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.