Happy Birthday Tribute

It’s Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 and it would have been my beloved Skip’s 76th birthday. Our morning would have started like any other day, sharing coffee and conversation about what the day held in store for us. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’d be playing golf together. This morning has me swimming through the memories we made and the indelible impression that this tender big hearted, twinkling-eyed man made on my life.

Skip had an effervescent spirit that was highly contagious. I witnessed his magic in one on one interactions with others as well as in large groups. I recall being at a huge banking dinner party in Philadelphia. After dinner, the guests began to make their way to the dance floor. People swayed to the music while conversations from the dinner tables mingled in the air. The band struck a few chords of a new song and Skip literally sprang from his chair and burst on to the dance floor like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Skip owned the Hustle….and he was about to bring the house down. All dinner conversation stopped and the dance crowd suddenly became energized and excited. Everyone on that dance floor fell under Skip’s magic and into dance lines as if choreographed. Smiles erupted on faces as feet fell into step with him, hands were clapping in rhythm. Everyone was caught in the magic of my husband – his energy, his enthusiasm, his love of music and dancing and best of all how he loved to share this part of himself so freely with others. I can close my eyes and relive that moment as if it were happening right now. It is seared into my memory banks and filed under “Never Forget This Moment.”

When I pull that memory out and soak up its goodness, I remember just how proud I was in that moment to be his wife. He magically gave others permission to let loose, to lose their inhibitions, to actually feel the music and respond to it. As I stood there watching him, he locked eyes with me and winked. That was our secret signal…that wink of his told me he was in his happy place. I could almost hear him whisper “Watch this” the same way a 10 year old boy would as he’s about to try something that would stop a mother’s heart.

It is not surprising to have folks who were at that event still comment to me about Skip on the dance floor and how it felt like they were all in a scene from a movie. That is just one of the lasting gifts that Skip gave to me and others. Those incredible moments when he would make time stand still and work his big magic.

Whenever there was a wedding, a dinner party at our golf club, or a banking function, everyone knew they could count on Skip to bring the party to life. I recall a New Year’s Eve party at Chester Valley where the DJ was just not striking the right chord with his music choices for the crowd. Skip jotted down a few song choices on a cocktail napkin and handed it to the guy with that knowing wink. As soon as “I Got You (Feel Good)” by James Brown started playing that dance floor was rocking. Skip and I closed the place down that night and laughed the whole drive home about how much fun it was.

Perhaps music was the legacy he was weaving all through his life and the timeless gift that he still continues to give to me. Skip’s love of music came from his heart. Songs seemed to talk to him, made him feel connected and understood, gave him hope and inspiration. When we were dating, he’d make me mixed cassette tapes full of the songs that had deep meaning to him. He’d write a detailed letter that accompanied each tape. The name of the song and the artist, what that song meant to him or was meant to convey to me and often why he chose a specific artist’s rendition of the song. I’d listen to these mixed tapes every day as I would commute to and from work. I fell deeper in love with Skip as I let these songs tell me more about him.

Skip was born in Rio de Janeiro and that must have influenced him by the very air he breathed for he loved Latin music and the richness of Spanish as a language. He was fluent in Spanish and he loved to take my hands in his, look into my eyes and then shower me with something beautiful in Spanish. He was right, the language is romantic and rich and it went straight to my heart. I used to tease him that he could be telling me that the oil in my car needed to be changed, but if he said it in Spanish, I’d melt.

He loved Gloria Estefan and her song, Con los Anos Que Me Quedan, was his personal favorite. He wrote me a letter where he handwrote the lyrics in both Spanish and English. He made comments in the margins about places where the English language fell short in conveying the depth of meaning in that beautiful song. If I had a rung on a ladder for every time I have listened to this song over more than 20 years, I would have a golden ladder straight to heaven.

Skip and I were on a vacation in the Bahamas with another couple many years ago. He was golfing during the day and I had gone scuba diving. As we were getting ready for dinner, we shared the highlights of our different experiences that day and decided that we would try each other’s passion. That evening, after dinner, Skip discreetly asked the DJ to play a special song. He walked back to our table, took my hand and led me to the dance floor. The song was “Unforgettable”, the duet with Natalie and Nat King Cole. He whispered to me how happy he was because I was willing to learn golf.

Little did I know that I would come to love the game of golf as much as Skip did. And yes, he came to love scuba diving as I did, marveling at the wonders and beauty that lies under the oceans.

It only dawned on me recently that Skip’s encouragement for me to learn golf, like music ,was yet another gift that he gave to me for after he was gone.

He often shared with me that after a long hectic day in the office, he’d find solace and rejuvenation by playing 9 holes of golf in the evening by himself. He loved walking the course, hearing his clubs clanging together in step with his long gait. He’d take in the rich verdant greens of the various cuts of grass on the course and let his eyes rest on the long sunset shadows stretching across the fairways. He confided that this time alone on the course was how he grounded himself. For a man who was an extravert and surrounded by people all day long, his sanctuary was the golf course in the evening.

