I got a call from you today

Who knew this mysterious file folder would reveal memories and more than one surprise about Dad?

Who knew this mysterious file folder would reveal memories and more than one surprise about Dad?

By Taylor Smith

I got a call from you today.

Well, sort of.

“Hi, Taylor. I came across a file of your dad’s. Looks like it contains some personal things. I thought you might like to have it.”

What? I mean, yes. Yes. I would like to have it. I would love have it, actually.”

“Great. I’m glad I was able to track you down, Taylor. I hope all is well.”

CLICK.

Dad, that is so your style:
unannounced,
coming in right outta the middle of nowhere,
all of your 78-inches somehow stuffed into this bulky, white envelope.

I wasn’t expecting you to arrive this way.

I mean, I think about you every day, but I didn’t think I’d be sitting on my living room floor, holding onto what I could only assume were
pieces of you,
in some forgotten folder that was left in a sea of other forgotten folders somewhere in a closet.

But here it was.
Here you were.
Uninvited and undeniably commanding the center of my attention in a matter of seconds,
in a way that no one else could.

I slid my finger under the envelope’s opening, holding my breath.

When I tipped the envelope down, a red folder slid into my lap.

Open it, Taylor. Come on. Just do it.

But it’s not that easy.
Because it wasn’t just a matter of opening a folder that contained some of my dad’s things –
Opening this folder also meant opening up part of my soul,
the deep, hidden part that craves just one more day,
one more hour
to create a last precious father-daughter memory.
And that’s a really raw place to tear open.

But I did it.

The first piece of paper from the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame.

An accomplished swimmer and a beloved father.

An accomplished swimmer and a beloved father.

“Dear Arthur, as you know, because of your outstanding contribution to the sport of swimming in the state of Arkansas, you have been inducted into the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame.”

Whoa. Hold up. Dad, this is a BIG DEAL. Why didn’t you tell me about this?!

The letter went on to talk about my dad’s swimming career. It made my heart swell with pride. It was like I was watching him walk across the stage to receive an award for accomplishments no one knew about. Secret’s out now, Dad. You were a champion.

Dad during his swimming days at Indiana University (also the author's alma mater).

Dad during his swimming days at Indiana University (also the author’s alma mater).

This mysterious folder business was off to a good start. I was breathing, at least. But who knew what else was buried in the pile. Maybe it would be best to just stop here.

Fear, shut it.

I closed my eyes and reached for the next thing in the stack — a card “For a Son Who’s Loved So Much.”

It was a “just because” card from my dad’s mom, who I called my nana.

Nana and I weren’t super close. We never really had the opportunity to be, living more than a thousand miles apart.

But reading her words allowed me to learn more about my nana – and her relationship to her son — than I had ever known.

“Words cannot express my love for you – it grows every year, if that is even possible. How I cherish the loving memories of your childhood (rosy red cheeks that looked as good as apples)… You are my Guardian Angel.”

Dad, I’m so glad that you were loved by your mom – that she thought the world of you. Because you deserved that, Dad. You really did. Maybe the way she loved you is how you learned to love me. I’m so thankful for nana. I wish I could have told her that myself.

The next few things in the folder were business documents that didn’t mean much to me,

but behind those pages were what I had been hoping for, yet not hoping for:

the really personal stuff.

The stack of cards I was holding in my hands wasn’t just my dad,
it was my mom, too – letters she had written him from their nearly 15 years of marriage.

My parents were skiers -- and so am I.

 Arthur and Karen Smith.

I knew my mom and dad loved each other, but when you’re a little kid, you don’t really pay attention or pick up on the lovey-dovey stuff.Now that I’m older, I’ve been trying to remember how exactly my parents showed that they loved one another. As much as I rack my brain, I can’t remember that many details. It’s frustrating. So much so, that sometimes I let doubt creep in and sabotage my beliefs of our loving family.[/caption]

The letters I was holding would either confirm those doubts or dispel them. I hoped for the latter.

Here it goes. Card one.

“The other day, I was in an elevator, when all of a sudden, somewhere between the 11th and 12th floors, something made me think of you. I could picture you in my mind, plain as day, with that look that you get… Then, as quickly as it came…

(I opened the card)

Who knew?

Who knew?

That’s when the tears started falling.

