It has been nearly eight years since Dad died, three months short of attaining the age of 90.
He lived a rich, full life, married to the love of his life, Louise, and to a job as a journalist that he loved almost as much.
The time has come for Mary and me to dispose of his and Mother’s remaining worldly goods. (Mother pre-deceased him by 15 years.)
Deciding which have enough meaning to us, or to our children, to keep them is a time-consuming job. Mother, to her credit, prepared an extensive inventory with notes on the nature, place of purchase, and original price of much of what remains in the house.
Many items are packaged with detailed notes of the contents.
She made a tough job easier.
One of the most valuable “finds” is a set of four cardboard boxes containing copies of the columns he wrote during his two years of service in World War II; some mementoes of his post-war travels in Europe, such as a Red Cross map of Paris prepared especially for servicemen; and what appears to be every letter that he wrote to Mother.
His feet were frozen during The Battle of the Bulge, and he spent several months of his military service in Army hospitals in Europe. He wrote home every few days.
We republished the columns in the last year of so of his life, when a series of mini-strokes and the onset of dementia ended his column-writing days that went back to 1937, the year he graduated from Florida Southern College.
The letters, some written exclusively to Mother and some to his entire family, are a treasure I am just beginning to enjoy for the first time.
Some of the letters to Mother are flirtatious and a bit too personal to be shared.
Some of the examples of bawdy humor of men in uniform that he shared with her also are unsuitable for a mixed audience of readers. I am sure he never intended for his son to read them, but at 71, I am beyond being embarrassed by them.
And I think he would get a kick out of knowing that his son was now reading what was written by this 30-year-old private first class who graduated at the head of his college class and turned down an officer’s commission for which he felt he was not qualified.
One of his most poignant letters was written on June 30, 1945, on their eighth wedding anniversary. He spoke of his love for his wife, and for his four-year-old son. He said I had inherited both the best and worst traits of each of them.
Another was a letter that he wrote to me on Aug. 24, 1945, telling me how proud he was of me for bravely facing the removal of my tonsils.
He enclosed a medal (since separated from the letter) that I assume was a replica of the Combat Infantryman’s Badge that he was awarded, telling me I deserved it, and should wear it on the pint-sized replica of his own uniform that Mother either made or bought for me when Dad was in the Army.
He included a stick figure drawing of himself in an Army hospital bed with one foot elevated in a small canvas hammock, smoking a cigarette and reading a book.
I remember the tonsillectomy; I do not remember that letter.
I shall treasure it.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired from journalism. He also retired as a colonel after two years in the active Army and 30 years in the Florida National Guard. He has said many times that his Dad did more for his country in two years than he did in 32. And by the grace of God, he returned home from the war. May God grant eternal peace to the souls of those soldiers who didn’t.)