The Autumn before my Father died, we visited Phillipsburg, Montana. That previous Summer, before the surgery that left him unable to speak, my Dad had mentioned that his father had taken him to Phillipsburg and he wanted to see if he could recognize the place. So, on a bright Fall morning, my Mom, my Dad and I left our lakefront home north of Missoula and made the two hour trip to Phillipsburg.
My Dad never spoke about his father. He died when my father was 11 and was a salesman for Pacific Fruit, so I imagine that he was on the road more than at home and most of my father’s memories of him were therefore vague, blurred and distant. In fact, it was somewhat surprising that Dad mentioned him. He said that when he was young, he remembered his Dad taking him on a sales call to Phillipsburg. They stopped at the grocery store there and his Dad bought him some penny candy and an ice cream.
Phillipsburg, like many Montana towns, is an old mining town that has long seen its day. The mines are closed, and many of the stores that once provided its residents with clothing and furniture have now become museums, curio shops and expresso bars to cater to the occasional tourist. We drove slowly down Main Street and my Dad peered out of the window, trying to recreate the Phillipsburg of the early 40s. He pointed to one of the stores, a burger joint, and we pulled over and went in.
The restaurant had a counter with three stools and four or five booths. We choose a booth and sat down. As we ordered, I told the waitress that my Dad had come here as a child and we were wondering if this wasn’t at one point a grocery store. The waitress was in high school and certainly not in a position to know. She asked the owner, who was in her mid-thirties and she wasn’t sure either. My Dad didn’t seem to mind. He sat there with a smile in his eyes. We ordered hamburgers and finished them off with a bowl of ice cream, toasting Dad and Grandpa.
I thought about this trip a while back, as I was driving from Bozeman to Missoula and passed the Phillipsburg exit off Interstate 90. I thought about my Dad and his father, about the short time they had together. I also thought about my Dad’s memory of his visit to Phillipsburg, of how such a small, seemingly inconsequential act could last so long. Perhaps it was the only time that my Dad could remember being with his Father one-on-one, without his mother or brothers. Phillipsburg is not Disneyland; there’s no rides or attractions, but it did have a Father who took time to be with his son.
When I first became president of my company, one of the first things I did was to travel around meeting our key clients. I had seen many of them in the past and they knew who I was, but I wanted to be face to face on an individual basis, to understand what they were focused on and to give them some perspective on what we did. Those meetings have paid large dividends over the years and certainly were worth the time and travel.
Every day, we all are interacting with indviduals, whether on the phone or face to face. Each moment, each act, each comment may create a lasting impression, either in a positive way or a negative way. Be conscious of the power of those moments. You may not have penny candy to offer, but you do have your time and your attention. Some times, that’s all that matters.