Had my father been alive today, he would have been a blogger. Before there was blogging there he was, at his manual typewriter for what seemed like hours on end , writing letters to friends , re-counting recent events with his unique homespun humor.
When I had grown up and moved away, I was given the full benefit of this because then I became one of his subscribers. I received one or more neatly folded, typed letters a week with a picture or two tucked inside, usually of someone, Mom, my brother, or in in this case him holding a fish. Sometimes however it was a picture of just a fish. Sometimes he would include, for scale, a fishing rod or a plate of sour dough pancakes (which he actually brought provisions for and cooked on backpacking trips), but a sockeye salmon, or a rainbow trout were just as likely to be stars of his photographs as anyone else. And why not? I started a collection of “fish pictures from Dad” among my belongings.
“Your Dad types his letters to you?” a co-worker had said to me, when I received a letter from the office at work after recently relocating to a job in Virginia.
“Why yes, is that so strange?”
“Well, I mean, it just seems so impersonal.”
I explained that he claims to have terrible handwriting and then I began the ritual of opening, unfolding an impressive amount of pages and reading the letter aloud. Dad’s letters never failed to get a laugh, usually they would have my coworkers in stitches from laughing so hard and this was no exception, proving to my coworker that there is nothing impersonal about a typed letter after all.
Dad was as passionate about birds as he was about fly-fishing. His concern for violet-green-back swallows, however, was paramount and he spent years developing houses that would encourage this species, native to Oregon, while discouraging the non-native English Sparrows. In later years he put the house against an upstairs window (using the glass as a 4th wall). He built a box on the other side of the window to hold a camera inside. This way the birds could only see a dark wall, which they didn’t seem to mind and we were allowed to observe the growing swallow family. It was kind of like the “Original Reality show” only with birds. Great idea right? Someone else thought so too. A version of this kind of birdhouse is available for purchase at Bed Bath and Beyond.
The shoebox I have of Dad’s letters and pictures are a treasure to me. He was a terrific writer and not just of letters. He was a published author of “The Birdhouse Book,” first published in 1979 with 8 editions to follow as well as many articles for publications like Backpacker and Fly-Fishing magazines and a book of memoires from his tour in World War II that my brother helped him to self publish. We always wondered if he might have a novel stuffed away somewhere, but we never found one. I think, really his best writing, when he was in full form, the funniest and when his gift for story telling really shown was in his letters. They were a gift to us his family and friends. He put a lot of time into them, typing each individual letter, because that’s how it was done, until he took up the computer in the early 2000’s.
One of my all time favorites in the collection is one of the few hand-written pieces of his that I have. It is well worn and full of pin holes where I tacked it on my bulletin board above my desk. I moved a lot in those days, thus, the many different holes. It is a postcard from Mom and Dad's trip to Greece together. I had been to Greece 10 years before and my mother, her first time ever, 4 years before that.
Dad had a unique way of looking at the world that he took with him where ever he went. It amazed me how he could identify birds, especially the birds that live to fly like swallows and swifts. They move so fast. As I have been watching a pair of cardinals making a nest outside my home office window I can’t help but think of Dad and wish he could see it. Cardinals are very exotic for those of us from the West coast. Like something mythical only seen in Christmas cards. Every time I try to get a picture the birds are startled so I covered the lower portion of the window with tracing paper to solve this problem. Then I made an eye hole so I can still see the nest and get some pictures. And now here I am writing about it and it is clear to me that I am my father’s daughter.