There are those who find it maudlin, if not morbid, to write to someone who has died; after all, the intended recipient doesn’t have a postal service, whichever direction they took. I know you are far too busy with our Lord and Savior to read a letter anyway. I’m okay with that, happy even.
I have been struggling with how to write this column for several days. Every day, I have to remember your advice to write just one true word, then a sentence, then just keep going. Mother, on the other hand, was more of a pour-every-inch-of-your-being-into-it type. I hope I manage to strike a balance between the two of you.
Considering that you taught me how to write a letter, as well as the importance of doing so, I figured this would be appropriate.
It is hard for me to believe it has been 20 years since you said you were tired, and wanted to take one last nap. It was a beautiful day, like today, with the hint of a storm in the western sky. You were tired of being in the hospital, and just plain tired. If anyone had a right to be tired, it was you. You and Mother fell asleep holding hands, and you never woke up here on Earth.
I remember a few weeks before, we were just randomly talking about things you’d seen and done, and it suddenly occurred to you that you had lived quite a life. I wish you had been more willing to talk about a lot of those adventures, but you taught me early on that there’s a fine line between boasting and storytelling.
I’m glad, however, that you didn’t mind sharing those stories with me, whether we were driving down some lonely country road (often faster than the law allowed), or sitting at the kitchen table, or even when I was little and joined you for your post-work nap. You always had a story to tell, and you always made even just a little bit of time for your youngest son, even when I didn’t deserve it.
I wish I could ask you about so many things, Papa. I’m past the age you were when I was born, and a lot of this stuff still doesn’t make any sense. The world has changed, dramatically, in ways far beyond what you warned me would happen. I so wish I could ask you what to do, but times like these are why you taught me to decide for myself. I don’t always get it right, but I try my best, without malice, and with confidence. When I screw up, I try to get in front of it, admit it, fix it and drive on. You taught me that.
I miss church more often than I should, and I am ashamed of that. You always made sure, when I was under your roof, that if the ox wasn’t in the ditch, your family was in church. Even when I didn’t want to go, you wanted me to go, and now I know why. I never thanked you for that.
I still carry at least one pocketknife, and I end up using it for something every day. Sometimes I carry one of yours. You taught me that a man always needs to have a pocketknife. When I go into a building where “weapons” aren’t allowed, I feel naked without one in my pocket. You taught me that.
Miss Rhonda and I have a house and yard full of critters, because while you wouldn’t let us be overwhelmed with pets when I was a kid, you made sure I loved animals. I think you loved visiting our home when we had animals running everywhere. I catch myself sometimes calling a beagle a “beetle hound,” and correcting total strangers when they refer to a hinny as a mule. I have you to thank for that.
I hope I would have made you proud a while back, when I ran across a very confused looking young couple who were buying fence. They weren’t sure what they needed – and they asked, I didn’t intrude – but because of what you taught me, I was able to help.
I remember you talking about how the politicians with the most evil of souls had tried to use race to divide this country, and the names sometimes thrown at you when you called out those who would divide us. You’d be shocked, I think, to see how much worse it has gotten, but whenever I am tempted to respond in kind, I remember your example. But the best I can do is keep trying to follow your lead. Indeed, that is what I still try to do.
Through the years, several friends of yours (and mine) have said I look a lot like you. I thanked them. I am by no means your twin; I haven’t shaved in years, and my hair hasn’t been cut since the last time I donated it to a good cause. I do still wear a hat, a vest and a tie every day, and often a jacket. I do lean more toward boots and heavier pants than suits. But if folks say I resemble my dad, then I reckon I must be doing something right.
I still open doors for ladies; I still adore my wife, and do all I can to make her happy.
I still try to promptly return every phone call and answer every note. You taught me that. While you finally did get comfortable with email, I’m glad you never had to deal with text messages, much less social media.
I still respect every person until they choose to be disrespected, and I still treat every lady like a lady until she proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is not.
I still try to be at least friendly, if not friends, with those who share absolutely no common ground on any topic. We have a right to differences of opinion. You taught me that, too. I even have to be an intermediary between some of my friends on occasion, for that very reason.
At the same time, you taught me that there comes a time when you just have to walk away. That time came for me last year, when I started a new job. Without boring you with details, let’s just say the change has been very much for the better. I think you would approve.
I still tie a fishhook on a line the same way, just as I rest my fingers on a keyboard between thoughts. I sit with my back to the wall, and only pick up hitchhikers who are walking, since they are willing to do what it takes to make it to their destination. I stop and take a breath as I head out the door, even when I am late, and ask myself if I have forgotten anything important.
Folks know that if they ask me to keep something between us, I won’t share it. I also try to check to be sure that someone’s words spoken in the heat of the moment are truly what they meant, since that’s only fair.
I still measure a mortise for a hinge at least three times, and check it along the way.
I still try to go out of my way to be nice to people working in retail, especially in restaurants, since far too many people look down on them or just have bad manners. I don’t talk down to people with jobs different than mine, since in the end, the man or woman with the dirty fingernails is far more important than just another writer.
You taught me so many other things, some of which I file away and forget until the moment when I need them. I never thanked you enough for that.
You taught me so much, Papa, but you never taught me how not to miss you.
I have the honor to remain your obedient servant and loving son,