My dad was a writer. Not in the traditional sense. I mean, he never published a book, never had a movie made, never came up with an amazing script for the theater. No, his writings were more about his reactions to the world he lived in. They were published, but usually by the local weekly paper that came out in our small town of 3,000 people in the northwest corner of CT. And, generally, you would only find them in the letters to the editor section.
When I was growing up, we had a set of stairs that led from the kitchen to the hallway right outside my room. A typical night for me would be to fall asleep to the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass and the tap of typewriter keys as my father collected his inebriated but highly intelligent thoughts into some kind of coherent response to any perceived attack on reason and intelligence in the community. The subjects could be anything from local politics to the Viet Nam war to local art scene…you name it, if he felt that someone was wrong, he would try to correct them.
Dad was a guy who could do the Times crossword puzzle in ink. He loved word games…especially Scrabble. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his late eighties that I consented to play Scrabble with him, it wasn’t until then that I was mostly able to keep up with him. Words were his life. He reveled in stringing words together to create a meaning that was hidden to most. Ironically, he never graduated from college. This did not stop him from finding wonderfully creative ways of writing scathing responses to the world.
As I sit here with a glass of wine in front of my computer, I am reminded of those nights when my sense of security meant knowing he was at the bottom of the stairs, thinking and typing. I miss his presence, the knowledge that he was going to make things right with the world. That he had a voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. His presence was always larger than life, his printed word seemed larger.
These days I wonder what that voice would be saying about our world. I wonder what words he would carefully choose to describe the insanity of the world we live in right now. How many pauses in his typing would happen while he would take a drink and deliberate on the exact right word that would so subtly and yet so blatantly show his disregard for everything that is going on in Washington. We live in a time that lacks the creative use of words. There is no time to consult a thesaurus when tweeting. There is no time to read a more than 140 characters, to really delve into a subject. We are a nation of plain speakers, where WTF and OMG and ROFL have become the new way of speaking.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times that plain speaking is necessary. But I miss the wordsmith days, the days when you had to use your brain to decipher all the different meanings, innuendos and ideas that a sentence could contain. Because that requires critical thinking and reasoning, something that is sorely lacking these days.
My dad is still alive. He will be 96 in August. Before you say “Wonderful”, please remember this: he has lost most of his words. Dementia has stolen a good portion of his ability to construct a coherent sentence. Conversations are now a struggle, not only in terms of words but in terms of attention and focus. But when he is at loss for just the right word, his brain still can pull out a treasure that makes me smile. And he still can play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Just don’t let him keep score.