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One of my most treasured possessions is a letter written by my dad. Dated July 8, 1974, and written on yellowed paper from a spiral-bound notebook, it's probably the only letter my dad ever wrote. That makes it treasured.
That makes it priceless.
In draftsman's block lettering he wrote:
"Here we are at Catalina again. This is are third day here ... As you know, I'm not much of a letter writer, so this one well probly take about three days."
I had been in San Antonio, Texas at Air Force basic training. My dad wrote from our family's favorite vacation spot, Catalina Island, off the California coast.
When I received his letter, I was shocked even before I opened it. I knew what a chore it must've been for him. No, chore isn't the right word. Sacrifice, maybe, and definitely a risk.
My dad is an extremely smart and talented man. A self-made man. He can take apart any machine or structure and put it back together and it'll be better, but he's not good with words.
He grew up rough. His mother owned a bakery in Los Angeles and worked all the time. She had married my dad's dad when she was 13. After they divorced, she had a succession of husbands and boyfriends. If they liked my dad, he could stay in the house. If they didn't, my dad went to an orphanage.
He dropped out of school in the eighth grade. I'm not sure what he did after that, probably worked. Above all, my dad is a hard worker. Even at 74 and long retired from his career as a self-employed tool and die maker, he builds houses in Mexico, where he and my mom live.
As a dad, he did his best. He mostly worked, but we all went to the beach together on Sundays and once he accompanied me to a Girls League father-daughter dinner, where we played jump rope relay races. He taught me fraction to metric conversions and "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." We took drives and went to Disneyland.
"I enjoy your letters very much and read them over and over again," he wrote.
"It's funny how we don't realize how much we love someone until they are hurt, sick or away. It's really not funny but a shame. I miss you very much and that's no b.s. Well, that's enough mush."
The next day he wrote about watching girls on the beach and how he was waiting for my mom to get out of the bathroom and that my youngest brother was sleeping.
"I think about you quite often, but of course I always have. Between you and your baby brother, most of my family thinking time has been taken up. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. Just reminiscent."
Another of my most-treasured possessions is a flyer from TCI Aluminum, spotlighting my dad and a machine he made. He had autographed the photo of himself on the flyer for me, which made me laugh.
We always teased him about that photo, with his dark hair and two white sideburns. He used to say that one sideburn was white from worrying about me and the other was white from worrying about my brother. Of the four siblings, we caused our parents the most grief, which I choose not to go into here.
His third and last day of writing produced the shortest page and the sweetest words:
"This is my third day of writing and you know what? I really enjoy it. There are so many things I'd like to say but at the rate I put them on paper it would take three months not three days. I'm very proud of you and know that you'll keep it all together. No parent could ask for more than that."
He ended with:
"I miss you very much, you little turd.
Love always, Dad."
Yes, I know that dads shouldn't call their daughters "turds," but I know he did it with deep affection. My dad often reverts to making jokes when things get "mushy." We rarely, if ever, had any truly personal conversations.
That's as much my fault as his I suppose.
He did the best he knew how. He was emotionally cautious and distant, in a friendly, gregarious way. He's a lot of fun, but he's not very parental, if that makes sense. But he took us trick or treating, showed us how to skim rocks across water and how to make matzoh ball soup.
And he wrote me a letter more than 30 years ago, which I've carried with me all these years and which I will keep carrying with me until the day I die.