My Dad taught me to love words

I have somewhat of a walk to my mailbox. This day was not particularly different as I trudged up the hill to get bills and junk mail.  A large envelope stuck out as the red mailbox door hung below. I jerked the stiff package to pull away its edges caught on the insides of the mailbox and dropped some of the letters on the ground. I picked them up on by one and then looked at the package. It was addressed to me.

‘A package!’ the thought thrilled me. Then in an instant the memory of my dad poured through my body like a warm comfy morning. ‘Dad’ I choked back his title inside my mind. I looked up into the blue sky. “I miss you.” I said out loud to empty space. The feeling of deep homesickness wrung like a knot in my stomach again. Will that feeling ever go away?

I clicked the mailbox closed and began the walk down the hill but I was not there.  I was instantly transformed to me as a seven year old little girl holding a package from the mail.  I let the memory flow because that now was the only way to bring my father back and make him alive to me.

 

“I got a package!” I yelled.  I traced the letters which spelled my name Jennifer Calvert. Inside held a treasure which would become an intimate part of who I am, but would also carry the potential of lessons to be learned throughout my life time. My mother always used a serrated knife to cut the tape binding then step back so I could tear open the box and peek inside.  I grasped the binding and pulled out Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. There was a distinct smell as I pulled out my book from the mail.  New paper mixed with glue and cardboard dust. But I did not open it.  That was a ritual that would be performed later.  I carefully walked over and placed it on the hallowed spot; not in grand central station in the family room where all six children congregated to watch Star Trek on afternoon TV, but on the special living room couch where we were only allowed if we were quiet and clean. Then I waited. I waited what felt like an eternity. I played with my Jessica doll. I rode my bike. I walked on the white fence that surrounded my house until I jumped off before I hit the ivy. I colored at the counter as my mom hustled around the kitchen conjuring up good smells while preparing supper for a family of eight. I would sneak in the living room to make sure my new book was still there on the couch.  It seemed also to be waiting anticipating its contents to be enjoyed.

And then I heard the familiar whistle. The creek-crack of the old screen as it hit a little too hard. And the heavy footsteps through the back hall where my dad always entered the house, jingling his keys and continuously whistling.  He did this to alert all of us that dad was home.  Everyone scrambled to give him a hug.  Well, the teenagers were either in their rooms or too cool to get up.  My dad always brought home something from the grocery store and he would set the bag on the counter then tousle hair, squeeze shoulders, pat the dogs and then continue to lift and squeeze kids. He then would walk into the kitchen and kiss my mom and snitch some food. I followed my dad back into his bedroom feeling too excited to wait any longer, spilling the news from my mouth.

“I got my book! It’s Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss!”  I began jumping on my parent’s bed. My Dad was sitting on his cushioned rocking chair and reached down to untie his brown work shoes. He stifled a yawn but then he answered with some mustered up enthusiasm.

“Let’s read it after dinner.” He said, just as he always did when my books arrived each month in the mail. We went on adventures together without even leaving the house.

He put on his brown slippers and he held my hand as we walked down the hall to dinner.

In a family of six children the house is rarely a monastery of silence. The family room and kitchen area were always in constant state of movement and  noise; the dogs barked; the television was always on; the food cupboards were constantly opened and shut along with the refrigerator. It was like pop corn kernels in a pot constantly popping.  But my dad always closed the two sliding wooden doors from all that noise and movement separating us from all the hustle-bustle.

I had my dad all to myself.  I sat next to him or on his lap on the fancy living room couch. It was then that we broke into that new binding with a crack. The hum of the first words, “Signed Mayzie, a lazy bird hatching an egg…” began to hypnotize us and the magic spell of reading aloud began. We were cloistered from the world in a little quiet bubble as we floated inside a book together.  We felt sad together as Horton sat on that egg in the rain and snow.  We felt frightened together when the hunters all pointed guns at Horton’s heart.  We hooray-ed together as the egg hatched and Mayzie the lazy bird suffered the consequences of her neglect. We voiced out loud in tandem the famous words repeated in the text, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant…An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent” (Seuss, 1940). Then we would close the book and sit; my dad and me.  Right there on that fancy living room couch. My dad felt warm and safe.   Something wonderful and powerful had happened.

“Oh Dad,” I whispered out loud as I stopped and looked at the sky coming back to the present. “That was a very long time ago.” ‘How could I know as a seven year old the powerful gifts you would leave lingering inside of me that would last an entire lifetime which began by a simple gesture of time, togetherness and the love of a good story.’  I allowed the memory to linger as I stepped quietly back into the house trying to feel him close once again.  He’s only been gone for four months now.  I walked to the silverware drawer and got out a serrated knife. I cut the tape binding and reached inside.

“Look Dad, it’s my text book for school!” I knew he would smile. Then I walked into my living room and placed it on the couch…and waited. Even though I knew he would not come. After dinner I sat alone on the couch, picked up the book and broke the binding. Then something warm flowed through my body and I knew he was there.

 

Will you come with me sweet Reader? 

I thank you. Give me your hand.

(The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle, 1883)

 

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