Skip taught me both the skills of the game and the etiquette of golf. Frankly, both are complex to a beginner. Yet I could readily see how the skills and the etiquette resonated so organically with Skip. He was a committed hard worker and his grandfather, a highly decorated Admiral in the U S Navy, had instilled impeccable manners in him.

The skills of his game came through lessons, practice and patience. He was a scratch golfer who loved to compete. What I came to observe was that the truest test of his competitiveness was with himself. He was always striving to better his personal best. He was a copious record-keeper of his rounds of golf and he taught me how this helped him identify the parts of his game that needed work. Over time I came to understand that this analysis is what led him to be a master of the short game and putting. Again, I am blessed with a memory of him teaching me to chip onto a green using a pendulum example one evening at Chester Valley Golf Course. He had a gift for giving me a relatable image to help me grasp the concept.

He had an eye for reading greens that was unlike anyone I’ve ever met. We had countless hours of fun putting on greens from various angles so that I learn this for myself. To this day, I often hear his words in my ears as I assess a putt. As for golf etiquette, I quickly learned that most golfers will happily put up with your errant shots and high handicap if you respect the rules and camaraderie of the game.

I witnessed over many years how Skip forged long-time friendships over rounds of golf. This was yet another invaluable lesson that he taught me — you can learn a lot about a person in 4 hours of golf. Skip was a good judge of character and had a knack for seeing potential in others that they might not see themselves. From him, I learned how to interact with others on the golf course that would be more helpful than a hindrance. Honestly I had no idea just how much psychology goes into the game of golf.

I do know that I was so very proud of him when the wives of his friends would ask to be paired with us for couples golf events because they felt comfortable with Skip in the foursome. Putting others at ease was his gift. Not letting others’ games and behaviors distract him from his own game was his superpower. Skip had friends all over the globe who loved playing golf with him. When he passed away, there was an annual tournament established in his honor by an international banking group. Oh the stories I’ve heard over the years from those who loved watching him pull off an incredulous shot, or patiently teach them a trick or two.

As I reflect on it today, I realize that golf keeps me connected to Skip in some magical, incredible way, just like the songs that became “ours.” When he passed away, I played a lot of 9 holes by myself at Chester Valley in the evenings and though I was overcome by grief, I felt his presence and it was comforting. I was such a new golfer when Skip died, but I can still hear his words of encouragement or advice when I am standing over some shots. I only used a 5 iron off the tee when he was still alive, so when I conquered using a driver, I’d cast my eyes to heaven and say “I bet you are loving this, Skip.” I think that through osmosis I learned to be like him when playing golf with others. When someone tells me that they’ve enjoyed my company after a round of golf, I think to myself that I have honored Skip. He was so passionate about the game. I have made so many friends over these past 18 years through golf and they have filled some of the empty spaces in my heart.

Skip encouraged me to learn the game he loved. He taught me how to find some peace and solace in the evening on a golf course. He taught me to keep striving to get better — at life as well as golf and to be kind and respectful in the process. He taught me that if you need a friend, go hit the links. You are likely to make a friend for life over a round of golf.

I was fondly recalling my last round of golf at Chester Valley Golf Course in Malvern, Pennsylvania today. It was a few years after Skip passed away and I was moving back to Lancaster County. My brother, who is one of my greatest sources of comfort, joined me for this special goodbye round. My brother and I always have fun playing golf and he has such a gentle way about him. Throughout the round, we shared our fondest memories of playing that course with Skip. As we were walking the fairway approaching the 14th green, a rain shower appeared out of no where. By the time we reached the green, the rain clouds were drifting away from us and the sun was trying to peek out. The 14th green was one of the trickiest on the course and my ball was judge on the edge, a very long downhill putt over a multi-level undulating green. My brother was laughing at my predicament, thinking that my putt would end up off the green and I’d be chipping back on. As he bantered, I assessed the situation and stood over my ball. I moved only my head to turn and look at my brother and I stated “Skip says…..just breathe on it.” I barely tapped that golf ball and we both watched in amazement as it rolled slowly downhill, curving one way and then the other……until it dropped right into the center of the cup! My brother was cheering in amazement and as he ran up to congratulate me, he noticed the most spectacular rainbow in the sky overhead. As he pulled me into a hug, he said “I think Skip saw that one, Amy.” I was awestruck….and still am today as I treasure that memory.

Tonite I am going out to play 9 holes of golf at twilight, by myself. I will be honoring the love of my life and thanking him for all the songs that forever remind me of him and for how he expanded my life and my heart. Happy Birthday up in heaven, Skip Davis.

