In My Father’s Words

Dad young

“Your letter arrived just in time,” my father wrote after his retirement in 1977, “I needed something to do. You must hate it when I write back so soon. Well, anyway, here goes.”

He would then record family news, describe his day, or share anecdotes from his life: “So there I was, fresh off a freight train in Amarillo, Texas, sixteen, and broke. One day I saw an Uncle Sam poster that said, ‘I want you.’ Being very hungry, I thought the old boy could have me. That’s how I ended up in the army.”

His letters ended abruptly, sometimes in mid-sentence as though he’d run out of words. He signed off as Father, never bothering with sincerely or love. Once he wrote, “Your Father,” then added, “I must have been thinking you don’t know whose father I am.”

I had the foresight to save his letters; and last winter, missing him, I reread them and discovered bits and pieces that told a story.

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He frequently reflected on the “stellar qualities that made your dear mother a heck of a woman.” He mentioned her intelligence, “the smartest woman I ever knew,” and her skills, “She could make anything she put her mind to.” Once he delighted me with this: “Your mother left this morning with some friends to go to Salt Lake. She whipped up a fabulous pantsuit to wear. I swear she looked like whistle-bait.”

The following appeared in a letter for my birthday: “Your mother never had a single one of her nine babies when I had to miss work to be there. She always had remarkable self control.”

He respected Mom’s opinions, ideas, and most of her suggestions. “I’m getting my pension checks now, and I’m starting to feel like a bloated plutocrat. So I shined my alligator shoes, put on my $20.00 Hagar slacks with my brown sports shirt, and strolled Main Street with my stomach hanging over my belt ever so slightly. When I came home, your mother told me I had to do something about my belly. She’s my only boss now. I like it when she tells me what to do because she’s usually right.”

He enjoyed Mom’s company: “Your mother and I get along well. I seem to be laughing a lot. She’s either really funny or I’m turning daft.”

After Mom died, he continued to mention her regularly: “I’ve thought about moving, but I don’t think selling this house would be right. I can look anywhere in it and see something your dear mother made, and when I go to church, all the woodwork by the podium was stained and finished by her. How could I leave all that?”

He’d been alone for seven years when he commented, “I have good kids and grandkids. Even the ones with nutty haircuts would do anything for me. I’m living the life of Riley. Your mother being gone is the only fly in my ointment.”

Dad believed with all his heart that he and Mom would be reunited when he died — if he behaved: “I got Christmas cards from two old widows in town. They are both sturdy women, but I feel no need to call in the reserves. I’m fine by myself, except for trying to figure out how to quit swearing, which would increase my odds of getting back with your dear mother. Any suggestions would be appreciated.”

And finally: “I’d like to visit Barbara in Alaska again and go to Norway where my ancestors came from if I live long enough. And if I don’t, I’ll be with your mother. So it looks good for me either way.”

I wanted to spend time with my dad by re-reading his letters, and, in doing so, I discovered a love story written in his words.

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70 thoughts on “In My Father’s Words

  1. What a beautiful tribute to the two people so dear to me. Thank you, Aunt Janet. My heart is swollen with love for these two amazing people and the things I learn about/from them. The love Grandpa had for Grandma was VERY evident, and your small snippets reinforced that for me. Oh to have a love story like theirs… One can always dream 🙂

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    • I was hoping my loved ones would recognize this post as a tribute to a love that was strong and steady my entire life. Even during the more trying times, I never doubted my parents’ love for each other or their children.

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  2. That is an example of a rich and precious love. I can honestly say my parents shared the same kind of love. Neither ever needed anyone but the other to be truly happy. Pretty sweet!

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    • I have to agree with your choice of words, Marjorie; I think keeping Dad’s letters was more luck than foresight. My mother also wrote amazing letters to me, and I have one or two, but didn’t keep all of them — perhaps because she wrote most of them when I was in college. As adults, she and I called each other rather than writing.

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  3. Oh Janet, what a love story. He sounds such a down to earth, common sense man with a grand sense of what is important. His writing style was likely the same as his speaking style. How wonderful that you have kept his letters. My dad didn’t write much, but I have kept any I received.

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    • Kati, your words captured my dad: down to earth, common sense, knowledge of what’s important. Thank you. You are also right that he had the same style whether writing or speaking.He was a great story teller.

