*photo copyright Phil Stern Gallery
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~Leo Buscaglia
With all the darkness and despair that we see on the news every day, it’s easy to forget that there ARE really good people out there doing things that might not be newsworthy, but still touch people and restore our faith in humanity and kindness.
I could write a whole blog about how awesome my dad is. I could tell you his whole story about how he grew up poor and how his father abandoned the family when my dad was just a boy. He was a child but was still old enough to feel the pain and the loss. He was also old enough to help his mother raise his younger brother in the mountains of Western Maryland. He knows what it feels like to be hungry. He knows what it feels like to have a world of responsibilities on your shoulders as a child. To hope that maybe your father will return and to live with the disappointment that he never does. He struggled in school but still graduated. Somehow instead of being a victim…instead of repeating the cycle of pain…he found his way out. He married my mom, his high school sweetheart and joined the military. He then made his way to law enforcement. They moved to Anacostia in South East Washington DC and started their family.
My dad was a DC beat cop at the time of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Washington DC was buzzing with celebrity parties and galas. My dad was assigned to handle security at the door for the celebrity inaugural party hosted by Frank Sinatra. He will tell you amazing stories about how Frank Sinatra was so hospitable to him, offered him dinner, how he had a cocktail with Nat King Cole, etc, etc. Great stories! He will tell you that as a “hillbilly country boy” it was quite an experience. He got Sinatra’s autograph for my mom and was handed a crisp $100 bill at the end of the night when Sinatra shook his hand. And even now at 84 years of age, he can tell you the story of that entire evening like it just happened. It was a big night in his life.
Fast forward fifty years. 2011 was the 50 year anniversary of the JFK inauguration. CNN did a special on it. My dad was home one afternoon in his chair watching it on TV. They were interviewing celebrity photographer Phil Stern who was now in his 90s. While he was talking they were showing the black and white pics of the celebrities that he took that evening. Suddenly up on the screen was a picture of this handsome, smiling, DC police officer in full uniform being kissed on the cheek by actress Janet Leigh. (Janet Leigh was the blond actress in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Psycho”….if you don’t know about that movie then please don’t tell me and just Google it!) It was my dad! And he almost jumped out of his chair (hard to do when you are in your 80s!). He told me the story and I went on an internet search to find out more.
I found the Phil Stern gallery and contacted them via email telling them my dad’s story and how if possible I would like to purchase a print of that photo. I was delighted to receive a response from the curator who was excited to hear the story behind the pic and offered me a discount on the print. He also attached a price list for reprints. (cue the record scratch!) The price of the smallest print was $2000.00! Whoa…..no way I can afford that. In my mind I was thinking “hold up…you want to charge ME $2000 for a picture of MY FATHER??” LOL but I didn’t say that. I responded and thanked him telling him unfortunately we couldn’t afford that. I told my dad about it and we just laughed.
That was 2 years ago. Although I’ve pulled up the internet photo for people to see and my dad still tells the story of that great evening in his life, we had completely given up any hope of ever getting a copy of the picture.
A few weeks ago I came home from work and there was a big yellow padded envelope waiting, addressed to me. It was hand addressed. Nothing official or professional, just black sharpie handwriting from “STERN” in California. I’m thinking, “Howard Stern?? He lives in New York though.” LOL Also on the front of the envelope was written “Enjoy!”. I opened it with apprehension, still not making the connection with the name. Inside was a large print of my dad in uniform being kissed by Janet Leigh. It wasn’t the same print that was online. It was darker, a little off to the side, but it was clearly from the same roll of film. No note included. No explanation. I was delighted though and now had a great Father’s Day surprise. A week or two later I received an email from Peter Stern, photographer Phil Stern’s son, asking if I received the print. I responded that I did and thanked him for sending it.
I don’t know the details behind how he knew about my email to the curator of the museum. I had moved on assuming the museum was run by a staff with no real connection to the family of Phil Stern and that my email was one of many. But to think that however it occurred, he took the time to find a print from that roll of film, package it personally and send it to me made the gesture even more precious.
I gave the photo to my dad today as one of his father’s day presents. I told him the story behind it and he was very moved by the kindness and generosity of Peter Stern. My parents will surely be reaching out via snail mail to thank him. For me, this story stands as a thank you not only to Mr. Stern, but to everyone who takes a moment to go out of their way to make someone else smile asking for nothing in return. You are a reminder to all of us that the light of love still shines brightly.
Happy Father’s Day!!
Love and Light,