unfinished business: a man of letters


In the summer of 2018 I published eleven stories focused on letters written during WWII by my father to my mother, his mother and others. I ended the series with the assurance that I had other letters written by my dad – letters to me when I was in college and beyond, more letters to his mother and father. However, I was all “lettered out” at that time and couldn’t continue.

Today is another day, another year…summer heat continues with a vengeance. The earth is burning, scorching our world, searing our souls. Losing those we love has been too frequent in the past two years because of Covid and now its variants. Last week an entire condominium community in Miami, Florida was destroyed with more loss of lives. Gun violence rises daily in America as surely as the temperatures increase. I mourn with the families and friends of everyone who must face the reality of death.

But today is the 45th. anniversary of a death I faced when I was only thirty years old: the loss of the man of letters. Born in 1925 in Huntsville, Texas, my dad survived 32 bombing missions as a navigator in the 8th. Air Force in Europe. He came home in 1945, eloped with his home town girl, had a disastrous honeymoon in Miami but successfully recovered to produce a daughter in 1946. He was unable to survive colon cancer in the summer of 1976.

My dad and I grew up together. He was twenty-one when I was born. He loved to hunt doves and quail when they were in season but most of all he loved our bird dogs who were too spoiled to be much good to us in the fields, regardless of the season. He caught fish in any tank or stream in Grimes County, read poetry to me from Best Loved Poems of the American People. He taught me how to read The Houston Post – particularly the sports section. He followed the Dallas Cowboys, he coached high school basketball teams, he even coached a baseball team in Richards when he was the school superintendent of those two segregated public schools in the 1950s. He taught me to play golf on a public course in Freeport, Texas when I was a teenager. We cooled down with a root beer from the A&W root beer stand.

He was always in school himself – the first in his family to get an undergraduate degree followed by a master’s degree that was capped off (literally) by a doctorate in education when I was also in college. He believed in God, the Richards Baptist Church, the First Baptist Church of Brazoria and finally the First Baptist Church of Richmond where his membership days were done. He also believed in writing letters.

This letter was to his mother in lieu of a birthday card. It’s legible, reads like he talked, and so I am reminded of this time when he was nearly forty years old and finally able to buy his first home. Imagine his excitement.

“I believe one of the ways that you have been most helpful to me is expecting good things of me. You know when you have people who believe in you, you don’t want to let them down.”

I’ll close with a portion of a letter he wrote to me in 1970 when I was a student in Southwestern Baptist Seminary. He and I had an ongoing joke about my mother’s obsession with her camellias – hence his acknowledgment he was learning the names. Good one. Then he closed with a blessing from a Native American proverb. When I was a child, he regaled me with fictional stories about his rides with the Pony Express. I think this is a beautiful ending message so I wanted to share this with my followers in cyberspace who may appreciate the comfort he captured. My dad may have truly loved those bird dogs, but I know he also loved me.

“May you keep your heart like the morning and may you come slowly to the four corners where men say goodnight.”

*****************

Stay safe, stay sane, get vaccinated and please stay tuned.

About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Nana to her granddaughter Ella James born 10-01-2019. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, Reflections, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to unfinished business: a man of letters

  1. Wayside Artist says:

    Aw, Sheila, I wish you had a good long time with your father. You were too young to lose his wisdom and humor. My father also wrote letters, and unfortunately most went to my sister who “lost” them. I saved a series of notes he wrote to me relating the antics of our new puppy, Zeke, a setter mix of some sort. Dad and Zeke (a “waste of a good bird dog” according to Alabama Uncle Hubert) had far too much fun while I struggled through college courses. I would’ve preferred hanging out with them.
    These letters along with your memories are your wealth, and you are very rich. Thanks for brightening an exhausting and hot summer afternoon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the story of your Dad and Zeke!! My granddaddy used to make the same remarks about Daddy’s bird dogs. Waste of good bird dogs. Clearly your Uncle Hubert would have gone along with him.
      Thank you for always understanding and supporting my memories and the words that remind you of your family.
      I think your sister must have been so very different – and yet the same – from you. You had a treasure, too. Bless your heart in this heat. I hope the horses are doing okay up there.
      Love and hugs from your South Carolina peeps

