I was looking for a notebook the other day, since they are part of my professional life. As a writer, I use them to take notes on various stories I’m doing, and to make lists of things I have to do.
I have dozens scattered about, many from long ago, and it becomes fun to try to decipher my handwriting, always a daunting task. I have horrible handwriting. Which I got from my father.
So the other day I pulled one out, flipped through it, tearing out pages I didn’t need. Then I came across a few with bad handwriting on them. But it wasn’t my own. It was my father’s, who died last summer at 85. I’d picked up a few of his notebooks from his house when my brother and I were cleaning it out. This was one of them, a little blue three-by-five inch memo book, 60 sheets, easy to fit in his pocket. He always had a notebook in his pocket.
You see, my dad was a prolific note guy, and I guess I got that from him, too. He was forever scratching out notes to himself, lists of things to do, groceries to buy, people to see.
These few pages were typical. Phone numbers, times to meet so and so, instructions to himself to find his fishing gear, appointments for doctors, and some “Long range” stuff, as he’d written, like cleaning the gas grill to ready it for summer.
I’m not sure when these notes were taken, fairly recently but not so recently as to render his handwriting indecipherable, which it became in the last year or so of his life, when notes were written by an increasingly shaky hand, the quavering letters resembling the lines of a seismograph in full fury.
I’m guessing these were from a couple years before. These notes were printed neatly and cleanly, with purpose, if not waning power. And in block letters. My father never wrote in cursive. Neither do I. Yet another genetic gift, father to son.
I cried a bit when I read his notes. That’s another thing I got from my dad, unrelenting sentimentality. I see pictures of my kids when they were little, or children’s movies on TV that we’d watched untold times when they were growing up, and I cry. I don’t mind admitting that.
I debated what to do with this notebook. There weren’t that many pages left, but I could use them. I thought about tearing out the notes he’d written, casting them in the recycling bin to be used by someone else down the green line, perhaps to take notes of their own. I wondered if they’d end up used by someone else’s aging father and that someday his child would be where I was now, wondering what to do with them.
I didn’t throw them away, of course, I couldn’t. Instead I tossed the notebook on a shelf, behind some stuff, knowing that in the future, in a rare moment of organization and cleaning, I’d come across them again, have a fresh cry, the memories of my father that much more distant but not a single bit less cherished.
There’s a photo of my dad in my office, stuck inside part of a framed certificate I won years ago, an award for journalism. My father always wanted to be a writer and indeed had a way with words. Another gift passed on, a planted seed he’d given me to grow.
The picture curls out, so he’s always looking at me as I work. It was taken when he was about 60, the age I am now, and in it he has a cigar clamped in his lips, a pensive look on his bearded face, his eyes clear and sparkling and more than a little mischievous. It is how I will always remember him.
And though it can’t be seen in the photo, I’m reasonably sure there was a notebook in his pocket.