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Passing It On
By Delores Liesner

My dad was a quiet and gentle man – kind of a woodsy All-American hard-working man. His hands were muscled, showing his strength, but his eyes revealed a gentle soul.

He had a grocery store in our living room during and after World War II, and an appliance store in another home’s garage, later moving it to a rented store in the nearby town of Norway, Michigan, and for years he harvested cedar and pulpwood. Daddy travelled a lot so any time I got with him was special, but the times I had with Daddy in the woods influenced me the most.

No matter what other challenges were going on in my life, with other family members, at school, or any other area of life, Daddy was able to help me to feel loved and valued. He took time to listen to me. He noticed what I noticed, stopping the car if he saw me admiring wildflowers, so I could pick some, even though he knew they would wilt long before we got home.

He was the one who recognized my identifying with our Native American heritage through his mother. Ethnic pride was taboo back then, but I was always asking questions, seeking to understand more completely who I was. The forest was Daddy’s classroom and all things growing, his textbook. Many illustrations he shared through nature formed my spiritual understanding and gave me hope, despite an otherwise difficult home life.

Daddy was my pattern for a husband. He lived lessons like men can be strong, yet gentle, by cradling a baby bird in his hand and returning it to its’ nest rather than harming it. He always seemed to know when I had done something wrong, yet never accused me, always showing patient grace so I could experience honest regret for whatever I’d done, and not just regret getting caught. Once I’d succumbed to confession, his arms welcomed me as a place of refuge from myself and the pain of growing up. There was no judgment, only love.

I found someone like him. We’re still happily in love after 47 years, so through Ken, and through stories of Daddy, I can pass on to our family, the friends we know and those we haven’t yet met, the hope of finding a hero. Here is one of my favorite stories:

Passing It On

“Looks like they’re having a rough time,” Daddy whispered, pushing away his plate and nodding toward a couple that looked younger than my parents, (farmers I guessed from his bib overalls), at the most remote table in the diner. I was 12-years-old and almost worshipped my Daddy, so I had turned to better see what – or who – had captured the attention of my gentle giant. While I observed the couple, (a dark-haired tearful woman and tight-lipped angry-looking man, stabbing their forks at their food between brief serious glances and sad shakes of their heads), I began to wonder what their troubled situation could be. Our perky blond waitress interrupted my thoughts as she approached our table, responding to Daddy’s uplifted hand. “Did you want something else?” she asked, though he’d already expressed satisfaction with our burger-baskets and lemonade.

A whispered instruction from behind Daddy’s hand produced a rapidly disappearing waitress, and aroused my curiosity, effectively halting the last catsup-laden French-fry on its way to my mouth. That was the quickest I’d seen her move since we’d arrived. What ever had he said? Eagerly I sat up straighter, meeting his eyes and expecting an explanation. “Later,” he said. The single word was spoken quietly, and I sighed impatiently, though the feeling subsided as quickly as it came. Daddy always kept his word, and a visit to the diner after a ride to the paper mill was a rare treat. Big men’s boots clomping on the wooden floor, the ching of the big gold cash-register, neat checkered tablecloths, and wild-flower-filled canning jar vases held equal fascination with the clothing and hairstyles of the employees and customers.

A yellow slip with four red capital letters spelling “PAID” moved across my vision as the waitress passed it to Daddy’s waiting hands, one now holding the pen that usually rested, ever ready, in his breast pocket. “Give me a minute,” he said, dismissing the waitress. Fascinated, I fought a sense of guilt for snooping as Daddy’s hand curved to hide some brief hand movements. His chocolate-brown eyes lit with that more-to-the-story look, as he turned the yellow slip face down and slid it toward me. “You can look,” he softly promised, his weathered hand still covering most of the slip as he continued, “but with the knowledge will come responsibility.” I knew my Daddy would never ask anything of me that would harm me and I quickly answered with a promise, keeping my voice similarly serious to his. His eyes watered as our glances met, (he later told me from my obvious complete trust in him), but they twinkled too, as he flipped over the receipt.

Above the red stamp he’d written, “Do what you wish the other would do.” And beneath the word PAID, “There’s hope -pass it on”.

The waitress nodded in agreement when Daddy whispered that she must not tell who paid their bill, and we walked out silently, sharing secret smiles. When the waitress winked as she headed for that corner table, I ached to turn around and watch the couple’s reaction. Determined to honor Daddy’s secret trust, I waited until the truck doors closed before turning back to the window framing the couple’s heads close together, reading Daddy’s message.

Silent, poignant miles slipped behind us as I pondered the deeper meaning beyond when in life I would be able to pay someone else’s bill, let alone my own. Finally I concluded aloud, “You meant pass on not just money, right?” Daddy nodded, and glanced over, approvingly. I basked in his love as he segued into examples of those who had touched his life and given him hope; then thoughtfully answered queries like how will I know what to write, our secret connecting us as never before.

Years later and hundreds of miles away, I’d call Daddy with each pass-it-on story. In Kentucky, a young couple with a crying baby; in Indiana, a pastor and his wife, discouraged about the slow start of a new church according to the waiter; in other states, two young women with babies apparently celebrating something, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Often there was an older gentleman who reminded me of Daddy or a young mother that reminded Daddy of his own daughter. We always closed our time wondering together how things played out in the various lives and circumstances we’d witnessed, knowing that in attempting to bless others we ourselves had been blessed.

Though physically my Daddy’s now ‘gone’ from me, when traveling recently with a friend, I felt the “call” – and noticed her eyebrows rise as she observed my quiet conversation with the waiter, and the waiter’s questioning nod toward a soldier and his family. “What was that about?” she asked, leaning in and obviously sensing a secret. “Feeling my Daddy’s presence today,” I answered thoughtfully, “and passing it on.”

Delores Liesner Bio:

Despite an abusive background, Delores Liesner discovered that God offers hope and humor in every life circumstance. A mother and grandmother, she encourages others by sharing stories through anthologies, magazines, newsletters, Internet, a column, television and radio. Books in progress: Miracles, and Like a Tree (Native American heritage).

Vist my website/blog at: http://www.deloresliesner.com

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COMMENT (1) | family, heritage, inspiration, parenting
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Comments

One Response to “Passing It On”

  1. Cyn
    June 22nd, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    Beautiful Delores! Thanks for sharing this link with me!

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