My dad passed away 16 years ago, but I still consider Father's Day an occasion to celebrate. I plan a favorite dinner and pick out a gift, just like everyone else. The only difference is that instead of the golf balls or guitar picks I used to buy, my gift now is a favorite memory that I take the time to write.
This is one of my very favorites.
Dad was a logophile - A lover of words. When I was a girl, he used to teach me "Sesquipedalian Nursery Rhymes" - Classics like Little Miss Muffet or Jack and Jill, that he would translate into sophisticated language, and we would memorize together. For instance,
Little Jack Honer sat in a corner
Eating his Christmas pie
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plumb
And said, "What a good boy am I!"
Little Jack Horner was seated in a mutual intersection
He inserted his opposing digit
And extracted a genus prunus
And exclaimed, "How astonishingly precocious!"
We thought we were so funny.
When I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Olson, announced one day that for our English assignment we would be using classroom dictionaries to transcribe the words of nursery rhymes into synonymous terms.
Wait, did I hear that right? My moment had arrived!
When she finished explaining, I pompously raised my hand and pretended to be confused. I told her I didn't quite understand the assignment, and asked if I could run an example past her. She consented, and doing my best to sound off-the-cuff, I said, "So, like, if we chose, say...Humpty Dumpty, would we write something like.....
And then, just as Dad and I had practiced all those nights at the dinner table, I said,
"Humpty Dumpty placed his nether portions upon a barricade.
Humpty Dumpty suffered a descension of an immense precipitation
The entire standing army, and the retinue of the Emperor
Were unable to reassemble the outer extremities of the unfortunate Humpty Dumpty"
I can't recall exactly how Mrs. Olson reacted, or when and how I confessed to her the story behind my theatrics, but I'll never forget the moment Dad came home from work and I told him what had happened. I don't think I'd ever seen him so proud, and boy did we laugh.
This was our bond until the end. When I was in college, my friends and I invented a game, wherein we would go through the dictionary in search of the most obscure word we could find. I would call him on speaker, and if he knew the definition, I won. I was undefeated. Sometimes he would have us in stitches by inventing definitions that were better than the original. When asked to define "gerenuk" for instance (a breed of antelope), he said, "It's a pacifier for old people."
When Dad passed away, there were three of his possessions I had to keep for myself.
A crossword puzzle, Six Weeks to Words of Power by Wilfred Funk, and a box of English vocabulary cards.
Words are the things that help me feel close to him, so more than anything on earth I treasure his collection of thousands and thousands of words. Words to describe every thing and place and thought and experience and human emotion.
And yet, not a single one that can adequately express how much I miss him.