I am running down Grindly Street in Cypress being chased by my friend Janelle, we are 8 and it is June. As we get to the front of St. Irenues Church, we begin to hear it, the clank of the rides, and the kids screaming for joy, the delicious smell of greasy hotdogs mixed with cotton candy and salty popcorn these things seem to pull us faster as we head toward it. The IT is the annual St. I fiesta. Janelle finally catches me and pulls my shirt to slow me down. “We need to go to the Margarita Booth” I tell her as I am gasping for my breath, “My dad will give us money for tickets” I proudly say as I put my arm through hers. You see my parents had been down at the fair helping set it up along with The Montanos, The Sloans, The Testers, The Macpherson’s, The Moyle’s, The Enders, The Nietos and many others because that was how things got done in our little city, with everyone working together. This was my first taste of community and one as a mother I strive to replicate in the lives of my children.
As Janelle and I distractedly walk through the booths and the food stands we try keep focused, aiming straight for the sweet smell of tequila and the rumble and crunch of the ice being crushed in the blenders. Then we hear it “Wasting away again at Margaretville” I see my mom leaning against the booth with her thick blond hair talking to Sally and Donna. Mr. Montano, who is so tall it seems his head is going to hit the top of the booth, pretends to hand me a margarita and my eyes light up knowing it is against the rules, and he pulls it back quick and gives me a big wink.
“Mom we need money, please, please” Janelle is quiet I am loud. “Punkin I don’t have any money go find your Dad”. My dad always had cash. It was like a miracle to me and I guess I was always asking for it for some reason or another. He used to say, “Michelle, what do you think money grows on trees”. I always wondered if we maybe really had a money tree. As I got older I realized how my fathers success in business really did come from trees, he after all was a cabinetmaker. But I get ahead of myself, I am still 8 and now I have pulled Janelle around the fair looking for Gordon Mullens. It is crowded and we are short; trying to push through people, scuse me have you seen my Dad? Oh Hi Father Mac, have you seen my Dad? Nobody knew where he was! Then like a flash it hit me.
I grabbed Janelle’s shoulders and I scream, “The Dime Toss”! She rolled her eyes as if saying “Of course” and we both dart in and out of the crowds of people until we see him. My Dad was not a tall man but he had a presence that made you feel protected. He could do anything and take care of any problem, for anyone. He time and time again proved that statement to be fact. As a little girl and I must say as an adult I was never afraid because My Dad was Gordon Mullens. He is why I am fearless even today right now absolutely unequivocally fearless.
I see his salt n pepper thick hair; his piercing blue eyes through his glasses and of course a Kent cigarette being held by the large tough fingers of his right hand. He was just getting his big pile of dimes to begin the ritual. What ritual is that you ask? Cleaning the dime toss booth out of as many stuffed animals as possible! I don’t mean the little junkie ones, I mean the 4-foot tall ones that any, 8 year old would kill for. The ones that you think nobody ever actually wins those right?
Well, my dad was the guy who could win them and not just one a lot of them. Any fair, La County, Orange County he even took my mom to the Seattle worlds fair for their honeymoon. I promise you if there was a dime toss there he played it and won my mom one of those giant stuffed animals.
Now most of you know that my dad was a gambler, a big gambler, he was competitive and he played to win. Whether in business, black Jack or softball, winning and enjoying yourself while you win was the honest and only goal. He played the Dime Toss with the same intensity as he later in life played Pai Goe, Poker or when he coached his traveling softball team. Practice doesn’t make perfect, Perfect Practice Makes Perfect. My Dad could pitch dime after dime and stick it on that plate as if it was drawn to it. I am watching him closely, is it his thumb, is it how he slightly jerks his elbow or is it in how he bends his knees? His technique was well “perfect”. So one after another he would win stuffed animals and give them out to as many kids as he could. He literally cleaned the booth out.
Then it happened, I must say one of my proudest moments as a child, My Father, Gordon Mullens was so good at the dime toss that he was banned, Yes, banned from the dime toss of the St. I fair and I loved it! Okay, I clearly see how my love for this moment is also a clear reflection of my own rebellious tendencies, but seriously, banned because you are so amazing at a game, it couldn’t have been cooler in my 8-year-old eyes.
There are too many memories and moments in a life lived as fully and deeply as my fathers. What he didn’t have in years on this earth he certainly made up for in life experiences. In thinking about the words I would share with you all today, this story kept seeping into my heart and it seemed a little silly but then when I thought about that time in our lives. It became crystal clear.
The way my Dad pitched those shiny coins at those dishes is like life.
First, know what your good at and do it over and over again. Plant your feet on solid ground, be focused but don’t forget to laugh sometimes. Having a good cheering section can be very helpful they clap when you stick the dime and when you occasionally miss they encourage you to keep trying. Never forget that luck is a good thing but skill is imperative to be successful. And like my Dad If you are lucky enough and skilled enough and supported by the community around you to win the really BIG prizes, make sure you share them with others.
Oh and if anyone ever bans you from anything remember it’s a badge of honor.