A month or so ago, my mom got the fever to attempt cleaning out the catch-all room in her new(ish) house. The catch-all room was the last hold-out for all the odds and ends that came from 677 Washington, and couldn’t quite find their niche when my parents moved.
Oddly enough (insert smirk), a lot of the potpourri was my dad’s. Boxes and boxes of books, magazines, journals, photo albums, and sentimental miscellany were piled high due to serious lack of built-in bookcases in the new house. The rest amounted to the accoutrements of projects my dad took up throughout his life: hunting gear, golf gear, fly fishing and tying equipment. It reminded me of how tirelessly he would practice and study a craft until he meticulously mastered it to the best of his ability. This room was appropriately dubbed “dad’s office.” I think he never quite got around to arranging it because he was currently perfecting his pool game.
Anyhoo… Boy, do I digress! While my mom made her way through all these things, she came across a letter my dad wrote to me on the occasion of my first solo trip to visit my mom’s parents in Massachusetts.
My dad was never the chatty type. Besides a witty quip, a word of encouragement or love, he saved most for me in well-thought-out lectures on grades, morals, or rules of life. So the letter reads something like this: Not much happening here. The house isn’t as much fun without you. We all miss you but I think LaBelle (our cat) is taking it the hardest. She has a few words to say. (This should be imagined in the style of a manly Miss Piggy) Ahem… “Myoony myoony myoo! Myoony myoo myoo!! Myoony myoo Myoony myoo… Myoo!!
When I was young, my dad would pretend he could speak Catonese. He would scratch LaBelle behind the ears and entertain the kids with their conversation. I’d forgotten. Reading the letter made me remember the sound of his voice again — not always the manly Miss Piggy. Memories flooded my head like snapshots in a family album: all of the things that made him such a great dad.
He used to take me to the Winona Sportsman’s Club and let me release the clay pigeons when he yelled “pull” and afterward, he would indulge my need to find caterpillars and grasshoppers and laugh when they peed on my hand.
He’d take us on never-ending boat rides through Mississippi sloughs and repeat to us every time where the wing dams and snags were in hopes we might remember, ourselves, one day.
We took long country drives through the state parks and he would pay us a nickel for every deer we spotted and a quarter if we spotted anything exotic like a grouse or fox.
He tried to get me into duck hunting in the Delta on those dark, frozen mornings, and didn’t complain when I finally told him “morning” and “cold” weren’t my thing. I think he silently agreed. A few years later he became an “afternoon” hunter, himself.
When we were at the age when gross bodily functions made us kids giggle — a couple years ago — he would impress us by never just burping, but burping the words “eagle barf.” We’d all squeal with delight and yell, “Do it again! Do it again!” Proud moments.
I remember the time we were golfing, and I took off a faux pony tail I had been wearing and put it on my lap. My dad thought a squirrel had jumped on my lap and he almost fell out of the cart.
I remember the look on his face when he first held my girls. It made me cry. He loved them so much he’d get sappy when he talked about it. He loved them enough to agree to babysit. Before his first solo babysitting venture, when Peyton was three months old, he asked, in all seriousness, “ahhhh, what if she goes to the bathroom?”
He wrote the most beautiful poems about them.
I remember how instantly he and my husband, Dan, bonded. When we visited Winona, the two of them would run off together and do guy stuff. He was so excited to get another son. And one who loved sports and beer! At family gatherings, they’d run to the rec room, turn on the sports, and play pool all night long. When it was time to go, they’d beg for just one more (game, beer, inning, commercial) like little kids. My dad took Dan under his wing and introduced him around town when we first moved back to Winona. He and his buddy, Davey, tried to teach the Jersey boy how to hunt deer. They taught him that maybe you should leave that hot cup o’ joe in the car when you’re trying to attract a deer. And that it is never OK to chase after deer with your car and shine your headlights on them, even though it makes them freeze enough to get in a good shot. My dad just missed seeing my husband get his first deer ever this past fall. He would have been so proud. I’m so happy they got to share the time they did together. My dad knew that his grandchildren were in good hands and Dan would be the kind of father he was.
I watch my husband now and see all the special bonding moments between him and the girls occurring before my eyes. Like my dad, he can be fun-loving and have the girls giggling and excited to be near him. He loves to teach them new things and take them to enjoy the outdoors and everything Winona has to offer. He’s also a good teacher. He’s patient but stern, and sweet and kind to them. They are lucky as I am.
I’ll leave you with some of my father’s most sage advice. It was at the end of every postcard he sent me at summer camp. “If you have to go in the woods, don’t wipe with poison ivy.”
Happy Father’s Day! Thank you to all of the good dads out there!