published Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Roberts: Surprises occupy special places in our memories


by Dalton Roberts

Surprise gifts are the best. They seem to stick longer and clearer in our memory.

When I was a child, my father sometimes rode us to church on a streetcar. One Sunday, he took my younger brother, Blaine, and me on a streetcar, and when the car went past the church, we asked him why he passed the church. He said, "I have a surprise for you today."

We got a transfer to another streetcar and ended up at the Incline in St. Elmo.

The ads say the Incline is the world's steepest ride, but Blaine and I had never got to ride on it. That Sunday we did. And what a great thrill it was! It just crawls up the side of Lookout Mountain, and you can't help but silently wonder where it would end up if it ever broke loose.

When we got to the top of the mountain, Dad walked us to Point Park. We had never been there, and the view of Moccasin Bend and Chattanooga is truly breathtaking from that location.

We walked through Civil War battlefields, and Dad told us about the battles on the mountain. My child's mind wondered what Americans were doing killing each other there. It was years before I gained the slightest glimpse into the insanity of war.

At the end of the day, Dad took us to a souvenir shop and let us pick out souvenirs of our day together.

This is my favorite memory of my Dad. While we did miss church that Sunday, it was one of the most spiritual days of my life. Our definition of "spiritual" is much too narrow and should be expanded to include anything that expands and enriches the inner being. Believe me, my father expanded and enriched me more than he ever knew by spending that day with us on Lookout Mountain.

It was the surprise element that made it stick like a golden cocklebur in the dendrites of my brain. When Dad disciplined me severely, I remember thinking, "Regardless of appearances, I know he loves me because he gave me one of the best memories of my life."

Many of the things we do for people are perfunctory and habitual, but when you add surprise to the gift, it triggers the opening of a special drawer in the mind where only the most memorable things are stored. They sparkle forever like a star in our mental sky.

Maybe this could be the Christmas you specialize in surprise gifts. Who would be shocked to their socks to get a letter of gratitude from you? Or a phone call? Or a visit? It matters not that you spend a lot of money on it. The best gift is always a part of yourself.

How about surprising one of those silent servants we tend to take for granted. Like a garbage man. My magnificent neighbor, Theo King, put out a sack of goodies for them every week. I think he was possibly the most thoughtful man I have ever known, and I do know he was the master of surprises.

Listen to your heart. Just sit down and ask it who you could really surprise. Your heart always knows best, and it will tell you.

Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.

about Dalton Roberts...

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