My father always kept me engaged and entertained. Whether it entailed planting flowers in the garden, spending Saturday afternoons sitting cross-legged on the floor of the public library browsing mysteries, chipping out tiny garnets from granite outcroppings in the Maine woods, or honing my marksmanship skills by luring me with an ice cream for every 20 times I hit with my slingshot the tin can he hung from a tree near our summer cabin porch, Daddy always had an entertaining and educational activity up his sleeve. When the Internet era arrived a decade before his death, he embraced it with gusto. We corresponded daily by e-mail, and I always looked forward to his missives—an organic development from the little notes he’d hide under my pillow, in the book I was reading, or later, in my suitcase. Or, when I was far away, letters, handwritten with his favorite fountain pen, letters that often contained humorous drawings. Herewith, some email excerpts:
1 February 1999: Happy St. Brigid’s Day
Dearest most post-office procrastinating, neatest, most favorite oldest daughter,
Today I received your birthday card [28 January] and it was lovely. Mother recognized it immediately as one of those made in Bloomington. She loves them. Thank you. Yes, indeed, Ed McMahon did not come to give me that check, despite the fact that I had shaved and was reading Ladies Home Journal all afternoon. Although I have not demonstrated many characteristics of paranoia, it is my firm belief that the whole thing is secretly sponsored by the US Post Office in order to keep up their stamp sales. I have written to them to say that I will no longer participated in a program rife with false promises and refuses to allow me to win. I have better things to do than to hang around waiting for Godot. (I think that Warren Buffet and Don Trump have won several times.) Today, I’m spending some quality time in the preparation of Income Taxes. It is fun, fun, fun!! It is WAY more fun than diarrhea. It is less fun than cleaning a septic tank or riding on a plane with an overfull barf bag, however. Thanks for the information on Cézanne and Degas. I think I have solved the problem of carving draped cloth at last. St. Brigid, patron saint of dairy maids, is credited with the miracle of changing her bath water into beer (HONEST!!!) for a group of thirsty people. I don’t suppose they were particularly discriminating, though.
Your totally uncertified accountant, Peter, Order of the Misplaced Algorithms
5 February 1999: Happy St. Agatha’s Day
Dearest most activist, harriedest, cutest, most favorite oldest daughter,
I wish I could help in your frenetic state. But “that, too, shall pass.” Just try to get a chance to take little quiet breaks to ‘smell the roses’. And make sure you allow yourself to get a good night’s sleep occasionally. Went to dinner with the Godfrey’s last night and it was pleasant. The dinner, however, was not good even though it was expensive; I guess I’m fussy about good food. So far, I think I’ve sweated through the Income Tax (while Mother was playing Donkey Kong), and think I have a refund coming. Probably enough for another lousy but expensive dinner. Not I have to copy it in ink. Not much going on here. I’m finishing Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend and will start another. He is SO great! By the way, St. Agatha’s symbolic emblem was a pair of women’s breasts, which, in medieval artwork she was depicted carrying on a platter. I will refrain from comment. OOOOOOPs, Mother just set off the alarm. That’s enough excitement for the day.
Your friendly and loving letter-writer, Peter, Keeper of Obscurity
16 February 1999: “The best is yet to be”
Dearest most preciousest, busiest, most favorite older daughter,
Thanks for reminding me that I am an antediluvian relic. I bet some of those kids don’t even know about inner tubes, “Hoot” Gibson, or desk inkwells. What a loss! Not that I ever missed those inkwells, which were filled by the custodian every day and the black ink would smudge everything on the desk. On the other hand, you never experienced mustard plasters or cod liver oil with orange juice, either. Or seeing the milk bottle with a cap of frozen cream in the winter, which was delivered to the door at 4 am, or the pastry man who drove down the street offering cinnamon rolls. Or the iceman carrying 50 pounds of ice to the icebox. Or Mr. Cooley sitting on his ancient wagon drawn by his horse, Springbed, and calling out, “Rags, bottles, paper.” (He kept the horse in “Rusty” Nigren’s barn, and Rusty could beat up any boy twice his size.) What a deprived childhood you had. I guess things have moved so fast this century that yesterday is a vague memory. Been reading Barnaby Rudge and can understand why people clamored for the next chapter of the serial. It is really hard to put down. There are so many bad people doing bad things to nice people that you want to find out when the baddies get their ‘just desserts’. Historically, it involves Gordon’s Revolt (nothing to do with gin), which is also interesting. Mother is calling me for dinner. I’d better go, or else. Remember that I love you forever.
Your ancient, but with renewed brain cells, father, Peter, Order of the Rejuvenated Superannuates
19 February 1999: Happy St. Conrad’s Day
Dearest most bonniest, thoughtfulest, cutest most favorite oldest daughter,
Woke this morning feeling even better than yesterday. Even felt like cutting the grass and would have, except for the snowflakes. Thanks for calling last night. It is good to hear your cheerful and happy voice; I like it especially when you laugh. On top of everything else, you’re planning a dinner party!!! Maybe some Velveeta cheese on Ritz crackers and a couple of bottles of aged Gallo wine should do the trick. Of course, we haven’t had a dinner party in ages so I may be somewhat rusty. I’m getting some home repair work done that’s been hanging fire (to use an old infantry expression) and so far have not run into any glitches. Did you know that research has shown that taking Echinacea habitually can adversely affect your autoimmune system? That the side effects of Valerian are heart palpitations and upset stomach, and that St. John’s Wort can cause sensitivity to light? All this from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. So be cautious in using these things. So far, there have been over 2,000 reports of serious problems, including 100 deaths. ( I guess by this time, after 40+ years, you’ve come to expect your father to offer unsolicited advice – BUT ONLY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU.) So there!!
Your invigorated (and hopefully productive( favorite Eastern correspondent, Peter, Organization of Eager Mollusks