      Like

      • Wayside Artist says:

        It’s hot as Hades here as well. The horses are spoiled by my friend, Sheryl. She takes them into the barn by noon where the whole away the afternoon in the shade with giant fans blowing on them. In the evening they go back outside. What a life of pampering, while their human has returned to work to keep them in comfort!!
        My dogs are camped out in the kitchen right under the wall a.c. unit. Very smart.
        My sister, Toni, was the oldest of 4 and very bossy. Unfortunately she found my brothers and me as difficult to manage as the proverbial cat herd. Good thing she liked cats!! 🤣
        I hope the temperatures break for you. We are getting spectacular thunder storms this afternoon. I’m a little concerned about those potential hurricanes. Stay cool, dry, and safe, Sheila. Love to T and the pups.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am very pleased to hear the routine of The Doctor and Frannie. It is as it should be – except for the back to work part. Give them hugs from me when you see them!!

        Like

  2. Lovely letters. A good man, even if he liked his bird dogs a little too much 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Susanne says:

    How fabulous to be able to hear your father’s voice through his letters. What will this generation- my daughters- hold onto when I’m gone? Texts with emojis? Give me letters every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The letters are a lost art, Susanne. And I didn’t think to keep enough of the letters I received regularly from my grandmothers and father. They were all three faithful to write when I “left home.” And I was young and didn’t realize how much I would long to hear their voices 60 years later. Some survived…
      As for your voice, I hope your daughters will hold onto your blogs and other writings that are the voice they will recognize as yours.
      Make sure they know where to find you, my friend in the north.
      I hope you all got the vaccine. Thanks for keeping in touch.

      Like

      • Susanne says:

        We are all double vaccinated as of June 29th. Hooray! Thanks for the good advice about where our daughters can find the old blogs. Gosh, I better write down the passwords before I forget them!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Do. I have mine listed for Pretty. Congratulations on the vaccinations – I’ll feel better about you and your family. Virtual hugs to you all

        Like

  4. Dianne Heiser says:

    Enjoyed your dad:s letters!

    On a sad note, James received an email from his class. Mack Barrow passed away (heart). He was married to Jean Rader. We saw them, as well as Darlene Barrow Balkum (Coach) when we went to the viewing for Wayne Pollard (Margie Brumbelow). Wayne had Parkinson’s. Mack was in Kenneth’s class of 1957. (My brother) Always glad to hear from you! Dianne

    Get Outlook for Android

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh, thank you for the update, Dianne. I remember Mack and Jean as well as Coach Balkum and Darlene. You will recall Bill Barrow and I became good friends when I lived in Brazoria. I can still see Sonny Man pushing Bill in his wheelchair. Now, all of them gone. I remember Margie from basketball days and that she and Wayne dated in high school. Amazing so many of those relationships have lasted all these years.
      You and James, too!
      I hope you and your family are well – I’m equally glad to hear from you, too!!

      Like

  5. Luanne says:

    Sheila, this post is amazing. I feel like I am getting to know more about your father here! In your other writing, I feel the influence so strongly of the women, especially the grandmothers. But here I can see more into who he was. I love that he read you poetry from that anthology that must have had the old beloved poems in there. And that he had a poetic heart. His letters are so open and loving. He was a professional student, too hah! I’m sure your mom loved that ;). I’m so sorry that you lost him when you were still so young. XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you got to know my dad a little more in this one. He not only read poetry – but he often recited his favorite poems from memory.
      But then he also had someone build a regulation size basketball goal in our back yard in Richards for me to practice my shooting and dribbling. So he got the big picture!!
      Thank you for the comment – made me happy.

      Like

  6. Letters are a lost art. Kudos, your dad was a distinguished man that left you with a legacy.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.