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    • I believe I did inherit his way with a phrase, Diane, but I didn’t realize it until the first time I reread his letters after I had started writing. He only had an elementary school education, but read voraciously, another gift Mom and he gave me.

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  4. WHERE WAS THE WARNING!!!!! It should have read something like this – Reading the following may bring tears to your eyes!! Don’t read at work!!!

    I miss these two sooooo much!! I frequent their graves often!!! Thank you so much for the reminder of their endearing love story!!!

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    • Did you sniffle and snuffle or weep like a lady? No need to answer, Kathleen, I think I know which you’d do. I also know that you miss them, and I hope you know how much they enjoyed and love you.

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    • You know, Maizie, until kind readers like you began responding to this blog, I hadn’t realized how much my dad influenced my writing style. I always enjoyed his phrasing, but didn’t see it in my work so much. I am thrilled that you see it.

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      • What a wonderful legacy for you and now the rest of the world. (You never saw these letters as clutter, luckily!) Half my attention was on your father’s writing style, so direct, simple and yet passionate. This is not something I’ll forget in a hurry.

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      • That’s a lovely compliment to my dad, Rachel, and I’m glad you let me know I succeeded: I wanted his words to shine through and be the focus of the entire piece. I am a bit sentimental about my family and find anything they’ve given to me to be off-limits when I go on a cleaning-out-the-stuff spree. Good to hear from you as always.

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    • I can’t believe I had the foresight to save them, Cindy. Maybe it was because I was older and had better sense when he retired, and we started corresponding. I like knowing you felt teary when you read his words, because I do overtime I read them.

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  5. Hi Janet how lovely that you had a father who wrote to you and shared his thoughts and love for your mother with you. As you say those little comments in passing show a deep and lasting love. I don’t remember ever receiving a letter from my Dad as he died quite young (59) Mum out lived him by 30 years. I have kept some of her letters which are lovely to re-read.

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  6. A beautiful read, again. For someone of his generation he possessed great emotional intelligence. Most women had difficulty articulating how they felt about their loved ones let alone me. You are blessed to have the letters from such an open-hearted spirit 🙂 LInda

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    • My dad had difficulty articulating his feelings aloud, but found it easy to articulate them when writing to his children. And, yes, Linda, he was an open-hearted spirit. Thank you for giving me that phrase.

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  7. This was a joy to read. Your father clearly had a knack for writing; he was clever and witty. Are there enough letters to create a short story? What a great weekend read that would be. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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    • That’s an interesting idea; I haven’t thought of writing a longer piece from his letters. I should take another look at them. He did have a knack for writing, but I never realized it until we started corresponding after he retired, though my family always appreciated the way he told stories, which was much like he writes.

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  8. What a wonderful story. My mother died while I was in boot camp. I have the last four letters she wrote me. I’m always struck by her formality. She started each one with: “Dear son.” I knew the letters were precious and managed to keep them all these years. It was 35 years before I felt strong enough to read them again. She had beautiful handwriting, but you can see it go downhill with each letter, until the last one is barely legible. I keep them in a safe now.

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    • You are wise to safeguard your mother’s letters, Rob. They are treasures, as you understood when you kept them all those years ago. Your description of the changes in her handwriting is heartbreaking. How difficult it must have been for you to be so far away from her as you read them.

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      • The plan was for me to get through boot camp and then claim her as a dependent once I got to the fleet. That way she could get better healthcare. But she died four weeks after I left. When I said goodbye to here before I left, I knew I’d probably never see her again.

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  9. The words “your dear mother” are so sweet. I’ll bet that’s how he referred to her when he spoke. Your family is so blessed, Janet, to have you sharing these wonderful letters, proof of your parents love. Family values are established from such handed-down stories. Their photos are great, too….a very attractive couple. I can see you have your father’s easy wit.

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    • You’re right, Mary, in both speaking and writing, Dad commonly referred to “your dear mother.” On this blog, on Facebook, and via telephone, my extended family has expressed appreciation for this post and for Dad and Mom. It has been rewarding for me. I didn’t realize how much my written humor resembles Dad’s; but, unlike me, his was also evident when he spoke.

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    • I was too late wise, Neil. I failed to save the letters my mother wrote to me when I was in college, and she wrote marvelous letters filled with details of family life and her thoughts.

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  10. Oh Janet, you really captured the relationship with Mom and Dad. I really enjoyed the reunion this year because we all talked about Mom and Dad a lot. It seems that this year was the time to remember and reflect their presence in our lives.

