The letter from my father was tucked in a box tightly packed with mementos from my high school and college years. Scrapbooks jammed with yellowed photos, old copies of The Spartan Spectator and The Westerner, school papers I wrote and edited for, an old cookie tin filled with my button collection, reminded me of the time in high school when I wore a denim jacket bedazzled with exclamations like, “Why Be Normal”. I excavated my red vinyl encased high school diploma and my college graduation program, a pristine copy of a 1987 Rolling Stone magazine with George Michael on the cover, artifacts that hadn’t seen daylight in decades.
My husband and I were organizing the attic, going through boxes we hadn’t looked at since we moved into the house 11 years ago. We had two piles, Goodwill and Trash. I stowed away the Brenda archives deeper into the cold, dark storage for the next time I wanted to remember when.
Despite being gone for nearly six years now, Dad magically reappeared in the attic sitting Indian style with me among my memories, eager to have a long overdue heart to heart. Dad’s letter to me was dated January 13, 1991, nearly 31 years to the day he gave me the envelope addressed in his cursive Personal to Brenda. I can’t remember the circumstances that prompted Dad’s note to me other than I was about to start my last semester of college. My ambition was greater than my GPA and looking back, I was a daydreamer unaware of how hard life would be, and oblivious to the guaranteed obstacles ahead.
The times for procrastinating are over. Put away the toys of your youth i.e. anything that will take your eyes from your goal… the world is at your feet, but your feet must move in the direction to attain your goals …Indeed you are a woman of the 90s but if you notice it is 1991. The 90s have started over one year ago.
I read the note over and over like a mantra. Start now… Listen to what I write … you have talent and opportunity. This was a motivational plea, a message of perseverance. But why did I trip over this 31-year-old letter from Dad? Why now?
Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic reminded me of my twenties, like wading through deep puddles of molasses. Everything is so hard, slow, messy, and cumbersome. One postponement and cancellation after the next is weekly navigation. There didn’t seem to be a clear path for me in the early 1990s either and the news was always gloomy: a recession offering no jobs, scud missiles zooming across Saudi Arabia, and a president patronizing me with failed promises, “Read my lips.”
At 52 years old, are my feet still moving in the direction of my goals? What are my goals now? I wanted to ask my dad, “What do I do now after a thirty-year career? Keep doing the same? I just don’t know anymore. I thought I would know by now. What do you think I should do?”
Dad didn’t answer. I was alone in the attic, reading the letter again and imagining Dad writing it with his left hand hooked over the white-lined paper.
You are 21 years old now and are quite talented for your years. It is now time for you to get going with your journey in life.
Now I was at the midpoint of my life journey, in a nice home, nice family, nice career, and had checked off most of my to-do list. But the malaise of the pandemic made me feel antsy and I had no idea what was next on the journey. The horizon was fogged over, and my ride idling. I had unearthed this special time capsule from a worried father extending his love and guidance to his daughter and I wanted this treasure to be more than a keepsake. I wanted my life journey to get going too and I wanted to talk to my Dad about which direction my feet should go.
I brought the letter to my son Shawn who is a constant reminder of my Dad every time he wiggles his eyebrows.
“Check out this letter Poppie wrote to me in 1991.”
Shawn read the note. He gave me a nod and a smile and said, “Looks like you followed Poppie’s advice.”
I kissed my son on his head as he swiveled side to side in his chair, geometry problems waiting for him to complete on his desk. It was like he channeled my Dad’s message that I had done just fine.
“I have to register for classes next year. I’m thinking about intro to psychology and criminal law and Mr. Balda recommended me for AP English.”
I folded the note, tucked it back in its envelope, and sat beside Shawn to review his course selections. Shawn wouldn’t need a letter from me as motivation, he was propelling through his journey with purpose. Maybe my life took a bit of a detour through the molasses swamp, but there was a son who needed me and a job to go to and more years ahead and a letter from my father cheering me on.