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.