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    • Janice, I, too, thought the conversations were rich this year with most of them focusing on Mom and Dad. Their presence was strong. My only complaint was that I didn’t have one of the in-depth, one-on-one conversations with you I so enjoy.

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      • We will have to catch up another time. I did have a wonderful visit with Joel. It is nice to have an early morning friend who likes to visit.

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  11. Very nice Janet. Glad you have his letters….few people do. I’m wondering if someday my ggg grandchildren will be perusing my social media history archive and photographs and wondering what I was all about.

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    • So good to hear from you, Wayne, and to know you enjoyed this post. I think your descendants will peruse the wealth of material you leave them and that it will help them better understand you. I know I realized and appreciated things about my father I had been unaware of until I studied his letters after his death.

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  12. Wonderful, Janet. This is the first Father’s Day without my father and so this post was especially poignant.
    Your father wrote wonderfully descriptive letters—I can see where you got some of your abundant talent!
    What a treasure to have saved his letters.

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    • I thought about you, Rita, when I woke up this morning and remembered it was Fathers’ Day. It’s hard when all you can do is hold them close in your heart. I’m glad you liked the excerpts from my dad’s letters.

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  13. Such understated love, was the way of things then. It was really special hearing your snippets, Janet, and hearing how much your Father missed your Mother. So good that you kept his letters.

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    • I like your thought that understated love was the way it used to be; you are so right. Also, as you say, Dad missed Mom very much, but he made a happy, fulfilled life for many years, without her, but with the help of my two brothers and their children who lived nearby.

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  14. Oh gosh, Janet…there were sooooo many things your Dad said that had me cracking up. (I guess I see a bit of his humor with YOU, eh??) I love blatantly honest people…to me their love is special and somehow more valuable to me. His love for your Mom and you kids shined through in this piece. Thank you so much for sharing. At first, I thought you were going to be telling us a story based on your brother’s letters and then I quickly saw it was your Dad…what a character and great man. Lovely piece, Little Buddy! ❤

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    • I thought you would like this one, Lucie. Until I read the comments on this post, I never realized my sense of humor had, indeed, been influenced by my dad. Thank you for describing him as a great man. I’m convinced simple, good people who do the best they can every day of their lives and enjoy the life they have are, indeed, great people.

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  15. What a lovely post. Your father sounds like he was a lovely person – and how he loved your mother. That love shines right through. And his letters are keeping the best in him alive, for you.

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  16. Hi Aunt Beulah
    Real Stories about Really Beautiful People
    I loved reading this story, it took my breath away. Your Father’s letters were like I was listening to him talking to you Aunt Beulah, he certainly wrote as he spoke.
    He looks very handsome with beautiful sincere eyes in this picture
    Your Mom looks so young, almost like she would rather not have her photo taken. Behind that shy pretty face was an amazing woman. She embraced life with a get on with it attitude, brave and resourceful, 9 babies, you were to be so lucky Aunt Beula, that you were in the counting of heads, to make sure you were all there and accounted for at the dinner table. What a table that would have been, I can hear the wonderful stories, laughter and banter now.
    This is truly a beautiful love story, your Father’s words were simply heartfelt and how adorable he thought she was ” one heck of a woman”
    I also loved the part where he said we get on so well, we laugh a lot, ” your Mom is very funny or I’m turning daft ” if he was to find a single foible, daft, he’d gladly take it, priceless, I couldn’t stop smiling at that. Until I read further and soon there were tears, tears that all true love stories are made of.
    Thankyou for sharing the words of your Father with us Aunt Beulah, It takes me to a beautiful place and memory of my own Mum and Dad.

    Love and hugs from
    Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

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  17. I’m loving everything from him thinking of your mother as whistle bait to the fact that physical letters were exchanged. Becoming a lost art and nothing beats the handwritten word to convey feeling.

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  18. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kay. Dad’s whistle bait comment — made when they were both in their late sixties — makes me smile every time I read it or think about it. I miss letters, truly a lost art.

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  19. What a touching tribute to both your Mother & Father!

    Thank you for sharing this precious gift of memory and of your time reading and reflecting on his letters.

    My parents are still both alive and living within half an hour of me: Dad is 77, Mom just turned 70. I just had a tearful conversation last week with Mom about them travelling together while they still could.

    Your post inspires & reminds me to cherish every moment we have together.

    Liked by 1 person

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