Pretending you asked my advice, I believe we all should have a “note box” in a handy spot, especially parents. I will tell you why, an explanation which would ordinarily be at the end of this column, but I don’t want to lose you in the story.
The box is for what I would call “love notes,” but the notes you write could be about anything you want to say to anyone, whether family or friend.
It could be something as simple as, “Davy, you rode your bike without my help for the first time today, and I was proud of you,” or “Sarah, watching you raise your own children warms my heart!” or “Bob, your friendship is one of my blessings and I wanted you to know,” or “Lori, your hair-trigger smile always brightens my day.” You could also go the negative way, but I’ll let you deal with your own demons.
Notes can be just a few words scribbled quickly on a scrap of paper, with dates to keep things in some sequence. Your casual notes may become treasures to your loved ones after you are gone. Read that last sentence again.
That’s my advice. Now the story.
I wrote a book about my two daughters, both adopted from China. Here’s how the book happened.
I was 49 at the first adoption, way past the age any reasonable person would have thoughts about parenting an infant. I was also born with little patience, then it got worse, so I was a real peach when it came to diaper changes and fussy babies, never in the running for father of the year. I did discover, though, in Peachtree City the best way to put a child to sleep is the sways and rocks and bumps of a golf cart ride.
As was customary in our international email group of roughly 10,000 connected by China adoption, I wrote a few stories about fatherhood as a grumpy old guy, and that was my introduction to what I will call recreational writing. On the list they asked for more and I gave it to them, enjoying the progressive realization that I could fashion a story around nearly anything, a great way to capture memories otherwise lost.
After the email stories piled up, I edited and turned those stories into a book titled “Sisters Redeem Their Grumpy Dad.” Selling the book within this China adoption limited market was a break-even effort by design, but I enjoyed it and readers seemed to like it. When the kids became old enough for that book to be an embarrassment, I took it off the market, but they still have their own copies. And they still read it.
Here’s an example of a short story about Kristen when she was 2 1/2 years old, written after the book. She gave me her permission to share it with you. I titled this one “THE BUTT-DROP DISMOUNT.”
“When I am lying down, wallowing in peace and quiet and lost in the story of a book, and Kristen’s head pops up at the foot of our king sized bed, I know I am about to be interrupted … and amazed.
“Kristen is on the move, because there might be good stuff on the bed and she wants to see what’s going on up there, that’s why. But it isn’t easy since the mattress is a little higher than her shoulder. Like a physical magician, she throws her right leg up high, hooks her toes on the top of the mattress and levers her tiny little self up on the bed to check things out.
“After a few minutes on the bed poking Dad and feeling his face to make sure he is still breathing, and maybe searching for her Bunny or Bee, she has to get down because, well, there’s good stuff scattered on the floor, that’s why.
“But how is a delicate little flower like Kristen to get down from such a lofty height? She just walks to the edge of the bed and sticks both legs straight out in the air, 90 degrees from her upright body, an absolute wonder of gymnastics to her lump of a Dad, routine to her as she lets gravity bounce her tiny little butt on the edge of the bed, just one bounce and she lands on the floor on her feet just as if that is how physiology intended her to maneuver.
“Me, I just shake my head at the very idea of me replicating that move, considering proportional size and all, without an ambulance standing by. Then I shake it off to once again dive under the surface of the story in my book. In a moment Kristen’s head appears again at the foot of the bed, because there might be something she missed up there, that’s why. May 26, 2004.”
I would argue there are three important things in stories like this, though most of mine were longer. First, it preserves a memory that would otherwise be lost in the hustle of daily life. Second, in between the lines of many of these stories there is an intentional message covertly telling my kids they could not have been more loved if they had been our biological child. Third, kids from age 10 to 110 love to read stories about themselves, a little extra family glue.
But you don’t have to write a book to let those you care about know what you are thinking about them. My friend, Dick Butler, gave me the idea for a note box, which he keeps within reach of his desk at his small trucking company. He is busy, but now and then he will scratch out a note to someone in his family, taking only a moment to write the note and date it, and he throws it in the box. His family knows, if something happens to Dick, get the box!
One reader of my book told me long ago, with tears on her face, “I wish my Dad had left me just one little note telling me how he felt about me, but he didn’t.” I didn’t know her Dad, but my guess is he loved her and, like most men, even like me, he might have been uncomfortable bringing the words to pass his lips. Besides, there’s always tomorrow or next week, right?
Except sometimes there isn’t. None of us has God’s guarantee of the next hour, and those future chances we rely on as an excuse will one day suddenly evaporate.
Even for grumpy old men like me, writing a little story or scratching out a quick note is easier than saying out loud the things that bubble deep inside. And it is quite possible the notes you leave them will become valued like a rare heirloom.
So my advice is, get a note box and use it. Notes don’t have to be fancy. They can be a note card, a torn strip of paper or a piece of a napkin. Written in your hand will likely mean even more than printed words in a book.
My book was years ago. I should have my own note box. And I will.
[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]