My daddy could sell ‘ice to an Eskimo’, or so I was told. Growing up, I remember my daddy was a jovial person. He laughed more than any human I have still yet to meet, and he always donned a smile that extended across his entire face. I would trace the deep crevices that had cratered in a sunburst pattern from his eyes at only 35. He was my love, my hero, and held all my admiration. I asked him to marry me over and over again. Call it childhood instinct, but I knew our time together would be short.
It was a Sunday night, 5 days before my 11th birthday, when we received the tragic call my daddy was dead. The day before my birthday I sat nervously locked away in a back corner, hiding from his corpse displayed for the viewing pleasure of all those that had loved him as much as I did,
“He died doing what made him happy.”
I overheard everyone saying it over and over and over again as they passed by me. Looking back at my life, I can tell that statement became a subconscious mantra.
My childhood was not the happiest, and the option to do what just made you happy was not exactly conducive. My mother was left in piles of debt with an 11-year-old, 5-year-old, and newborn infant. My job was to help clean the house and take care of my brothers, I had to repress the pain and understandably step up and take my role as the oldest sibling. Each night as I lay down in my bed I could finally weep over his smile. How much I longed for someone to laugh or smile, or to be able to genuinely laugh or smile myself, but for a time I had lost the ability. My stepfather loves to remind me that when I was teasingly asked at 13 if I wanted to marry some crush of the month my response was, “whoever I marry, I want him to make me laugh.”
My grandfather was the founder of a bank in Houston and as I hit teenage years I would spend my summers working there. At dinner time my grandparents would build me up, “You will be a banker, there is no more accommodating field for a woman to climb to the top.” They would groom me for a position they had in mind for me at my grandfather’s bank. Each day as I sat behind my desk my soul would fade, I would find myself venturing onto Livejournal to just write, my heart was not in my work, and I was miserable.
Once at the university, I finally began taking only what made me happy. Although by my later teenage years my responsibilities for my brothers had faded, it was a difficult state of mind to shake. It was difficult to just let go and be a child, but in the dorm, for the first time, I experienced a euphoria of freedom. I began to really laugh. I began to take whatever classes sounded like they would make me happy, and bring great interest to me. If a friend said a prof they had in astronomy was amazing I signed up for it, if I read that a women’s writers teacher was the bee’s knees on a school review I would apply. I took whatever sounded fun at the time with no real direction. Finally, in my Junior year, I was called into an advisors office who said I had to declare some sort of major, we looked at my plan and with my credits, English junior high education was my new calling.
I married a man at 21 that made me laugh, I was only a sophomore in college at this point. We bought a house, and though his salary paid for our home he wanted my equal contribution and requested I get a job. I applied at my favorite store in the mall, the one I visited every Tuesday night for inspiration and story ideas, and within weeks was their new lowly sales associate. The man who hired me was the most jovial man I had ever met, he had that distantly familiar genuine twinkle of happiness in his eyes. He let me know that my job was to make my customers’ day. I was inspired, my job was to bring joy to customers!
I was encouraged to dance, I was encouraged to laugh, I was encouraged to reach out to each and every individual and bring a smile to their faces. I was given the opportunity to listen and to care. I was able to take the sad and mistreated and inspire or reignite a light within. I felt my mantra come to life.
With great consideration and pain, I left my retail career (now an assistant manager) after a year to student teach where I was told not to allow laughter in my classroom. I was told to teach the children how to answer questions on a test, not to teach them the correct answers. I was told I could not encourage their own laughter and clowning. The principle would walk in if she heard laughter and tell me she could not concentrate, that we had to work silently in my classroom.
This was the career path I had chosen, this is what I had studied for. But one night I sat and thought of my last conversation with my father. I remember there was no time that I saw him with more confidence and excitement then when he was describing to me his successes as a traveling salesman. We lived in the desert, and he sold scuba equipment which ripped him from our home for weeks at a time. He showed me all the sales he had made, how suddenly we were going to be able to pay off debt, and how someday soon we would own a red suburban (his dream car). He had such a passion and talent for sales, and so had I. For his final breath, he was standing in the Pacific ocean with his best friend, just off the shore of California, putting on his flipper to begin another dive.
I didn’t want to die doing what I felt I had to do. I was going to spread smiles and laughter, I was going to return to sales.