On August 16, 2014, the 63rd anniversary of his marriage to my mother, my daddy died. Mom and Dad are finally reunited, seven years after her passing. My dad’s death came relatively quickly after a diagnosis of metastasized cancer, but I did get to see him twice in August. I am thankful for the chance I had to hold his hand at the very end.
Throughout the years since my Mom’s death, Daddy had been writing stories of his childhood and youth on yellow legal pads and sending them to me. I had not read very many of them carefully, being caught up in the demands of my own family and career, but I did put them away for safe keeping. When he would find some piece of writing of his from his childhood, he would send it to me, and I have previously written an article about his 3rd-grade story, The Bird and the Dog, as well as some of the stories he told me about working in my Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop in Tampa, FL.
But what strikes me this week, as it never has before, is his voice. As a child I remember exchanging letters and poems with my maternal grandmother. My mom was the parent who seemed to me to actively encourage my writing, and I always associated my interest in writing as something that I had inherited from her side of the family. However, in hindsight, my dad was the one who made sure I had stories to tell and time to tell them.
My Dad was the person who took me to the local airport where I would hang out listening to the story telling, recording things in my journal. He was the one who introduced me to true “characters” in life. My Dad and his father were the story tellers in my family. And, as I read the precious few original writings I have of my Dad’s—a few letters that he wrote to my mom, and the stories he recorded for me, I realize that it is his voice that echoes in mine.
For too many years, I discounted my dad’s writing because frankly I couldn’t overlook his spelling: it was atrocious. My elitism may have robbed me of a chance to revel in an amazing shared gift with my Dad. We bonded through our love of flying when I was a teenager, and when I was first truly exploring writing as a teen, I wrote about airplanes and the people who flew them. How much more could we have shared if I had listened more carefully to the stories of our family and helped him record them? What incredible treasures would I now have as I mourn the absence of him from my life—our phone calls to talk, our visits at Thanksgiving that I will so miss—because often he would tell me one little tidbit of his past that I did not know.
So, as I go back through those yellow legal pad pages and read, I will hear the echo of my Dad’s soft Southern voice, his gentle “darlin’” whispered through time and eternity to me. I will miss him dearly. And I will tell his story.
© 2014 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.