Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dad's Writing Influence

A person never dies as long as their name rests on someone’s lips....a Native American saying

Mr. and Mrs. Monk Hefley Mr. and
Mrs. Bob McKinney          

Yesterday was a good day full of small accomplishments, including an afternoon of writing and submitting. A writing check even arrived in the mail! The sun was out some, although the wind had a bitter bite. The clouds began to gather in the late afternoon and, despite being a fine day, my spirit began to sink as the sun snuggled in gray clouds at the horizon. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but when I heard the weatherman say another front of freezing rain and possibly snow was on the way, I figured it was just an attack of winter weather doldrums. Then I heard that January 25th is unofficially designated as the most depressing day of the year. The cards were stacked against me for feeling cheerful.

Then I felt a small tear gather as I remembered that today would have been my Dad’s 83rd birthday. He has been gone nearly a decade, and still I have moments that I really miss him. His birthday always causes a special prayer or remembrance, but once in a while the empty spot echoes louder than usual. Last night I really missed making a birthday phone call or choosing a fitting card. His absence leaves my life flawed like a melody from a piano with a broken ivory; the piano still makes music but the notes stumble over the missing key.

My dad was taken by mesothelioma, an asbestos-based cancer. One strand of asbestos is smaller than a human hair. One fiber can rest in a human body for years before it goes wild and rings its death knell. It is hard to accept that American companies knew asbestos was a killer and still let greed rule as the profits rolled in—while signing a death warrant for men, many unknowingly, working with it.

Dad influenced my writing life, giving me a command of figurative language even before I knew what it was. He spoke in colloquial terms, using country or folksy similes and metaphors. Some weren’t meant to be repeated even though they were quite colorful! Since he didn’t read anything other than the local newspaper, his lively language must have been inherited- maybe from Irish ancestors that loved bawdy ditties to go with a brew or two. Or maybe it was the musical quality of language that his fiddle-playing, toe-tapping grandfather passed on to him. Some of his words and terms, I have never heard elsewhere like the word kyfogging. It means to fake or pretend, but I have never found anyone outside of our family who uses the term.

Once while shopping in a book store I visited regularly, the shop owner asked me if I realized I spoke in similes all the time. I had not noticed, but I think I knew where that trait originated. So when Dad retired, I wanted to help him learn the love of reading. At first he was resistant. But I introduced him to works by Monk Hefley, a real Ozarker who wrote great books in the bawdy language of hill folks. Dad fell in the love with the stories and was hooked on books. What a pleasure to be his teacher then and to lead him to L’Amour, Zane Grey and more.

When I managed to get author Hefley to come to my classroom and talk to my students, I invited Dad to visit the program. He was thrilled to meet Monk ,and they had a good time together remembering growing up in Depression days, of hunting and trapping for food and cash, of frying squirrel for supper, of sneaking into a hidden still or two among other memories.

Today the sun has made a temporary and dazzling appearance before the coming rain and sleet of tomorrow. I’d like to think it is in honor of Dad’s birthday and that while Dad is on my lips, he is not really gone.


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