Excited at the thought that someone sent me a present, I clawed my way into the dark mailbox hole with feverish hands and sent a pile of bills tumbling to the ground. No sooner had I extracted the large white mail carton than disappointment stomped its steel-toed boot on my big toe. The bane of every mailbox’s existence had done it again. It was just a piece of junk.
Looking at the sample of powdered Similac formula, I was sure it was meant for another neighbor. God knows my baby making days were long gone, but when I read the name on the label, I shrieked. There, in bold black letters, screamed my eldest child’s name. Last time I looked, Michelle wasn’t pregnant. Or, was she?
Running to the phone, I dialed her number as fast as my acrylic-tipped fingernails would allow.
“Michelle, do you have something to tell me?” I asked, nervously.
“Mom, what are you talking about?”
Relaying my discovery, she exploded into laughter. No, she wasn’t pregnant, but she promised I’d be the first to know if and when that happened. As I hung up, I placed the box with the other unsolicited items and found my mind wandering back to a time when junk mail was a welcomed guest in our home.
During my father’s final two years, everything from his mobility, physical dignity, and eyesight had been stripped away from him. Isolated in his metal cage on wheels, there were three things he looked forward to each day; the evening mass on Catholic TV, his mail, and spending time with his daughter.
Wanting desperately to give him something to look forward to, we created a ritual. Promptly at noon each day, I’d arrive home for lunch from my job at Alain Pinel Realtors, grab the mail, and sit at his side ready to read.
“What came today?” he’d ask with the excitement of a child ready for his bedtime story.
First, I sorted the envelopes into levels of importance. Cards were first, banks statements next, bills after that, and “throw away” last. After explaining the invoices and discussing payments due, he’d want to complete the pile.
“Dad, its just organizations asking for money, and advertisements.”
Looking into my eyes, he pleaded, “There might be something important. Please read them.”
Slitting open each envelope, it was the same story: Cancer, Catholic Charities, Sacred Heart High School, and St. Mary’s College – all wanting money.
“OK, you can throw them away,” he instructed, patting my hand to show his thanks before closing his eyes for his afternoon nap.
Wondering why it was imperative that I keep doing this repetitive task, combing through junk mail, I soon became frustrated. Didn’t he know I had more important things to do than to sit and go over stuff he’d just throw away? Then one day, watching him drift away, it hit me. These envelopes were his only connection to the outside world.
At ninety-seven, my dad had outlived my mother, his family, and all his friends. No one came to visit. The process of opening his mail made him feel alive and linked to the world at large alive.
Dad’s been gone over a year, and I have no one to read to, but I keep our practice the same. Some of life’s most precious times are found in the minutia of a daily task.
As requests still dribble in from his favorite charities, I place the opened envelopes by his picture and treasure the memory of a daughter reading to her father, holding my hand, smiling, and always ending with a sincere “I love you, honey. Thank you” as the last letter was thrown away.
What are some of your daily duties that were once found boring, but turned into delightful memories? I have so many. I’d love to know if we share the same ones.