With all the old letters I’ve read lately, I’ve been thinking about the lost art of letter writing. A time before wireless keyboards. A time when most folks didn’t even own a manual Royal typewriter. A time when all you needed was a piece of plain Blue Horse notebook paper, a Bic ballpoint pen, and a conversation in your head that you wanted to put into words.
There was a time when I would go to the mailbox and almost every week there would be a letter to me from my dad waiting inside. He never had much to say. Just ordinary stuff.
“Took two heifers to the sale in Jackson yesterday. Had a time getting them loaded by myself. The corn is up. Hope the frost doesn’t get it.”
There would be a clipping from the AJC inside with the letter. Mostly something he read by Erma Bombeck, or Dear Abby, or Lewis Grizzard. His handwriting in the margin. “This is a good one.”
Having recently been given letters that others have saved for decades makes me wish I had saved his letters. Reading old letters are like experiencing time travel. Seeing a familiar cursive on a page stirs the memories. Even now I can see Dad sitting in his recliner in the den. Green work pants from the foundry. Glasses down on the end of his nose. Barefoot. Pen and paper. His left-handed slant at work.
I tell you all of this to say that I’m in the mood to write a letter. I can’t do cursive in pen at the moment. So, you’ll just have to imagine for yourself.
It’s been raining cats and dogs the past couple days. Almost four inches in the gauge. It’s a muddy mess around here. If you were still running cows, you’d be in good shape for hay season this year.
I built a new barn last summer. You’d like it. It’s got a nice shed on one side for your old tractor. I went up home not so long ago and the old barn is gone. You and I both know it was falling in on itself, but still. I’m glad you don’t have to see it gone.
I thought about you the other day. I bought a jug of hand cleaner to refill the little pump bottle by the kitchen sink. I’m not so smart when it comes to shopping like Beth was, and I bought the wrong kind. It’s a liquid and not a gel. When I squeeze the pump it makes a mess. But it’s soapy and cleans just fine.
The reason I thought about you is that even though I hate this dang liquid soap, I’m not going to throw it out. I’m determined to use it whether I like it or not. I paid for it with good money, and there’s no reason to let it go to waste it.
I bought a 32-ounce bottle of it, too. The way I figure it, I should run out sometime in 2025. I’ll complain about it every time I use it. I’ll hear a voice in my head, “Why don’t you just throw it away if you hate it that much?” And the other voice will say, “Nope. It works. Not like I like it, but it works. I’m not about to throw it out.”
Thanks, Dad. You taught me that.
Marshall and I went to a pheasant shoot back in February. You remember ole’ Allen Howard. He organizes the shoot to raise money for his ministry in Carrollton. I could buy pheasant in a fancy restaurant in Atlanta cheaper than what that shoot cost me, but that’s not the point, I guess. I shot your old J.C. Higgins pump. She still works like a charm.
I sure wish we could go out to Jim Henderson’s place one more time to shoot dove on his field. I don’t ever raise a shotgun to my shoulder without thinking of you.
Hey, I had a house full of folks over for supper a couple weeks ago. You would have liked it. People sitting at the kitchen table, on the back porch and front porch, some sitting on the couch in the den.
Made me think of all those times you and Mama had a crowd out to the house for a fish fry or burgers on the grill. Homemade plywood tables out in the back yard under the pecan trees. Watermelon out of the garden sitting in a washtub of cold water. Me sitting on the bottom step to the back door cranking the old wooden ice cream churn.
I like seeing people eating around backyard tables. I reckon you and me are a lot alike that way.
You should see the kids these days. So much has changed since you were around. Marshall is working really hard, staying focused on what he wants to do. The girls have great families. Oh Lord, you’d love these great-grandchildren of yours. It’s a shame you never got to meet any of them. They’re a mess.
I can hardly believe I’m a grandpa now. The other day, Laura showed me a picture of all of us from about 1990. I reminded her that, in that picture, you were about a year older than I am now, and that she is the same age as her mother was back then. Time sure has a way of getting away from us.
By the way, you should have been here when I gave the kids their quilts I had made from Beth’s clothes. They thought I had just tossed everything, but I got the idea from a friend of mine. I took bags of her dresses and pants and shirts to a lady over in West Point who makes custom quilts. They turned out really nice. She even surprised me with one for myself with trees on it. What a hoot! The kids loved them.
I want you to know that I’m holding my own down here. I’ve got you to thank for that, mostly. You may not realize it, even though you might have thought I was hardheaded and independent, I listened to you. And even when it looked like I wasn’t listening, I was paying attention. I saw how you carried on without Mama. I saw your strength. I saw more than you realize.
Most everything that I am is because of you in some way. Some for the better. A few things could probably still use a little work.
Well, I’m about out of things to say. I’ve got to get busy cooking up some supper. If I knew how to make a lemon pie like Mama and Beth used to make, I’d make one and eat a few slices for you.
You remember that time I mailed you a bite of lemon pie in a plastic bag inside an envelope. Sent it to you right through the US mail service. That’s one of my all-time favorite stories. But you know you can’t blame me for it. I got that from you.
Gotta go. Tell everybody up there hello for me.