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

 

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Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow (John Mellencamp album)

Image via Wikipedia

Saturday night we went to the John Mellencamp concert at the Chicago Theater and when he sang, “Rain on the Scarecrow”*, I remember us playing that song after my dad’s funeral in December 1993.  When the funeral ended, we drove aimlessly around the Green Bay farmland.  The snow barely covered the ground and you could see the fallow dirt.  The crops were long gone and what remained looked sad and straggly, drained of moisture and color.  It was fitting for that day.  During his entire life, my father never once mentioned my accident.  He was doggedly supportive of me; never turned down a good idea if I had a plan to go with it.  He became ill when I was only 17 , and when that happened the focus shifted to caring for him as his health and mental acuity diminished.  I wish now I had the courage to ask him about the accident, to understand his thoughts and feelings.  When I heard that song Saturday night, I remembered the aimless farmland drive as well as all the things I hadn’t had time to ask him before he died.  I wondered then if he ever wanted to talk to me about it.  Many years later, I got my answer by going to a woman who channelled guides.  Out of the blue, she told me she had a message from him and I got the answers I had been wanting.  It felt like a miracle.  When the universe has a plan for you, there is no stopping it.  Have you ever felt that?

Rain on the Scarecrow

Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm

I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared his land

When I was five, I walked a fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the land……….

Serendipity or Just Life

Heading to Miami for work this evening, I couldn’t help but think of my father, who absolutely loved Florida. He died in 1993 and I’ve been thinking about him a lot as I work on writing the story of my burns and how they were healed (physically and metaphorically). His favorite book was How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and right next to that was his dog-eared copy of Tom PetersIn Search of Excellence. By some small miracle, I was at O’Hare an hour before my flight and I ducked in to Barbara’s Bookstore in United’s Terminal B. Browsing along the small aisles, I hit the bookshelf with my bag and down fell How to Win Friends and Influence People, the special Anniversary edition celebrating the book’s over 70 years in print. Of course I bought it. Reading it on the plane explained a lot about my dad, who followed the Carnegie tenets to a “t”. I mean this was his bible. Now, I’d say I ran into some cosmic serendipity tonight. My friend and audio engineer Todd Hoyer would say, “Bah humbug, that’s just life, don’t make anything out of this.” So, I wonder dear readers — how do you distinguish when the universe is calling from when it’s just stuff that happens? Please tell me your experiences.