Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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December 18, 2013

Mark Maynard: Mike Reliford’s Christmas miracle: 12/19/13

ASHLAND — There are a lot of things I miss about Mike Reliford, my mentor here at The Independent who left us far too soon nearly two years ago.

One was his affinity for Christmas. There was never a more jolly person in the building around the Christmas season than Mike Reliford. He was just in a better mood during what had to be his favorite time of the year.

Ask Carrie Stambaugh about the Christmas prank that was pulled on her with Reliford as the orchestrator. It involved everybody in the newspaper wearing a Santa hat and it will have you rolling in the floor laughing.

He loved to shop for the gifts he was going to get for Susan and his two boys, Todd and Matt, and then figured out how he would be able to surprise them on Christmas morning.

If there was one person who liked giving more than receiving it was Mike Reliford. He was always an extremely generous person who cared for his fellow man. Beyond that tough, crusty exterior was a real softie if you want to know the truth.

I spent many hours in his office as he figured out ways to make Christmas special for his family. He liked for Christmas to be memorable. He also liked getting in the spirit, not to mention other “spirits” of the liquid kind. His office was always full of Christmas cheer. He’d have a Bing Crosby CD playing “White Christmas” in the tape player — sometimes he’d sing along with Bing — and then he’d go back to plotting and scheming about how he could top last year’s Big Morning.

Mike would start planning about the first of December and, for some reason, always included me in his Christmas fun.

That started early in my career at the newspaper. I wasn’t even fulltime yet but Mike had taken me under his wing, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

But there was one Christmas Eve where it wasn’t a good day to be one of Mike’s elves.

He had ordered a bicycle for Todd from Sears, which was located on the same street as the newspaper, and asked me to go over with him to pick it up. It seemed like a simple assignment.

We went into Sears in the early afternoon, only about an hour before they were going to close for Christmas, to pick up the delivery.

Mike had ordered the bicycle to be assembled but it wasn’t. He jumped up and down, screamed a few words that should never be uttered on Christmas Eve, or any other time for that matter. He was spitting and fuming at this shellshocked young clerk who had no right answers. Mike jumped up and down some more, demanded action and wanted this to be handled by somebody and handled on Christmas Eve.

“Somebody is going to build this d--- bicycle for me!” he screamed. “You’re not going to ruin my son’s Christmas!”

By this point, we had an audience.

Good cheer? Uh, no.

Mike lowered his voice but not his tone. He was not one bit happy. A different clerk, this one a little more experienced, came over to address the problem. He got an earful, too.

“I’m glad I wasn’t there,” Susan said. “I was ashamed even hearing about it.”

But, at the end of the day, Sears had Mike’s money and we had a bicycle that needed assembling. All of the assembly workers had checked out for the day, long before we were there to pick up this bicycle.

For you manly men who are mechanically inclined, that would be only a small problem. But as my wife will tell you, the one thing I am not is mechanically inclined. Neither was Mike. It’s kind of a bond that most journalists share — we aren’t mechanically inclined and we don’t do math well.

But we loaded up this unassembled bicycle into Mike’s trunk and drove it to his house. We unpacked the bike, poured out what seemed like hundreds of nuts, bolts and other thingamajigs and looked at each other with hopeless expressions.

We got out some tools (like that was going to help) and tried to put together this bicycle as day was turning into night. The rest, to me, is a blur.

Susan tells me the bicycle was put together and Todd really liked it and was just what he’d asked for that Christmas. But I couldn’t tell you to this day how it all came together. Susan couldn’t remember it either but said, “I know that bike was built.”

Christmas miracles? That had to be one.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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