Thursday, June 2, 2011

Letters to Home - My Dad

The pictures of Dad and the house here were taken when I visited my Dad last month. Lt. Colonel Harry Allen D. He still lives on his own, house and yard tidy, still spry, though he turns 91 in a few more days. His companion, the great and powerful Oz, is almost 12. He still drives, (Dad, not Oz, though if he had opposable thumbs, he'd have lifted the SUV by now). It's just to the church and the store, friends take him everywhere else but he's still pretty sharp. He can't do 18 holes on the golf course any more, but still lifts weights three times a week, and shoots a bucket of balls on the range with my big brother, who patiently waits while he drives another home. His secrets to health? Exercise, hard work, integrity, commitment, good ale, and adopting two kids when your friends are becoming grandparents.

He's doing well despite a mild stroke about 5 years ago. I took much of the summer off from work and stayed with him through the initial recovery and he was up and moving about surprisingly fast. He was out of the wheelchair in three weeks. The doctor recommended a cane when he started getting up and around walking. He didn't want to use one as "those are for old people". So I got him a hand carved "hiking stick" with a big bear on the crest of it. That's so not a cane. He will use it when he gets really tired and for that I'm thankful.

I took a friend with me to meet him this last trip, wondering if we'd get the chance again. There's only been a handful of friends I've been proud enough to bring home to meet my Dad and only a couple who had the depth of caring to want to meet him, and I'm glad I did.

I realized it as I watched both of them. The future is what we make of it, each single day, a gift. Coming from being with him, I realize that and I do my best to remain close. Dad doesn't have a computer, a cell phone or a blackberry. So for my Dad, between many phone calls, I write letters.

A letter. Faded with time, a bit frayed around the edges, the words upon it written with clear, flowing script. The stamp carefully placed, the envelope addressed with precision.

Letters from my father to me when I first moved away from home. No one really had computers then for personal use at school, the phone was the most common source of connection for family. But as computers became second nature, my father continued to write me letters, refusing to learn to use a computer. Harriet would read him my blog, the words in there as meaningful for him as if I had written them on paper, read aloud by the woman he loves. (Yes, Harry and Harriet). But he will not take up a keyboard, and will not before he is gone, so others print out some of the posts for him to read now that she is gone, lost from us this time last June. He's probably raised an eyebrow to more than one, but he knows how he raised me, where I come from, and where my heart is.

Simple letters, simple words.

The letters themselves are not full of particularly sage wisdom, or things that might be considered of great depth. They are simply the doings of his day and the memories of his heart. What he planted in the garden, where he went out for lunch after church. A bird he saw on a long drive, a story of that steelhead trout he finally caught under the covered bridge at Grey's River. He wrote to me after he buried someone he loved more than life, words flattened out on paper, like rain, but not lost like rain, streaming out to a valueless torrent of dissolution. His words, though heart rending, uplifted me, a love not lost though life's unravelings. When I held on to him at that grave, while taps played in the distance, his words were engraved on my heart.

They were words that didn't teach, or lecture or portend, but words, that on their reading, mattered. For they filled me with elation that in their capturing, those moments would never be lost, that even when my Dad was gone, there would be stories, of meals, of moments, of caring.

Is that a testament to the power of the word or simply the power of the habit of writing? That which, however mundane, comes to our mind each day. Small, succinct phrases of thought that capture the dots of our lives, connecting us, transcending time or moment. What was in the past is here in my hand now, as if it transcends time and for just a moment we are free of the confines of past tense.

He is here with me now, with his story of that fine day, that could have been a week ago, or 50 years. His words caught and released, a brilliant day, a fighting salmon. A trip to the store, or a small prayer over his breakfast, shared with me here, as if the paper had caught it in time. Our lives are in these moments, gone too quickly, rushing water over our days.

Each of us live in the present, yet we contain our past, and we can not put our future into words until it too, becomes our past. Time is an illusion and death is a transient bend in a long journey that will take its own time. Past, present, future, I'll retain my Dad's stories, his laughter splayed across a small white page, as if part of the paper. As I fold it up and place it carefully in my desk drawer, to perhaps be opened up one day again, a thought comes unbidden. I realize that what is here, be it thought, emotion or the trivial events of our day that we share, for someone, somewhere, will be the most precious of memory.

I take out an envelope and small piece of paper, and on it scribe some other words. Not a blog post, but simply words. You are a good man. I love you. There is no place I am going to mail it to but I feel better for writing it. I put it in the envelope and seal it with a small kiss from my lips, the paper resting for a moment like a wafer on my tongue, confession, redemption.