Toward the end of his life, my father came to Richmond for a visit. We knew there would be no more treatments. We knew there wouldn’t be much more time. But on that day he felt good and the weather was beautiful and we knew we were lucky. My Aunt Martha and my Uncle Roy and my mother and Ben and I took a family walk to Libby Park. Once there, we stood together looking out at the James River, but I knew we weren’t really looking at the water. Each of us was seeing a different slice of the story of our life together.
My father broke the silence. “I’ve loved my life,” he said, “And today is a Lucky Strike Extra.”
I knew about Lucky Strikes. He’d told me that he’d quit smoking them the day I was born. And I knew about the Lucky Strike Extra. When he was a teenager, Lucky Strike sponsored the Hit Parade on the radio. The Lucky Strike Extra was an unexpected song that wasn’t on the charts, but deserved to be played.
That whole day was important, but that moment, standing together on Libby Hill, looking at the water, is a moment that shimmers and sparkles like the river did that day. That moment was our Lucky Strike Extra.
A year later I stood on the same spot. I realized then that he’d seen something on the horizon that day that prompted his allusion to Lucky Strikes. There it was right in front of me, left over from Richmond’s tobacco factory days: the Lucky Strike smoke stack. I must have seen it hundreds of times, but I’d never noticed it.
We can look without seeing. We can hear without listening. We can live a day without a letting a single moment come fully to life. But it is less likely if we write. Writing is about noticing. I have invited the children to join me in a month long “slice of life” challenge. Those who join me will write a short “slice” everyday. I made it clear that it was optional. But every child signed up. This is a helpful process in developing cognitive skills, writing fluency, grammar, and style. It is helpful in helping us meet the national and state standards for English. But that is not all…
Friday afternoon, as we were celebrating Avery with birthday brownies, we were celebrating our lives together by sharing our writing. When the bell rang for dismissal, no one wanted to leave. We were holding on tight. It was right there and we hadn’t missed it It was our Lucky Strike Extra.
What a precious memory! I love your blog and visit it off and on during the year. I think your students are extremely lucky to be in your class.
I love it! I always notice the Lucky Strike smoke stack because it always reminds me of my Mom. She worked there in her 20’s! You made me cry tonight Annie Campbell!
Very moving and thoughtful memory. You make an interesting statement that writing is about noticing. I hope that this month helps me to notice the things that matter the most. Thanks for inspiring words. My 4th graders are also slicing.
What a beautiful piece about your father and about writing in your class.
I remember that day, too. Another Lucky Strike extra was Ginny’s coming out to greet us with a pitcher of nice, cold lemonade!
Beautiful, moving and a perfect memory.
Thank you Mrs. Campbell! I read your webpage every week and your stories are beautiful.
I love the way you write! This is so descriptive and moving- not to mention a great way to look at things. My favorite lines: “We can look without seeing. We can hear without listening. We can live a day without a letting a single moment come fully to life.” Very inspiring to do the opposite!
I really enjoyed reading your story, it was very touching. When I read this it reminded me of my Aunt who passed in 2003 from cancer.She wore this charm bracelt that I never noticed until it was given to me after she had died. It was special to me because she ment alot to me. I also loved how you connected it to writing and how we as writers look without seeing and hear without listening. That line was very powerful.
This was Beautiful!!!!!! It was very discriptive and full of imagery. As I was reading this I had thoughts of my great-grandmother and her last days here in this life. Thank you for showing me another way to look at death as it approaches.
What a touching story. I live next to the Lucky Strike building and will think about this every time I see the tower as I arrive home. I can only hope to see such inspiration in the world to connect to my own life in such a beautiful way.
This was a beautiful story to read. It has inspired me to write down events in my life besides just facebook posts. Even if they seem mundane at the moment I will be able to reflect on them later. It would almost be like those youtube videos of people who take a picture of themselves everyday to see how much they have changed over the years.
This is a very heartfelt story. Thank you for sharing that moment with us. It is true, sometimes we look but we do not see. We can hear but not listen. Sometimes my mom says to me ” are you listening to me?” I should listen more and not just hear her talk. A simple object can become so precious to us because it holds a special place in our hearts.
This story displayed great emotion. I agree, things sometimes are right in front of us but we don’t see it. I love how you related that experience back to your students. Great writing.