Thursday, June 2, 2011

A good find

The day was spent clearing out.  Our house has had something of a revolving door in the years since our children graduated from high school.  Some parents help their children pack their bags for college, then change the locks on the front door, metaphorically speaking.  We're not of that ilk.  Our kids have been in and out and in and out often over  the last 8 years, and we've welcomed them gladly.  As long as they're single and have no other permanent allegiance we want this to be the place they think of as home.  The place they land.  Shoot, I want them to call our home home as long as they live if they wish.  If I'm completely honest, there is a certain house in my hometown that is no longer owned by my family...that, in some visceral way, I think of as home.

However,  this house is small.  And by Saturday, when SK gets off a plane, there has to be a place for her to land.  And a place for the four years of accumulated college stuff to fit as well.  At the moment it's still in her car and a small storage unit across town, but not for long.  She's only here for the summer, but she has to sleep somewhere.  Along with a couple of relatives from across the ocean who will spend most of the summer with us as well.

So I've been taking a crowbar to the walls in order to stretch the space.

If only I could.  Short of that, I've been sending piles of J's stuff to good will, sorting through papers, generally 'downsizing', as Beve keeps telling us we need to do.  This is rich, coming from him.  He's the shopper-extraordinaire in our family.  He loves finding bargains, loves bringing me home surprises.  I once had to declare a moratorium on condiments because he'd bought so many bottles of salad dressing and calamata olives.

All that to say, it's been an all-day job.  But this morning, I found a couple of treasures.  Inexplicably, in a box of J's college papers, I found some letters Beve and I had written my family immediately before and after our marriage.  The earliest was one I wrote the first morning we were in India.
 November 18, 1983:
"I awakened this morning to the strains of chanting and a melody easily recognized as belonging to this land.  I walked out onto the balcony in shorts and [flip-flops] to watch a skeleton of a cow poking through garbage tossed haphazardly into the street.  I believe I am really in India.  I now sit staring out a window at square cement houses stretching in every direction.  This is the better part of New Delhi, I understand, where the stench of poverty has not reached.  It's a relative thing, though--this would be poverty to us.  But doctors and lawyers live here and people live fairly well.
We took a walk through a market place that makes all of our US open flea markets seem silly and phony.   There's not a lot that shocks me yet, only ALL of it overwhelms me--if you understand the difference.  It's what I expected: cows, beggars, monks and garbage, but it's more real.  People eek out their livings on small mats on the street, cutting hair, fixing shoes, selling candy totally covered with swarming flies.  The streets smell of excrement and no one notices.  Cars, bicycles horses and carts all share the roads--narrow and crowded--with a mass of humanity.  And the cows and goats truly wander wherever they want--they are 'protected' as sacred, but that 'protection' also means they as skeletal, since no one cares for them.  It shames me, this place.  The children are beautiful with their dark, staring eyes.  They break my heart as they tug at our hands, motioning to their mouths for us to give them money.  They are so curious about westerners.  I've never been the minority before, never been the object of open stares.  And though western women attract them, they are most drawn to Steve.  I'm sure many have never before seen anyone so tall.  It's fascinating to watch them talk to each other when they see him, speculating about this giant."

It takes me back, these words.  When you read them, you can't smell India.  But I can.  In an instant, they evoke the dense fragrance of humanity, animals, meat, flowers, and something else that is just the heat of India itself, I think.  And though you wouldn't think so, it makes me hungry to go back.

But then there was a letter written February 4, 1984.  Discerning readers (namely, those in my close family) will recognize this as the day my oldest niece was born.  But for me, it was something else as well.  The night before, I'd answered a very long distance phone call in Heidebeek, The Netherlands that I'd been anticipating for weeks.  The phone call that would tell me of this baby's birth. And, it was my mother on the phone that Friday night, but the baby hadn't been born yet.  Indeed, my sister was still struggling laboring hard toward SE's birth.  That night my mother called to ask me to pray for my sister, but that wasn't the primary reason for her call.  If I could paint I could paint a picture of the office where I sat, with Beve beside me, as Mom spoke.  I wrote the words on a scrap of paper I found on the desk so Beve could know why my hands were suddenly shaking and I was crying.  "Daddy. Cancer. Surgery." Those were the words I scribbled across the page. I remember that, but very little else about the conversation with my mother.

But that night, after I'd cried about a million tears on his coat, tried to figure out how to get home (which I couldn't and didn't!), Beve asked me to marry him.  He'd been planning to wait for a more special moment, but decided there should be something good that night as well...so that I'd have that to think about along with all my worries about my dad. And maybe I'd be able to get to sleep.

