughed about all the other couples in the room.  We watched one young couple get engaged right there and we both cried a little at the sight.  I love that in her..

So, with a dreamy Valentine’s Day coming to a close, I drove her home and walked her to her door where we promised we’d see each other again. And I hugged her. And I kissed her on the cheek again.

And as she walked in and turned out the light, I said “I had a wonderful time.  I’m sorry he couldn’t make it. I miss him too, but I’m glad I could spend this day with you, Mom.”

She smiled. “Me too, Donnie. Thanks and Happy Valentine’s Day. Drive home carefully.”

Little Timmy

Summer had come and gone and little Timmy was more than a little disappointed. But not for the same reasons as the other kids. He was back at school and like every September it just felt different. Though it was a new school year, he carried the same old duct taped backpack and torn shoes that now fit just a little tighter.
Timmy had always felt different, even before summer vacation. But now, a season later, little Timmy had grown up some and become a more curious little guy. This year, he was determined to figure out why he felt so different.
Though a little smarter now, little Timmy hadn’t grown much taller over the summer like some of the other kids at school. And that was probably a good thing because the pants he was wearing, like always, were too short from last spring. Mom told him it would be awhile before she could afford anything new. As the oldest of three brothers, he grew up always knowing that there were no hand-me-downs for him.
As she left for work in the early morning hour, Timmy asked his Mother, “Our family is very different isn’t it?” She said “Well I certainly hope so. All families are different in their own special way and it’s something to be proud of.” Timmy wondered why if it was so special, he didn’t feel so proud.
“Now you go help your brothers finish their homework and remember, I’ll be home late after work so be sure to get them to bed early tonight.”
This was what Mom said almost every time she left for her day job. Little Timmy began thinking about how the other kids at school talked about their parents helping them with their homework after the family dinner each night. He’d often hoped that someday his Mom would be able to help with his homework, and that maybe they could have a family dinner, but she was always working. He thought, “We are different.”
The next week was the end of the month and always a time when things around the house seemed especially difficult. But when Mom was there, she tried to make times fun for little Timmy and his brothers with flashlights and candles and an occasional ghost story before bed on her nights off before going back to her other job. Mom said the lights would be off until next payday but it was okay because he had his brothers with him and they could play flashlight games in the dark before bedtime. While they did have fun, he secretly hoped someday he would be able to help keep the lights on all the time. And again, he noticed how his family was just a little different.
The next day at school it was lunchtime. Timmy listened to the kids at the table next to him complain about how their Moms would pack their lunches with “leftovers” and wondered what upset them so much. His family didn’t have leftovers after meals. He could only hope to someday have something like a meatloaf sandwich in his lunchbox like other kids. His lunchbox always seemed to weigh a little less. “That’s different,” he told himself.
The more little Timmy put his mind to it, the more differences he found between his family and other kids’ families. And while his mom said he should be proud, he really tried.
When the teacher asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” the kids yelled “Fireman!,” “A nurse!,” “I want to be an engineer!” Little Timmy always hoped someday he would be able to have a job but he had never really thought much about what it might be. In fact, he never really thought much beyond the week ahead, much less about what he’d be in the distant future when he was a grown up. Again, he felt that was a little different from the other kids.
At recess, some kids were petting a scruffy stray dog through the school fence, boasting about how cute their own dogs and cats were and what they’d named them. Little Timmy didn’t have a dog or a cat. His Mom had told the boys that someday they would, but that someday hadn’t come yet. Mom said it was an extra mouth to feed that she couldn’t afford right now, but hopefully at Christmastime. Though many Christmases had already passed, he continued hoping that someday he might open a little wrapped box with a puppy inside on Christmas morning. Now that would be different!
Little Timmy went home that night with his homework. His teacher had told the class to come prepared with an idea for show and tell. After feeding and bathing his brothers and getting them in their sleeping bags, he made his own bed on the sofa. Like most nights in that darkened living room, he waved his flashlight around on the ceiling and drew pictures with the beam of things he dreamed of, like little puppy faces which disappeared as quickly as he drew them. It was at that moment that Timmy came up with the best show and tell idea ever!
His Mom had come home very late from work but Timmy was still awake thinking of his wonderful idea. Though tired, she listened to Timmy describe his show and tell idea and she cried. He didn’t mean to make her sad but she said they were happy tears. “Timmy, nobody hopes and dreams like you. Never stop, Timmy. I have always said you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” Little Timmy smiled, blew out the candle and put himself to sleep.
It was his turn next at show and tell.
He’d waited all day for this.
“So Timmy, what do you have for us today at show and tell?” Little Timmy had already cleared the corner of his desk and arrived at the front of the classroom before she had even finished the question. From the pocket of his high-water pants, little Timmy pulled out a small, white light bulb and held it up for the class to see. A bit puzzled, the teacher asked “So little Timmy, what does the light bulb mean to you?”
Proudly, little Timmy replied, “It’s like an idea!”

“I’ve noticed that my family is different than the other kids’ families, but that being different is okay because it’s really just being normal, but in a different way.”
“I don’t have new clothes or a home-made lunch or a puppy like the other kids, but that’s normal for me. That’s what my family is used to. Like this light bulb, some families shine in ways other families don’t. Either way, all families make light and shine not because of what we have but because of how we love.”
“And it’s okay to be different…. just like everybody else.”

And that day, little Timmy got the only “A” for show and tell.
And Little Timmy was no longer Little Timmy, for he grew a whole inch taller that same day Mom came home with a big barking bow-tied box.