11 Jun My Dad
This past Monday I finally opened two boxes of my Dad’s stuff that I’ve been carrying around for over 15 years. I’m not exactly sure why I waited so long to open them. When I first shipped the boxes back east, they were part of a whole bunch of my parents stuff that had to be dealt with after dismantling their condo in Redmond, Washington and moving them into an assisted living home. The remnants of your parent’s life require a huge amount of emotional space! So many decisions to make about what to let go of and what to keep – each object has to be evaluated, then either thrown out or stored – where? There are many questions raised with each object.Does this have some greater historical value? Would someone else in my family want this? (even though I’m an only child!)
So I suppose way back when I had to make decisions about all of their household objects and albums, I just couldn’t deal with two more boxes of my Dad’s memorabilia. And to be honest, my Dad had a big personality and dominated a lot of my life, and there was a part of me that had sort of enjoyed the peace of not having to think too much about him anymore.
But recently when we were searching in our shed for some camping equipment for my son and his friends, I saw those two boxes sitting there and knew it was time to give them their due. I left them in the entryway of our home for a week or so, then finally, last Monday (my first day off in a very busy week) I took them out onto our screen porch (they’re pretty musty) and opened them up.
One box contained my Dad’s Army uniform from WWII, neatly folded with the hat on top. His jacket with his stripes, perfectly intact. Under the uniform was his tent, his duffel bag, and his laundry bag. Thankfully, no moths or rodents had made their way into the box (a miracle) and I plan to get them cleaned and carefully store them (in a closet??? Is that disrespectful?) They really are so amazing they should be hanging in a museum! I must admit, even now, I’m choked up about this. If you knew my Dad, you would know that he was a patriot to his core, and serving in WWII was one of his greatest accomplishments in his life – he talked about it to his dying day. So, this uniform, in such perfect condition, that he wore for several years of his life, represents the finest aspects of my father.
The other box was chock full of folders neatly placed and labeled, with photographs from his days as an actor on Broadway, his college shows, the two years of summer stock theater in Dallas and Louisville, and then the mother lode and most potentially powerful content: reams of letters written to his first wife Mary while he was in the war.
Yesterday I finished organizing and filing everything in the box, and went through and put the letters in chronological order. I found it astounding that he wrote her a letter almost every day! You can imagine how daunting a task it will be to chronicle the content, but then again, what an amazing record of his experience of the war. My father was part of the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.
I couldn’t help but read some of the letters and talk about heart-wrenching!
What has evolved for me out of this experience of reading my father’s writing to his wife and also to his father (there were a number of those letters too) is a new relationship with my father. I now can know him as he was when he was a young man, full of hope for the future and a wonderful sweet spirit and soul shines through his writing. This just breaks my heart open wide to him – a man who I have struggled to love for much of my life. By understanding the yearning that lived inside of him, and the enormous amount of love he had for his first wife and his family, I am able to know him more deeply than I ever would have dreamed possible. And my father passed on in 1995.
I’m not sure where all of this will take me, but I’m compelled by the journey and will keep you posted.
Betsy TuelPosted at 17:43h, 11 June
I loved reading this piece, Mary Ann! It is poignant, touching, beautiful and memory stirring. I had the joy of having a box full of letters from my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family. I put those letters in order and typed up excerpts from them and gave family members a copy of the “book” I called Letters from Sam. Those letters were written to his mother and later to his sister after his mother died. The letters were written between 1906 and 1925. Through those letters I came to know my grandfather who died before I was born. I also learned something about history.
As you deal with your letters from your father or anyone else, note where they were written from. I tossed the envelopes early on and wished I hadn’t done so. Nevertheless I was able to compile a list of addresses where my grandfather and grandmother had lived and eventually was able to get letters misdated properly placed in chronological order based on content. Sometimes at the beginning of a year, my grandfather forgot to date his letter with the new year.
I also have a box full of letters from my mother written when she was a teenager and while in college.
Old letters can be fascinating and so much more and raise so many emotions. I’d love to talk with you some time re your project and your father. My Dad, too, was in WWII. He was born 1910 and died in 1994. I fully understand how wrapped up you have become in your project of learning about your heritage and forebears.
Do save all your writings, journelings and writes ups of those old letters for your son and his children. Someday, if not now, your son will thank you.
Love, Betsy Tuel