Janet Sheridan: My father’s letters
For 10 years before his death at 92, my father and I corresponded. To this day, when I miss him, I reread his letters and experience, once again, his personality, his sense of humor, his unique way with words. When I read his letters on Father’s Day, I chose some excerpts I thought you might enjoy as well.
Dad always addressed the questions I asked in my letters but seldom answered them. For example, when I asked if he’d heard how my oldest brother liked teaching English as a second language in China, Dad replied, “In his last letter, Lawrence admitted he can’t always tell what he’s eating in the university’s cafeteria. I told him not to get too nosy; he might be chomping on snake.”
Another time, I asked what motivated him to draw the profile of a tall, skinny chicken with a long neck and a beak that dripped three drops of drool and the word “Eek!” He’d drawn this odd chicken as long as I could remember. His answer only increased my mystification: “So you remember the chicken I drew. For years it said,’Roop, roop.’ Then it occurred to me that ‘Eek’ might be more appropriate. I think if I could have gotten a government grant, I would have branched out into turkeys and geese.”
Knowing Dad never met his grandfather Bray, I asked if he’d ever met his grandmother. Again, rather than answering directly, he provided quirky details: “My Grandmother Bray was a large woman. She could polish off a quart of ice cream for dessert. When I saw a picture of her, I thought she looked like John Wayne, in a ladylike way, of course.”
Dad completely ignored my questions about his health but sometimes indirectly let me know how he was doing: “Years ago when the lawn needed cutting, I would be happy because the exercise would help keep me skinny. Now I think, ‘Well, the damn lawn has to be cut again.’ Do you think old age has got me? At any rate, writing to you will let me put mowing it off until tomorrow.”
He closed a letter with “I might be too old to run any more, but my nose isn’t; it runs all the time.” He included this thought in another, “Seems like the older I get, the more people want pictures, and I’m not getting any better looking.”
After doing what he would with my questions, he filled the rest of his letters with miscellaneous anecdotes he considered newsworthy. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
“Though it’s been several years since your dear mother died, the people from church continue to bring me food now and then. I feel like Elijah the prophet when the ravens brought his food. But I’m doing better than he did. People bring better food. Ravens don’t make pumpkin pie.”
“A friend who worked in a meat packing plant told me that the pork in Vienna Sausages was made of pig lips. So I told that to Blaine’s boys and now they won’t touch the stuff. However, I enjoy a can of pig lips quite often.”
“I saw River Dance on TV and liked it. Uncle Stanley once told me if you are in a bar with an Irishman and he begins a little jig, you should quickly decide whether to leave or take part in the coming fight.”
“I have been reading about the lives of poets. Don’t ever go out in a boat with a poet. They don’t seem to have good sense outside of poetry.”
“At church today I saw a man wearing huge earrings that would be good fish lures if they had a hook in them. Then there was a lady with open-toed sandals, and she had rings on her toes. Even the big ones. Both feet. These are not the kind of impressions one should bring back from church.”
Even in his old age, Dad lived his life fully and shared it with me. He was the best father I could have had.