Donna Lynne Griggs
—Inspired by Stephenie Horman
and a rainy-day discovery
My father was born in 1932, back when smoking was the hip thing to do and fedoras were worn by more than just the occasional hipster down at the local coffeehouse. He grew up in a time of suave masculinity, and he greatly admired movie stars like John Wayne and Dean Martin. One of the last truly honest salesmen, he was an invisible man in his everyday life; but to those close to him, he was a hopeless romantic who would belt out the chorus of Camelot in his best (albeit out of tune) Richard Harris voice. He was a humble and loving man who adored his children and the written word. He saw every second of sunshine as precious and soaked up life with enthusiasm. He was a true original. I only wish I had realized that sooner.
When he passed away, I was in my mid-twenties, and a life of rebellion and narcissism. As an adult, I had barely gotten to know him at all, and so as I gathered with my siblings to somberly sift through his belongings, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was somehow intruding. We all felt that way. Avoiding eye contact with each other, we moved like grainy staccato images from an old black-and-white movie within his tiny apartment. My older sister broke the stifled silence by letting out an onerous sigh, and then made her way over to our father’s desk. I watched as her eyes slowly roamed over the homemade gifts we had all given him over the years, now dusty and littering his workspace; we flashed each other an awkward smile. A leather-bound portfolio sat squarely, almost peculiarly, among the remnants of our childhood; her hand lovingly caressed the cover. It was eerie to think that just a few days earlier he had been sitting there, perhaps writing a letter to one of us. Her fingertips gently crept around the edge of the folder, pinched the corner and then lifted it; her forehead crinkled with curiosity.
“What is it?” I asked as I made my way over to her.
She hesitated for a moment. “I think, it’s writing…poetry maybe?” she said.
We began to spread the papers apart; different shapes, different sizes, some typed, some in his own handwriting, various napkins—scribbled with miscel-laneous ideas and musings—that had been tucked neatly and hidden beneath the unassuming cover. Wow, I thought to myself, Pop wrote? As we collectively decided what items went to whom, my heart was struck. I had written poetry for years, and I was beginning to feel a melancholic tug toward the possibility of kinship. I saw the potential for a unique connection with my father, a deeper understanding of a man I was realizing I knew little about. I jerked my head up, my eyes darting between my four siblings; I felt the pleading pouring from my eyes.
My older brother’s face began to soften. “You should have it D,” he said, his voice shaky.
I felt a thorny mixture of happiness and guilt as the tears welled up. I carefully gathered the contents and put them gingerly back into their folder. I slid my hand along the leathered spine, and tucked the folder underneath my arm. What would I find?
My father’s writing sat in a blank banker’s box, buried in the back of a closet for years. I had almost completely forgotten about it when, upon a move to a new apartment, I dug it out. When I unpacked, I pulled out the folder and held it to my nose. Somehow I had hoped it would still smell like him. I sat down on the carpet in my empty bedroom and slowly opened the portfolio. I allowed my fingers to leaf between the various pages, a faded yellow piece of lined notebook paper, a napkin from Denny’s. I smiled at the thought of him using whatever was at his disposal. The starkness of a typed, white piece of paper stood out. The typeset looked old; keyed on a machine that didn’t have a corrective feature, with strike marks through some of the either misspelled or unintentional words. Though technology had progressed by the 1990’s, my father—old-school and bent towards romanticism—shied away from any type of social modernity. The paper I had stumbled upon was a typewritten response to a singles ad; handwriting at the bottom noted that a Xeroxed copy had been mailed to the newspaper. As I poured over his words, I delighted in the fact that my dad, the eternal optimist even late in life, retained the hope that he might one day find a woman to love, who would love him in return.
Dear Box 238,
I can’t think of any other way to address you, so for the moment it’s Box 238. Has kind of a ring to it, don’t you think? You have had about a jillion answers to your ad by now, but I hope that you have time to read this one, or take the time. This manual typewriter doesn’t type or spell any better than when I bought it. “Never type a personal letter or handwrite a business one” a wiser man than I once told me. But, it seems that my penmanship is still lousy, I can write as fast as I want, and an electric typewriter comes out like thisssssssssssssss, so I stay with the manual and use it for both.
Energetic—First word in your ad, hmm, well that covers a lot of things. Does that mean that she won’t stop to look at the sunset when you’re walking in the sand at the beach? (I’m talking to myslef myself) Would she get restless sitting and listening to music on the lawn on a Sunday afternoon in Harmony by the café? Would her energy stop me from reading out loud lines from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam? No, I say to myself. Not that type of energy, but more the energy that brings with it a smile. The type that makes you jump up and down when you’re happy. To that type, I say yes. It’s that type.
40-Something and Good-Humored—Seems to me to go hand in hand. There is not enough of either of those things to go around these days. The 40 must refer to age, not to Ali Baba and his 40, or the famous 40 Days and 40 Nights, or the 40 to a boxcar of WWI fame. So assuming it’s of an age, I will just say, glad you made it this far, the best is yet to come. If you are still reading this letter, than I know you are of good humor, or it’s on the floor of the Telegram-Tribune and you’re wishing you had your money back that you spent on the ad. Good humor is like a good letter in a sense, fun to get and fun to give.
How do you describe oneself? Well, here goes. 50-something. Good natured and kind of heart. I enjoy this world we live in and try not to take too many problems of the world to bed with me. I wish that children, kittens, and puppies never had to grow up. I don’t like going to the dentist, fruit cake, or Morton Downey Jr. I do like Charles Kuralt, cheesecake, Marsha Mason, and Neil Simon plays. Good eye contact, meeting someone new and a firm handshake always makes me like someone.
As you know by now, I’m not a typist, but I enjoy writing letters, short stories, and poems. My dad did, and my brother does, something in the genes I suppose. I hope this letter finds you with blank paper and an urge to write back. We can cover more ground next time.
I let my hand, the letter still gripped between my fingers, plop down into my lap. A wave of astonishment washed over me like a rolling tide. Is it possible that I have learned more about my father in a one-page letter to a stranger, than I had in the twenty-seven years I had spent being his daughter? Incredible.