There is something different about a hand written letter, emails get deleted, greeting cards get lost and phone calls are forgotten with time. But a letter from a loved one is special, maybe it’s because a letter is a tangible artifact of love. In the absents of a departed loved one a letter can be the substitute for holding hands, a hug or a kiss on the cheek. The letter is a reminder of a loving connection that is slowly fading as decades pass by. I carried letters with me when I traveled overseas. Letters that have touched me, letters of encouragement and most of all unconditional love. These letters have pulled me through some pretty hard times. So, this is an open letter to a man that has given me not only sweet memories of childhood, but by his example showed me how to deal with life on life’s terms with grit and humor.
At the age of five Jasper Paul McWhorter asked a single mother for her hand in marriage which Mary (my mom) accepted and a new family was formed. In spite of the economic hardship of caring for his new family, Paul’s willingness to raise another man child still impresses me to this day. Within the first year of their union, Paul’s earnest effort to provide a secure home and with his sense of humor the bond between a father figure and 5 year old stepson grew and I started calling him daddy.
A veteran of World War II, he was awarded two Bronze Stars, a Commendation Medal and a Purple Heart. Dad had seen some heavy action in the Philippines but would never talk about his experiences to the point that we could not watch any war movies on TV – which I could not understand until reaching maturaity. Home was on the outskirts of Norht Tulsa off Apache Road near the strip pits and regardless of the less desireable location dad love his home and took great pride in maintaining the property. With a passion for gardening dad became an expert at growing copious amount of Beefeater tomatoes and on summer days he meditated and problem solved by mowing our yard without a his shirt on – to this day the aroma of fresh cut grass takes me back to those summer days on Quebec Street. After his chores, dads would sit in the backyard on a white metal lawn chair with his cap pushed back smoking his pipe and drink freshly made lemonade and munching on peanut butter cookies.
My favorite childhood memory of dad is watched him tinker with an Evinrude boat-motor that sat in a steel drum full of water in our backyard. Preparing to start the boat-motor dad would secure his pipe by clinching his teeth, then pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and with one mighty pull of the starter rope the Evinrude would sputter. It would take two or three pulls, but once he got it going the blue smoke would fill the backyard and the roar of that Evinrude could be heard throughout the neighborhood. The fumes and smoke engulf dad and all I could see was his pipe sticking out of the blue haze. When the smoke dissipate dad would be standing there with his hand on throttle and for a quick moment I could see in his eyes that dad was far, far away, somewhere on TenKiller Lake or Keystone fishing for bigmouth bass or maybe he was off the coast of Baja fishing for marlin. I’ll never forget that image when the blue smoke cleared.
The word love was not used liberally by dad, but his grandchildren, Jeff and Darla and I knew we were loved when teased with nick names like apple-knocker, eight-ball or curtain-climber. But when dad did get close to saying the words out loud, “I love you” his voice would crack with emotion as his eyes teared up.
Near the end of dad’s life the Formica kitchen table and vinyl chairs were replaced with a rented gray hospital bed next to the backdoor that lead to his beloved garden. The one room where we gather as a family for meals, games of Monopoly, and frank discussions had become his hospices. It was dad’s wish to end his journey in the home he had worked so hard for. Without the financial means mom’s responsibilities of wife grew greater as the sole caretaker to a man she married so long ago. Before dads final journey, his dementia grew and grew but on this occasion while on the phone he seemed lucid and even cracked joke with me. After sharing the days events and jokes dad handed the phone back to mom. I could hear mom walk away from the kitchen area to the hallway to give me the reality of dad’s condition.
“David, daddy goes in and out of dementia and sometimes he acts as if he is working and asking me for his tools. ” She said.
“I understand mom, just act and pantomime as if your were giving him his tools, okay? Give me a call if anything else come up, just indulge dad, okay? ” I told her.
“Okay dear, I’ll call if anything comes up.” She reassured me.
“Okay mom, love your.”
” I Love you too.”
Three hours later mom calls me back.
“David we just got back, and I wanted to let you know what just happen.” Mom tells me.
“Wait a minute, what do you mean you just got back? I ask out of concern.
“Well, you said to indulge daddy so I did.”
“What”? I asked.
“Daddy thinks he is back on the farm and borrowed two Missouri mules from his neighbors to plow a field, Daddy thinks he didn’t return the mules and seem desperate to return them, so I dressed him in his pajamas, put him in the car and we drove around the neighborhood looking for the mules.”
“Honey, it got daddy out of the house and you said to indulge him.” she tells me.
“Yes, I did tell you that mom – I tell you what mom, tell dad I’ll go out and look for the mules, okay? Dad may not recall that I live in California.”
An hour late I call home, “Mom, tell dad that I found the mules and returned them to his neighbor.”
I can hear mom hold the phone away and speak in a clear audible voice to reassuring dad.
“Daddy, daddy! David found the mules and returned them to the neighbors.”
Over the phone I can hear dad voice clearly and my heart sank as I heard him say.
“That David, he sure is a good boy.”
Those were the last words I heard from dad as he slipped away into the corridors of his mind. I believe that God puts people in our lives when we most need them. And as a five- year old I desperately needed a good Dad, not a perfect Dad, just a good Dad. Today I am what I am as a result of his influence and example. I know what a work ethic is and the value of humor, thank you dad for giving me those gifts. Happy Fathers Day Dad, I miss you terribly.