If Daddy answers the phone when I call my parents, our conversation is a quick one.
"I can't talk," he'll complain.
"You sound fine to me," I'll tell him.
"What? I can't hear you. Here's your mother."
And that's that.
Strokes have taken their toll on his vocal chords. The effort to speak is too much for him and his voice gives out after just a few words. Perhaps his hearing loss can be blamed on strokes, too. (Although hearing aids could help with that. Sigh.)
But he was never one to talk much, anyway, and especially not on the phone. If I wanted or needed to talk, I went to my mother. I could talk to her about anything, and I'm very grateful for that.
Daddy and I communicated in other ways, though. We teased each other and toured old houses. We fought over who was going to mow the yard.
He chauffeured me and my friends to the movies and high school basketball games before I got my license. He taught me how to drive, and tried to teach me how to play golf and be a better bowler...without much luck.
Instead, I tagged along with him on the golf course, satisfied to watch him and admire the beauty of the courses. We took road trips to visit his mother, traveling along the back highways with the windows down, stopping often to visit historical sites or other interesting places that caught my eye or his.
But words still formed our greatest connection. I was seven, maybe eight, when I uttered that inevitable childhood chant: "I'm bored."
"Bored? Here, read this," he said, handing me an old, mildewed copy of Black Beauty, "You'll never be bored again."
Well, I'm not sure if those were his exact words, but they should have been. I was hooked, and as long as I've had something handy to read (and I try to make sure I do), I've never been bored again.
Besides Anna Sewell's Black Beauty - and hence, every horse book I could get my hands on - Daddy got me hooked on historical fiction via James Michener and Leon Uris. It's still my first love.
He also introduced me to Leon Hale and his Texas-flavored, rambling, memoirish columns in the Houston Post (and then the Chronicle)...the inspiration for my own personal essays and blog posts, I'm sure. I still read his columns online.
Because of Daddy, I surround myself with books, and I'm partial to old ones.
I read our ancient copies of Black Beauty, Call of the Wild, Daddy-Long-Legs, and A Girl of the Limberlost over and over and over, and to this day the smell of a musty book takes me miles away in my mind to those stories.
When I enter an antique store, I head straight for the book section. Not to buy, necessarily, but just to breathe, feel, and say Hello, you're not forgotten.
Our house overflowed in paperbacks, too, though. Daddy always had one in his metal lunchbox, usually a Louis L'Amour, and when I followed in his steel-toed-shoe footsteps years later, I always carried a paperback with me to work.
Today neither of us consumes books like we used to. Daddy reads the morning newspaper, but then turns his attention to the television when he's not doing laundry or other household chores.
I'm always somewhere in a just-for-fun book, but it takes me forever to finish them, only cracking them open to read while I eat lunch. When I'm at home. And don't have something else I have to read.
But all of those books and words and voices still bind us, and despite the miles between us, and the words we cannot say, I feel him with me every time I open a book.
Thank you, Daddy.
Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.
~Ruth E. Renkel
(This is my contribution to the Generation Fabulous Father's Day BlogHop. Click HERE to see the other wonderful posts about women and their fathers.)