Not because I was sad.
It’s just that…

Mom. Dad. You two are ridiculous! This is so, SO you. Farts and romance and love-you-forevers in one sentimental card. This explains a lot. A lot about you two, our family, and why I am the way I am.

The rest of the cards were the same kind of thing:
Love,
Together forever,
And yes, more farts.

This was love.
This was the love of my parents.
It was them in all their quirky, hilarious, you-can’t-write-this-stuff kinda love.

I laughed so hard,
so hard it was like I was watching videos of stand-up comedy. The good kind.

This folder was the most beautiful gift. Better than all the presents I received at Christmas during my childhood.

I learned a lot about my dad —
about things he was too humble to share,
about him as a son, and as a husband,
a man who was deeply loved, deeply passionate, and all together, deeply deep.
Yup. That was my dad. One deep dude.

I finished reading the cards and closed the folder, only wishing that there had been just a few more cards, a few more keepsakes or napkin-scribbled notes that could bring more of him back to me.

Taylor Smith, storyteller.

Taylor Smith, storyteller.

When you lose someone you love, there are
days when your heart is heavy,
days when you just need a good cry, or scream,
days when you are angry at their not being there,
days when your memories of them bring you this amazing warmth,
days when you shout thanksgiving praise that you even got to know them at all.

Then there are days like this one,
when you receive the blessing of a mysterious file folder, filled with things you never would have asked for — had a genie granted you five wishes — and you find yourself rolling on the floor, laughing, thinking that

I have the best parents ever. Thank you, God. And Mom and Dad, thank you for this moment, too. I will always remember it. I will always remember your love.

***
Taylor Smith was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but at age 25, she is learning to experience home in places all around the world – this year in Rwanda, the Czech Republic and Florida. Her greatest passion is helping others share their stories, which has been the focus of her career for the last three years. Now, she’s learning how to tell her own.

Editor’s note: Taylor was a features intern at The Oregonian a couple years ago, working out of the Hillsboro office, so I got to know her as a fellow writer. She is unquestionably the most upbeat person I know. Her back story is pretty extraordinary so I invited her to share it in a guest blog last year. If you missed it then, read it here: “Meet my mom.”

Tomorrow: “Be careful what you wish for” by Raymond Cabellero

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7 thoughts on “I got a call from you today

  1. It’s funny the things you find out about someone, or miss about someone as time goes on. I miss my mother’s hand writing. My dad’s unbelievably bad puns. The more you groaned, the harder he laughed. I don’t find much new about them. Their generation are all gone now. I’m glad you got to be turned on to something you didn’t know about your father and sharing that with us.

  2. What an amazing gift! Thank you for sharing your darling daddy with all of us. You’ve brought him back to life for many who never knew him. I loved the unforgettable essay you wrote about your mom in last year, too. Your parents gave you an extraordinary start and you have done them proud. Keep writing and keep the faith. What better way to share these incredible human beings who made us who we are…and whose unwavering love and belief in us continue to give us solace as we move through the world without them.

  3. As I said on George’s FB post, you seem to have the gentlest soul and this must be inherited from your parents! I can’t imagine having the losses you had at such a young age and to appear so wise at still such a young age amazes me. There seems to be some innate calm that you carry in your heart that makes survival come easier to you than to others.

    Thank you so much for this – I shared it with my daughter (and nieces and nephews who also became fatherless at young ages). My late husband was a man of few words (when my father eulogized him, he said, “If there was a way to say something in three words, Jim would find a way to say it in two.”), and his daughter grieves still for all the things she wished they had discussed. It broke her heart (though she understood) that he left nothing behind for her in his words to cherish. You are a lucky woman, Taylor, in spite of your hard losses.

  4. Beautiful. And I love that you got this gift!!! As I read, I felt the fear, too, and was so happy when there was nothing to fear in that folder.
    I’m glad you got to see your parents this way — and learn that your dad chose such a stellar sport.

  5. Really nice writing! It must have been great to connect with your father. Just this father’s day, I shared a clip of my Dad giving my brother a message when left our home to attend a graduate school in another country. Little did he know that that would be the last time he saw him. Somehow after losing it in a computer I found it in an old IPOD. Now I have to figure out how to get that clip out and back into my computer so I can share it with others!
    Losing both parents so young couldn’t have been easy. So glad that you are writing, traveling and experiencing wonderful things now.

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