Monday, March 10, 2014

Cigars and Phone Calls

The other day I was trying to explain to Connor why the smell of cigars always makes me smile. He couldn't understand it. He's been a rapt student of the "Smoking is Dangerous" school of thought (I'm not complaining about that, to be clear...) and thinks that cigars smell a bit like poop. For me, the stuffy and somewhat acrid smell of a cigar, with its lingering aroma that is equal parts pungent and earthy, is a clear reminder of my Dad. Not that my Dad could be described in that way...of course!

John Joseph Fitzgerald Sr. loved his stogies. They were as much a part of his description as his black curly hair or his teasing sense of humor. One of my nieces recently commented that when she thinks of Grandpa Fitz she pictures him with a cigar in hand, that was just who he was.

Dad (far left) holding his ever present cigar in 1956 with his three siblings and father. L-R back John, Donald, Edward; front Michael and Mary Fitzgerald Reed

The cigar smoking man was the Brother, Dad and Grandpa we knew at home. That was his relaxed and carefree self. Sure, he and I had several snotty rows about the stinky habit in my outspoken teens when I hated smelling like his ashtray at school. But, today I can better appreciate his need for some sort of respite and relaxation, even though it left a bitter after taste for his darling children!

As intimately as I connect the memory of my Father with his cigars, those who worked with him over the years rarely glimpsed that man. Even in the era when people smoked in their offices, my Dad never did. He never lit up in restaurants or bars. Somehow that would ruin the nuance of his stealth mode of relaxation -- and trust me, as a man raising nine independent-minded children, he needed every ounce of carefully crafted moments of relaxation!

Dad's favorite place to relax and escape reality, his little green cottage in Mecosta County!

Now, the man that my Father's coworkers and staff saw each day was a bit of a rainmaker when it came to pulling people in to support his mission. I remember his long-time secretary commenting at my Dad's retirement that every day he would arrive at work early and pick up the phone...calling any number of people and leaving messages about what he needed. Then it began, the litany of return calls pouring in for hours after. Dad wielded his sense of humor and supportive nature like a fishing net, casting wide with a skill honed over many years and reeling in with just the right mixture of patience and urgency. People responded when he called.

Every time I get a waft of cigar smoke (a rarity to be sure these days) or reach out into the world of my connections and make an appeal for anything...a charity, a work project, a networking opportunity, anything...I think of him and I smile. Dad, you are missed. Unlike the slowly dissipating scent of your beloved cigars, the lessons you taught are firmly rooted and live on today in your children and grandchildren.

While I have no desire to smoke a stogie in your honor (trust me, my older brothers and husband handle that task with pleasure often enough!), I promise to network with your passion and good nature. Just the way you modeled for me. This I will pass on to my son and assure that he knows who my mentor was.

PS -- In honor of the upcoming annual celebration of your Irish heritage, Slainte, Dad! I can picture you now with a pint and a cigar and smile on your face. But, not a stitch of green apparel to be seen. As you often said, "I've got Irish blood, who cares what color clothes I wear?" Perfect Irish logic, if I've ever heard it!

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