Sunday, February 01, 2009
One of the assignments I give my students is to interview a person and write the story. I encourage the students to interview someone over 50 who is not their parent. Frequently students will call up a grandparent or family friend and begin to go through a list of questions. I have had several students sheepishly admit that they got to question #2 during the two-hour interview. Most people are anxious to talk about experiences that have been changed their lives. My father had experiences that he was silent about.
For one of Dad’s birthday-father’s-day-something-day presents I gave him a blank book. It was a very nice blank book with a leather cover and a poem on the front sheet. There were faint guidelines on the pages and a discrete ribbon to mark the writer’s place.
“What is this for?” he asked me with the same tone he had for the boxer shorts that were printed with boxer dogs on a previous gift day. For that gift explained that boxers were now all the rage; they were novelties, more than just underwear. He put it down as one more crazy not-a tie gift that I had come up with. The blank book, however, was different.
“I thought you could write stories or thoughts,” I said.
My explanation fell flat. I got a gracious smile and hug, but the puzzled look on Dad’s face and the many times I saw the blank book in the corner where he had placed it made me realize that he would not write any narrative in it. On one visit, I actually peaked in the book and my suspicions were confirmed – it was still blank.
What was I expecting from Mister Silent, from Mister Hold-it-in, from Mister Keep-it close-to-the-chest? Why would I think, after his years of keeping his stories for only select ears, that he would write them for me.
Dad had opened up to my son when Jon was doing a report on WWII. He told Jon more than I had ever heard. Dad also told my brother-in-law stories when they were cleaning out the garage one year and Dad opened a box of memorabilia. I heard of the afternoon third-hand through my sister. My sister, too, had been surprised. There was so much that we didn’t know. The stories Dad told Jon and Ed referred to horrors and hardships he never wanted to share with my sisters or me. Daughters, in Dad’s world, needed to be protected from such reality.
Because Dad’s death was sudden, all of his notes and calendars were placed where he had been using them on the day he died. There was a pink blank book that Mom had used for notes, Dad had continued to use for lists and notes regarding handymen and people to call. The pink book was on the counter next to the leather covered blank book that I had given him so many years ago. The first page was still blank, but the next two pages opened facing each other with lists and figures in columns that Dad had measured out. I laughed.
All through out the house there were lists. Most of the lists related to measurements some budget notes. Some were so cryptic I was not certain what their purpose was.
This was the story I received from my father: he was a man who conversed more easily in numbers than in words, he showed his love through action, and he did use the gift I gave him.