I have these StoryPeople pieces in my collection in honor of Skip

Lyrics to Con los Anos Que Me Quedan:

https://lyricstranslate.com/en/con-los-anos-que-me-quedan-years-remain-me.html

My Coat with Many Pockets

When I was in my late teens, I heard Dolly Parton’s song, Coat of Many Colors and it landed softly on my heart. I was captivated by the message that it conveyed about the love that was woven into that patchwork coat and one’s perspective on life.

That song spurred my imagination and I conjured up a “Coat with Many Pockets.” It was an imaginary coat, pale pink in color and floor length. The coat was adorned with pockets of all shapes, sizes and colors inside and out and even on the sleeves and collar. Each pocket was intended to hold a memory or words of wisdom that would help guide me through life. Just creating this coat in my mind brought me a tremendous amount of comfort and hope. You see, I’d spent my childhood and teen years in constant turmoil and I sorely needed some reassurance that one day I would have a stable, happy life. I also had a very real awareness that I’d have to seek out the guideposts and encouragement that would help me achieve that. I was in search of good examples and worthy role models.

In a heart-shaped pocket on the inside of my coat, I placed warm memories of my beloved Aunt Betz. I chose to carry her close to my heart because she was the epitome of a loving mother in my eyes.

I was so blessed to have Aunt Betz in my life as I was growing up. Each visit to her home was like being in a fairy tale and a welcome reprieve from my childhood dysfunction. She would run a warm bath for me, scented with Calgon and leave me two big fluffy pink towels, a bathrobe and slippers. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast cut into thin strips and play board games with me. She taught me to cook and bake and always had a cute apron at the ready. She is the one who instilled in me a love of word puzzles. She’d write Pennsylvania across the top of a sheet of paper and tell me to make as many words out of those letters as possible. All the while, she’d be preparing dinner and humming a tune. She would marvel at the long list of words I compiled and place shiny colored stars on the top. Once a year, I would get to stay with my aunt, uncle and their two sons at Rehoboth Beach for a whole week. It was the most magical vacation, full of love, laughter and sun-drenched days on the beach. This easy flow of a happy family became the image for my own future.

Throughout my twenties I tucked many words of encouragement and nuggets of wisdom into the pockets of my imaginary coat.

Harry Stacks, the editor of the Intelligencer Journal (local Lancaster County newspaper) and my first boss saw that I was capable of more than the minor secretarial duties he had for me. He offered me an opportunity to write articles for the women’s section of the daily newspaper. I never forgot his generosity in allowing me to explore my potential. I tucked that in a pocket of my coat and gave it a hearty pat.

Sometimes I would meet a person on the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia when I would take my infant son for his eye appointments at Children’s Hospital. That kind person would offer me some advice or assurance just when I needed it most. What anxious young mother doesn’t find comfort from an older mother offering hope and support? You bet — I tucked that in the very pocket I would warm my shaking hands in.

By now you can probably tell that my coat with many pockets is filled with love, encouragement, comfort and hope — random acts of kindness from people I have loved and from total strangers. Little did they know that they made a lasting impression on me. For many I am sure that they had no idea what I was facing in my life when they offered me their words of wisdom.

I met a Indian gentleman named Patel on a plane years ago that spent a generous hour sharing with me that “If you do good, you will get good. If you do bad, you will suffer.” He stressed that it was possible to meditate anywhere and to always be respectful of others.” I jotted down everything he said to me on the notes section of my iPhone and yes, tucked the memory of our time together in a pocket of my coat. It was at the onset of my mindfulness and meditation journey and his conversation felt like a nudge in the right direction. I remember a feeling of such peace as we chatted on that plane.

Once I was sitting alone having dinner on birthday and an older gentleman stopped by my table and told me I looked beautiful and to “keep care”. He had the same blue eyes that Skip had and I have never anyone other than Skip say “keep care.” That brief encounter touched my heart in a very tender way.

I’d been thinking a lot about my coat with many pockets recently and the comfort it has brought me over the years. People come in and out of our lives — some briefly and some much longer. If we are lucky, some leave an indelible impression that will carry us for a very long time.

Random acts of kindness may not be so “random” after all. Perhaps others can feel when we need a little life boost, or some emotional glue.

A few weeks ago, I shared this story of my coat with many pockets with a young woman I have befriended at my local grocery store. She was about to embark on an exciting new chapter of her life and was so happy to see me to share that news and to get some words of encouragement from me. It’s been our “thing” through the pandemic to offer each other inspiration and uplifting thoughts. Naturally she was a little nervous about taking this leap and following her heart to pursue her dreams. The image of my coat with all those pockets really resonated with her. As I reflect on it now, I think that my imaginary coat is a metaphor for being present, paying attention to others who have traveled life’s bumpy path and taking their words of encouragement to heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I hope you will tuck some of the love and joy of this day in your own pockets.

In loving memory of my buoyant, generous and sweet husband, Skip Davis, I share this, his favorite quote: