I was sorting through some papers tonight and ran across all the condolence notes sent by readers after the column I wrote about my dad’s death in December 1996.
It’s been 19 years and this is the first time I’ve been able to read the letters without crying.
What struck me most about the letters was how almost everyone mentioned how well they knew my dad because of how often I’d written about him.
I didn’t really think about how often my family showed up in my column but they are such an integral part of my life that they just naturally popped into print.
If I was writing about repurposing or flea markets or designing, then my sister Therese would show up.If I was writing about memories of childhood, any one of my nine brothers and sisters could be mentioned. Sunday dinner memories always included my mom’s roast beef.
And when I wrote about gardening, that was dad.
Gardening was the second thing I did that entirely pleased my dad. The first was getting a job as a reporter, something he told me he would have done if he’d gone to college. Instead, he became a printer, working the “backshop” while those with a higher education ran around and collected the news.
The other thing that struck me about the many, many wonderful letters was that most of them came from people who had never met me, but felt as if they had met me and Dad through my columns. Nothing would have pleased my dad more because he loved those columns. He would ask me to send him columns and then he would carry them around in his wallet and force his friends and co-workers to read them.
Once, when I stopped in at the Austin Daily Herald to say goodbye to my dad on the way out of town, one of the other printers said, “Oh, are you the one who works at the paper in La Crosse? You’re all we here about.”
I was shocked because I never knew that about my dad. In my family, we didn’t go around telling each other how great we were. But we told other people.
And that’s how people came to know how great my dad was. I didn’t call him on Sundays and thank him for being a good dad. But, for him, the columns were better because the readers of the La Crosse Tribune got to see what a great dad he was.
So when it hits 50 degrees on Saturday, I’m going to wander through the crunchy snow crusts in the yard and see what’s greening up in the garden. I have a feeling my great dad will be wandering with me.