For my birthday this year, my grandmother sent me a small index card with very familiar handwriting scrawled across the front and the back.
It was a letter (or more likely, the draft of a letter) that her late husband, my Paw Paw, had never sent to me. It was really an incredible gift that she was able to find it.
“Letter to Jordan –
The Backyard Smorgasbord
Lots of “Rouge” birds – close to 100 house sparrows, barn sparrows, starlings, blackbirds, one downy woodpecker and 3 mourning doves who plop down in the snow and patiently scrounge for leftover oil sunflower seeds. The barn sparrows fluff their wings so they look like tennis balls made of brown and white feathers. The house sparrows are sleek and buffed with red feathers, and the starlings are bullies, pushing the smaller birds out of the feeders.
Have you ever heard sparrows argue? They chatter and glare and look like miniature feathered bulldogs. Belligerent – like Popeye – their teasing erupts like the opening of a shaken up soda bottle – all fizz and bubbles! Then, they go back to their meal until they lose their tempers again.
This was very typical of all the notes that he would send me, right up until he passed away.
He would describe the trees, houses, and animals he would see along his evening walks down his neighborhood street. He would tell me about a new sculpture they just put up at the airport. He would write little poems and send them to me. He would clip out pictures from magazines he thought I could use as inspiration for a story. In reality, they were probably inspiration he had for a story.
My family has an overflowing box of his writing: short stories, ideas for novels, notes, critiques, poetry. While I fancy myself an aspiring writer, I’m not being humble or modest when I say that his work is greater than anything I will ever hope to put on paper. He was never published, and that’s criminal to me. Even his little note to me about the birds in his backyard was completely genius, and that was just what poured out of him on an index card as he looked out his window.
Unfortunately, I rarely reciprocated in showing him my own writing. I’ve always been very self critical, and I didn’t feel like my version of the Great American Novel at ten-years-old was good enough to show the greatest writer I knew. If he was still alive, I probably would still be making up excuses as to why I couldn’t show him my work. Regrets don’t accomplish anything, of course, and I know that as his granddaughter, he would have loved anything I wrote no matter how horrible it was.
One thing I didn’t avoid sharing with him was a mutual love of reading. We would frequently talk about new books we had discovered, and he always had recommendations for me. It was because of him that I first heard about the Harry Potter books. He kept up with news of British literature and had heard about and read The Sorcerer’s Stone before anyone else had. He thought my brother and I would like it, so he mailed us his copy after he was done reading it so we could enjoy it too.
The overwhelming love of words is something I cherish, and I’m forever grateful that my Paw Paw passed it to my dad, and that they both passed it to me.
Paw Paw sent this poem to me, about me, when I was eight or nine:
I know a girl who keeps
words in her pockets
words in her pockets
and she takes them out
and juggles them, takes them out
and jiggles them, and weaves them
then she throws them out in handfuls
with a twist of her wrist,
a twist of her wrist
and they shower down together
like stars on parchment,
stars on parchment as they
form the first lines of
the books in her mind.
Today I’m throwing my stars to you, Paw Paw. Happy Grandparent’s Day.