Friday, June 25, 2004

I don't need proof...

I sit here in the semi-darkness, the computer screen the only light in the loft and a small light on in the kitchen downstairs and beneath where I sit, pondering a phone call from my mother. It was past midnight in Ohio when she called and we picked up our usual half-argument about calling late and wasting money calling so often. "Didn't I just talk to you yesterday?" I asked before she could say it to me, although she called yesterday and tonight. "Well, if you don't want to talk to me..." At this point, I give in and our hellos are finished. It's a hold over from all the years of arguing and there is love in the exchange and a bit of laughter within the mock battle.

"Your father got your letter today," she said, her voice soft and almost secretive.

"I thought he might've and I was going to call but I know you would have a fit so I waited."

"He didn't say anything. You know how he is. Then he gave it to me to read and said it was nice."

Nice is my father's highest praise when he says anything at all, which is rarely. He doesn't read books. He reads the newspaper and watches television, but he doesn't read books and that is something I didn't realize until a little while ago. I can't ever remember seeing him read a book.

"Then your father started talking about growing up in that log cabin and how poor they were when his mother died. He said he wanted to give his children everything he never had and then he cried. In 54 years of marriage I have never seen your father cry."

"I saw him cry once at his father's funeral," I said, pushing the words past the growing lump in my throat and the rising tide of tears.

I wrote a poem for my mother for Mother's Day and she keeps reading it and tells me she still cries. I cried when I wrote it and she tells me I will never understand how much it means to her.

I don't have a lot of money and my father has a tendency to kill Bonsai trees, so I decided to make something to give him for Father's Day. I tried to write a poem, but nothing seemed right. Nothing came out the way I intended. Poetry isn't easy for me most of the time and other times it flows out of me like water from a hole in a dam. But my father loves to write letters so I decided to write him a letter.

"Your father put your letter back in the envelope and put it in his desk. He went into his office to write you a letter."

I am a writer and my gift is words. Lately, it seems my gift for words makes people cry, specifically my mother and father. I don't mean to make them cry, but I want them to know without a doubt how much I love them and cherish all the memories we share.
I have been plaguing my parents to sit down with a tape recorder and record all their stories and memories about their life so the stories, those bits of history, will not be lost when they are gone. I have had to face the fact that my parents won't always be there, that they are not the immortals I believed them to be as a child. They still see me as a child and I still see them young and strong and eternally there. We all have our illusions. But I do not want the illusion to include any doubts about my love and affection and respect for my parents and for the journey we have shared. I want there to be no doubt in their minds or mine about how precious and special each moment we share really is, and that includes all the fights and misunderstandings and mistakes, because without the path we have walked together none of us would be who we are at this moment.

My father has always feared letting those he loves know how much he loves them because early in his life everyone he loved disappeared. I think he now knows I understood his love even without the words.

This is what I wrote:

Dear Dad:

I wanted to send you a card, but funds have been tight. I thought about writing a poem, but wasn't sure if that was something you'd enjoy or even read more than once. Then I thought about just writing, knowing how much you love to correspond, and giving you a taste of my memories.

Most of all I remember dancing with you, my pudgy little hand in your strong giant hands, so gentle and yet so protective. Spinning me around and making my skirt fly out in a circle while you held Carol or Jimmy on your hip. I remember having to go to bed by myself while you carried Carol, telling me I was a big girl and too heavy to carry, but I went to my room and laid on the floor, pretending to be asleep, so you would have to pick me up and put me in bed, hoping I wasn't too heavy for that short little trip. I remember your smell of sunshine and after shave and the feel of your hands and fingers as you combed my wet hair into long curls and ringlets just like Shirley Temple. I remember the deep etched dimples in your cheeks and the crinkles around your eyes when you smiled and the sound of your laughter that tickled my heart, my ears, and my soul. I remember a green clad Santa carrying an olive drab duffel bag up the snowy sidewalk when Carol and I were making snow angels on the front lawn, your shoulders covered with falling snow and the unmistakable vision of you walking toward us.

I remember the wonderful smells that came from the kitchen when you cooked and the times you decided to teach us all the value of a dollar by making the meals from your childhood: cornbread and beans with fresh onions and fried cornmeal mush. You thought we'd feel sorry for you but all I felt was glad because the taste and smell of those meals linger with me still. I even buy cornmeal mush to fry and simmer beans in a pot all day just to be closer to you when I am far from home. I remember sharing secrets with you and learning about your childhood, scenes that have never faded from my imagination. I remember the log cabin sinking into the ground among the tobacco fields behind Great Grandma Cornwell's house in Cynthiana and the smell of the barn where tobacco leaves dried in the shadowy darkness. I remember riding roller coasters and exciting rides with you at Cedar Point and how much joy you got from just being alive.

I remember watching with pride as you marched in parades on base in Panama and other Army bases, knowing you the moment I saw you by the twinkle in your eyes and the distinctive way you walked. I remember purses you sewed from banana leaves when we lived in Panama and how you enjoyed the snakes as much as I did. I remember you lying on the tin casing of something or other in the back yard on our house on Terrace baking and broiling in the sun with your own concoction of baby oil and iodine, and the way you smelled of apple cider vinegar. I remember the way you worked with the German Shepards we raised and the way you played cards on weekends with your friends.

I remember the letters and pictures when you were posted to Korea and other places we could not go and the excitement and happiness I felt when we saw you again, not to mention the stories and tales of your adventures while you were gone.

But most of all I remember wanting to find a man as good, kind, devoted, loving, and wonderful as you to marry and spend the rest of my life with. I wasn't successful because you are a one of a kind item that has never been reproduced or can be replaced. It doesn't matter that sometimes you have a short temper or love to gossip because you are the best father a girl could ever have. You are a constant reminder that there are miracles in the world and I see them every time I look at you and remember and each time I hear you tell me you love me. I can still remember the first time you said those words to me and I never tire of hearing them. I love you now. . .

As always...

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