My dad was a quiet guy, but for some reason Halloween brought him out of his shell.
It was also his birthday, so maybe that had something to do with it, but during my whole life, my dad was this quiet, reserved guy who did crazy things on Halloween.
When I was young, he owned a photography shop and would go all out with decorations and set up practical jokes to scare his employees and customers.
There was the giant rat he would hide inside the film-developing machine, which eventually got upgraded to a remote controlled rat I once found scurrying out from under my bed.
My favorite was the fake spider he would hang from fishing line and as customers were paying, he would drop it down onto the counter. I would be hiding in his office with a toothless grin ready to laugh at each unsuspecting victim.
But then in 2002 Dad hit his 50th birthday and the camera shop was a thing of the past. He was working with my sister in the restaurant she opened in its place, but Halloween was still pushing him out of his shell.
An avid blood donor his whole life he decided to host a blood drive and aimed to get his age in pints of blood. He dressed up as Dracula — going so far as to put temporary black dye in his graying hair and fake blood around his lips — and it worked. He spent the day wearing his black cape and costume in the restaurant and got each donation.
He continued the tradition each year, always reaching his goal. After taking a job as a crime scene photographer for the city of Orange, he began hosting the drive at the police department. But he couldn’t dress up as Dracula anymore. I mean, can you imagine being on the scene of a crime and seeing Dracula swooping around with a camera?
Over his lifetime, my dad donated gallons of blood. We still have the mug congratulating him on reaching 20 gallons.
Somewhere between all the Halloween antics, he became the one in need. He got an extremely rare blood disease known as light chain deposition disease, and it turned his own O positive blood into poison in his veins. It caused his kidneys to begin failing and eventually his heart.
As I sat in his hospital room, he unconscious and unaware, I listened as the nurse read off the donor number and location of each bag of platelets he received – each one giving him just moments more even though the nurse knew it was a futile effort. The disease was too much.
It’s impossible for me to ever find those donors that gave me time to sit by my dad’s side and hold his hand a minute longer, but I can make sure that I give that chance, or more, to someone else. I can donate blood and try to save a life.
My dad died in February 2010, but his blood drive lives on still, now as the Ken Thayer Memorial Blood Drive. It’s grown too, from Orange to Fort Hood.
Last year, I hosted my own franchise of the drive at Robertson Blood Center, Building 2250 on 761st Tank Battalion Ave., and got 16 pints of blood. It seems small compared to the 50 or 60 they get in Orange, but I’m happy. All I want is for one more person out there who wouldn’t normally stop into a blood center to go and donate. This year’s drive will again be at the Robertson Blood Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 31.
I will be there dressed up as a lady-version of Dracula to thank those donors, and I know my dad will be so proud.
Not only am I keeping Halloween a day of fun and celebration, I’ll also be keeping his memory and cause alive.