Memories of Dad

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.


A cleaning maniac

I am in the middle of a spring cleaning frenzy.

Maybe it’s the startling blue skies and sunshine that sent me into overdrive.

Maybe it’s the return to feeling almost normal after a week of being laid low by a cold. (And reclining brought me closer to the floor where the dust bunnies live.)

Maybe it’s just that I’ve been doing spring cleaning since August and this time I really want to get the job done.

I finally realized today what I had been doing wrong all these years. I’m still cleaning the way I did when I was 10 and we kids were assigned a rotation of rooms to clean every Saturday.

If it was my turn to clean the living room and it was Therese’s turn to clean the dining room, you can be sure I got started first and chucked all the shoes and newspapers and toys into the dining room.

Voila! Living room cleaned.

And I’ve been cleaning that way ever since, only Therese isn’t there to clean the room I’ve just filled up.

So today, the card table with the wobbly leg got marched out to the car on its final journey to Goodwill.

The assortment of wood craft pieces got thrown into a bag that is also headed for Goodwill along with the grill grate I bought at an estate sale, probably thinking I would turn it into something amazing. Someone else will have to do that when they stumble across it at the thrift store.

I even pulled out the trunk insert that Therese had told me I should store under my chaise to hide all my unsorted bits and bobs.

Today they got sorted, marked for sale, tossed away, or thrown in the Goodwill bag. And the trunk insert got a sale sticker slapped on it and made its way to the garage.

So the sun room is clean. And I am well pleased.

Until I look at the dining room.

Isn’t it Therese’s turn to clean a room?