So these are letters written by each of us to my dad the next morning.
Beve's says this: "Dear Dad Crain--Is it okay to call you that? I thought "Mr. Crain" is too formal, "Dick is too grown-up, and "Daddy" is copy-righted by women and considered girlish by most macho-men...so "Dad" it will be unless objected to by you or a better title is suggested by the international father-in-law name committee.
"Actually there are several things I want to communicate with you and there's one question I want to ask.  First, the question-- Would you give your blessing on Carolyn's and my upcoming marriage.  If I was there right now I'd sit down and ask you this question face-to-face, but I'm not there, and it's really important for me to communicate with you my interest in marrying your daughter and to gain your approval.  I want both you and Mom Crain to feel as if you're an important consideration.  It matters to me how both of you feel.  It's been easy in the past for me not to communicate and involve my parents in certain decisions in my life because as a family we've shied away from good communication...Being able to weather this whole thing with your daughter has given me a greater appreciation of the quality relationship the two of you have.  In fact, I've been envious of it.  I'm asking God to revive my relationship with both of my parents, particularly my father.  Anyhow, I'd love to spend some time with you, getting to know you better, I feel like I already have by just listening to Carolyn's description of you."

And my letter:
"Dear Daddy--Gigantic words threaten to overwhelm my reason. Last night when I hung up the phone, I was stunned into non-reaction. It was too far a leap from expecting to hear about RE's baby to hearing about you.  Then tears flooded.  Panic and grief because you, the stronghold of my life, the certain rock, lie in a bed with tubes in you.  I love you so very much.  Do you know that?  When I'm so far away and unable to even see you, all I can do is pray.  Prayer, though, is the strongest power in this world and unleashes the love and might of the Father.
I do pray.  I prayed last night when tears wracked my body and I couldn't form the words.  My tears themselves were prayers as I held onto [Beve} and pretended I was hugging you (I think he understood).  I woke up this morning in the pre-dawn darkness with an aching prayer on my heart.  The most reasonable thing I can do is pray.  I know God loves you far more than I do and He won't let anything happen to you that isn't sifted through His loving hands.  I KNOW that!  He will heal you.  There are many prayers seeking that.  It's exciting to add mine to them and to know that so many love you.  What a horrible way to find out, but how wonderful to be so loved, huh?
  I trust God for you, Daddy.  Your life is in His hands.  I know He has a purpose in this.  I'm not saying He caused it--BY NO MEANS!!!--but I do know that God can and will use it for your best.  Maybe He wants you to slow down, have time to relax and get to know Him better.  I'm going to be praying for that. He desires to show you who He is, you know.
"I'm glad our relationship is so fantastic that it doesn't take a crisis to discover how much you mean to me.  I've always known that you are one of the most important people in the world to me.  In fact, sometimes I think I even have rose-colored glasses on about you {ed. note: Ya think?!?!!?}.  This is good for me--to learn you're not quite the rock of Gibraltar I made you out to be.  I keep thinking of all the times I've called you long distance to tell you of some big panic in my life...and there was usually very little you could do.  Well, dearest poppa-daddy, I know EXACTLY how you must have felt.  But I'm really glad I've always been able to share my joys and sorrows. I'm glad you're a dad who loves his children, who shows his emotions and shares himself.  I'm glad you have a crazy sense of humor, which I inherited and an easy-going way of taking charge.  Daddy, I love you for who you are, flaws, quirks and all!"

I've often felt regret that I didn't say certain things the last day of my dad's life.  Things like...well, exactly like the words in this letter.  It's longer than this, much longer.  But what I love is that I said them.  Yes, it was 14 years before he died, but he knew how I felt about him.  He knew what he meant to me. AND, I wasn't shy about wanting him to know God.  That is reassuring as well.  I may have forgotten, but God didn't.  And...my dad did know how I felt about him. I didn't have to tell him that last Tuesday, because I'd been effusive about telling him.

That's the important thing.  That's how to have relationships, I think.  It's not about what we say on the last day, but what we say all along the way. The last day only matters if it hasn't been said.  Or said well.
So that's how we move forward.

PS.  One of the tragedies of my life is that I have somehow misplaced the beautiful, inexpressibly dear letter my 'poppa-daddy' wrote in response to these letters of ours that February.  It was, without a doubt, the BEST letter of my entire life.  No, take that back, the second best.  The best is the one I open daily, that has red-letters in it. Still. Needless to say, Dad gave his wholehearted blessing and approval about our marriage, though he was just liberal (and well-trained by my mother) enough to say we didn't need either from him, since I was an adult woman. All in all, he was very generous with his support and encouragement of our relationship both present and future.  And, dare I say, quite prophetic.

Maybe I'm just remembering with rose-colored glasses!  But I don't think so.

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