A Litany and Legacy of Letters

My dad Bob Gallagher liked to write letters.  I joined his cadre of pen pals the summer after first grade when I joined my older sisters Kathleen and Susie for a week at Camp Tekawitha.  Out came his typewriter and he’d bang away at the keys, letting me know that “nothing is going on here” and “you are doing the right thing.”  Those themes continued in hundreds of letters from him over more than 25 years.  In a week at camp, I’d average two letters from him.  When I went off to college, the steady steam of letters continued at a pace of about one a week — always typed and always personally signed, “Love, Dad.”  When I moved to Chicago, still they came.  He had a penchant for not using “I” in his letters and went to great lengths to add colorful custom-made stamps to the envelopes.  He had a collection rubber stamps there were as amusing as they were clever:  “Delinquent Law Services, Practice Limited to Juveniles & Tax Returns,” ” Fish Mongers Market, No Fish More than 9 Weeks Old,” among his large stash.  With a gleam of mischief in his eye, he’d test out a few of his stamps on the back of the typed letter, adding the final touches of his favorites for that letter or that week on the envelope.

In the early days it was nothing short of embarrassing to have a camp counselor ask who was sending a letter from Delinquent Law Services or the Old Roman League.  Over time, I would be as amused as they would be once they heard of Bob Gallagher‘s penchant for letters and quirky rubber stamps.

His letter writing skills extended to each of his five children.  As each moved away or attended college, they’d move on to his letter-writing list and at various points, he’d self-assign a day of the week to type a letter to each child, all in the interest of fairness.  It was the same with our school photos — he’d rotate each of five photos on a weekly schedule in his walk-in closet so that none of us would think he was being unfair.  There on a shelf by his dresser, amid business suits and personal items would be five photos, one behind the other, rotated on the weekly schedule.

Wed nite, 4/14/82

Anne,

Sure glad you were home over the Easter time and enjoyed your company, and know that you were glad to be home – and do think things went well and you enjoyed your stay……Nothing is going on here — though this Thursday Mother and the boys are going bowling in the afternoon with the Heideman’s — and understand Mrs. Heideman is a pretty good bowler.  When Mother calls you can give a question as to how the bowling match went off…..So as said to you before, in case you missed a line or two, nothing is going on, and you are in a good place at this time, and know you are happy with the environment……Love,Dad

The format was consistent across the years just as he was.  The letters stopped about a year before his death, when failing health forced him to go into a nursing home.  Mom picked up the slack and would initiate calls for him from the nursing home, where he’d talk, a living letter, and let me know that not much was going on but the food was okay.

These days I’m left with a legacy of letters.  They make me smile, laugh, sometimes wince and sometimes cry but mostly they make me remember a father’s love.   See Attached :dad letter

 

Related articles

Advertisements

Getting My Voice On

Some people might find getting burned in a fire difficult to connect with how, when and why I became an actor but that is essentially part of my story line and are inextricably linked.  As the burn story goes, my sister Susie always told me how she “smelled” me from her perch in the basement that morning and told my mom who was ironing away down there with her to check on me. There she found me, stuck to and burning on the stove. As Susie tells the story, I was silent. Not crying out or calling for help. It seems I had lost my voice.

 So today when I voiced tags* for 29 tv commercials across the country, I silently counted my blessings. A number of years ago, I found my voice and I don’t think I would have realized it had I not gone through the fire. The story is too long for a single post but this blog helps me tell it in my stylish, compartmentalized way.  Even this snippet focuses me on two things:  1) I need to have another conversation with sister Susie to see if the wives tale I’d heard is still her story today; and 2) Soren Kierkegaard‘s quote mirrors my own thoughts these days, “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward.”

Minimize, Maximize or Somewhere In Between

I was talking to my friend Merry about writing this blog and putting together a book about the burned leg. She has heard bits and pieces of the story over the years, and I was explaining how this is the compilation of those various storyline threads. “It must be very emotional for you doing this,” she said. “Not so much,” I replied. “Have you thought of getting counseling to work through the issues this has brought up?” she sincerely asked. “Well, not really. The most profound effect so far has been my understanding how this has affected others, like my parents rather than me.” I continued. “I guess if I hadn’t been able to live as full a life as I have, I might have been bitter or felt I had more issues, but that hasn’t been my story.” She sighed. “You are minimizing this,” she replied. Her comment has lingered with me for a couple of weeks. Minimized? I wonder if that is because I’ve never maximized it. I wonder if things can happen to you and you are be generally okay with them, find meaning in them, even inspiration sometimes. What I am writing isn’t pure Pollyanna at all but what I want people to take away is that there is a resolution to everything so long as you open the door to seeing beyond your narrow self. Still, I wonder if part of the effect of any injury is to either bawl your head off or to pretend it isn’t so bad. Or, can you live with a comme ci, comme ca middle-of-the-road feeling?

Talking with Relatives

Man with street organ and monkey on chain.

Image via Wikipedia

One of the most fascinating aspects of looking back in time is talking to my mother and father’s relatives. Memory is an interesting thing. So, apparently were the 1960s. Intuitively I think I knew that things were different for families in the 60s but mom’s cousin Verna told me today that ‘we dealt with the monkey rather than going to the organ grinder.”  There was a hesitancy to most everything back then — whether it was the idea of calling someone long distance or doing things against the grain. I was trying to figure out how, after the accident, I actually got to the hospital. My sister told me that mom called dad and had him drive home from the office to take me. Cousin Verna confirmed this possibility, “If it were me, I would have called [my husband] to come home from work. Remember, we dealt with the monkey so we would have hesitated to call the hospital and there probably wasn’t 911 back then.”