I joined facebook after avoiding it for almost a decade when my father passed away last month in order to read what people had written on his page. Today I checked in and was greeted by this:
So inspired by this prompt, I decided to type out this letter my father wrote to me 18 years ago, when he visited me in Vermont. I was spending the summer helping run a cafe at the Marlboro music festival. My parents had come to visit and while the airplane was stuck at the tarmac, my dad found a notebook and pen in the airplane seat and wrote me a letter.
Typing this out today I just wanted to celebrate Dads and dads writing letters to their kids. This letter really helped me then and I remember packing it away with the idea that it would be useful later in life too. Also, it ends with the best advice of all so feel free to skip to the bottom…
here’s what he wrote:
They gave out playing cards. Then I looked in the pocket in front of me and right in front of the safety instructions was this little book and a pen. Obviously an omen! I’ve included a letter that a grandmother was writing. It’s at the end. So you get two letters for the price of one.
The trip back was easy — not much traffic at all. We made it in four hours. We bought sandwiches at a deli heading to Brattleboro and ate them at a picnic bench in front of a subway that we found when we pulled off the road. We wanted a park with a little stream or maybe a field of wild flowers like the one by your house. But we settled for a picnic bench on cement with a yellow awning for shade. The sandwiches — smoked checking and smoked fish — were great.
The rest of this letter will probably be rambling I’m just tired enough to want to talk and also tired enough not to be able to concentrate on order. It’s kind off the way you feel after a few beers.
I’ve been trying to remember what it feels like to be your age. Lots of feelings well up. I remember feeling as if anything was possible (west side story — “somethings coming, something big”) that was exciting but also scary. There were so many ways to go, so many possibilities. But my situation was different. I had a path — teaching — but I wasn’t sure if I wanted that. I’ve really had a love / hate relationship with it. I wanted to write, to act, to become a reporter, but I like teaching enough to keep doing it or keep coming back to it. Regrets? Sure. Frost knew all about those road not taken. But no matter which way you go there will be regrets. In a way I was an angry young man in those days. And completely bonkers for one year. But that’s another letter. Senior seminar really helped. I love doing that and seven years later I was in my late 30th and a little mellower. But I guess not that much mellower when you throw in storytelling (two years off?) I think storytelling filled a need for me to create. It was only later that I began to see how much I created when I teach.
The point of all this rambling? I’m not sure. I guess I want to tell you it’s never easy. That it’s never done — changes keep coming. That’s it’s exciting not knowing where you are going or what you will do but also a little terrifying.
I’m about tell you the image for that but I probably have already. Sometimes I think I have a dozen stories with points that I keep recycling. Anyway, here it is. Where you are it kind of like when you want to pass a car on a two lane road. You keep speeding up and peering and peeking out. Finally, you get the courage and go. But being out there on the other side of the road is both exhilarating and scary. Will I be killed by that unfriendly semi (life) up ahead or will I be able to duck back in and really zoom along smoothly.
It was great to hear you talk about your art. It makes me think you will be ducking back in and zooming ahead.
you’re good. I’m not just saying that. Every time I see your work it looks better. I feel just the way you do. And you are so involved in it. Ideas just keep pouring out. Let’s make sure we always spend a little time talking art. We usually get caught up in $ and logistics.
The drawing you shows us in your room were beautiful. So will it be oil, watercolor, drawing, sculpture. Probably all one time or another. I don’t think your passions will die out.
But I do know a thing or two about laziness, procrastination, being unfocused. You think I learn stories for no reason? Nope! I usually need a concrete reason to work.
It’s just natural. I told you to be kind to yourself. I guess what I was saying was do what you can do and try not to drive yourself nuts. Herndon in “How to Survive in Your Native Land” says to do what you think is right but your eyes open for the bees and flowers along the way. Enjoy your life, create a life style that will make you happy. That’s what really counts.
It will be exciting to see how it all plays out! Hunter! Art Students League, Brooklyn? You’ve always been good at making decisions and going. I trust you to trust yourself. I probably have told you about Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a book on writing. The tittle comes from a story about her brother. He didn’t go a year long project on birds and panicked the night before it was due. He ran to her father who told him they would get it done by doing it on bird at a time. That’s good advice for life. Take care of the bird now and the future will turn out.
And no the Zach part of the All My Children soap operate era continues
It was great to see you. you looked like a dancer whirling around the omelets and Marlboro sandwiches. That job isn’t easy. You must promise to make me an omelet the next time we see each other. And speaking of dancing you me and mom were the best in the kitchen and out on salsa night.
I’m glad we finally saw each other when I was feeling normal. It’s been too long. I think things have turned around. Keep the prayers going.
I’ve been writing this as we have been sitting on the plane waiting to take off — 40 minutes. If my writing is getting worse it’s because we are taxiing down toward the runway. So it’s time to close.
It was great drinking wine, eating, listening to music, cooking, walking, watching peacocks, talking, lying in fields, hiking, dancing, kissing, hugging, justing being with you !!
Yea Zach, Love Dad
PS: My thumb hurts from writing.
PPS: But after all this, I think the maybe the best advice occurred in the second and third pages of grandma’s letter. Fill the world with kisses and hugs.