Here’s the Kicker

A daughter orphaned from her dad at age three, I wrapped myself in all things Daddy Joe. Because he moved to the Rockies, I loved the snow, demanded a Frosty the Snowman cake every December birthday, cherished my red sled—in Mississippi, where it snowed once every seven years. I folded and unfolded the postcard he sent me of a Palomino until it disintegrated, but not before I’d lied, telling some of my friends my Daddy Joe gave me that beautiful horse. I was even more proud of the postcard he sent me featuring two deer killed in battle, their horns locked in death. His message? “This is what will happen if you don’t stop fighting with your sister.” At one point, I harbored dreams of moving to Colorado and living on the land he’d left us, so ignorant I didn’t know the “land” was mineral rights. No one can live on a mineral right. I thought I could. I was an ornery pip.

I wish I could say this Kafkaesque search ended with maturity. It didn’t.

In my first marriage, I recreated Daddy Joe’s marriage to my mother, holding the reception in the white-columned house where he grew up, marrying a man who made the wedding guests gasp, he looked so much like Daddy Joe. When my grandmother died, I insisted the family give me Daddy Joe’s memorabilia from the hallway secretary. His Ole Miss megaphone and University of Denver beer mug and his diplomas and U.S.Navy documents. And his scrapbook of his motorcycle trip out west. I took as much as my scared self could harvest and went to a professional photographer and made copies of the sepia photographs and the black and white photographs and gave them to my sisters. I don’t think they much cared about it one way or the other. I did. I kept caring.

Until last night.

As I lay in bed contemplating how to revise an old novel, wondering what it was that motivated the child protagonist, I understood her goal was to set things up so that when she returned to her house in New Orleans, her dead dad would walk back through the door.

She’s eleven. This is a totally unrealistic goal for an 11-year-old protagonist. It’s equally unrealistic for a twenty-five year old. Or thirty-eight year old. Or fifty-seven year old.

Here’s the kicker: I made a terrible mistake. Everything I aligned myself with, Daddy Joe had run away from. The white-columned house he abandoned for a free-wheeling life out west. The memorabilia he left behind. The past, all of it past but clinging like ivy clamping onto bricks. None of it was for him.

This revelation made me almost laugh out loud. I felt closer to Daddy Joe than I had in years.

I will revise this novel. I will set the child to rights. She will work through her issues, and the story will make you weep. Not with sorrow. With laughter. I promise, you’ll be laughing and wiping away the tears.

The small weight of sorrow in my life, ragged as a sinker on a fishing line, will always be with me. It’ll keep bobbing up and down like the red and white cork on the end of the line. That’s life. In the end, though, I’ll know who I am.

grief, losing your dad

Comments (12)

  • Wow–beautiful writing and beautiful sentiments. Once again, I can’t wait to get this novel in my hands–it clearly beats with a live heart.

    • It’s really interesting to me, Marisa, how time can show me where I haven’t gotten to the heart of the matter. When I first finish, I think, this is so good! But then I step back and think, okay–what’s it really about? I do hope I can get this manuscript “publication ready” and into your hands.

  • Darn that ragged sinker that keeps bobbing up. And you never know when it will pop out of the water all jittery and disturb your contemplation. Funny how things come to us when we’re still, like lying in bed or, in my case today, in the dentist chair. Looking forward to this book, too, Ellen.

      • I’ve known my dentist for about 30 years and I’ve never sent him a Christmas card to thank him for his efficient, fast, and pain free care. That got me to thinking about friendship. And my mind kept wandering. Yes, the insight was good.

    • Thinking about it from the perspective of the character, I think. Because you know that whatever the subconscious motivations of your characters are, you gave it to them. And, as they say, we write what we know. 🙂

      • Wow. This version of events really rings true and right. So we all need to learn to trust that subconscious part of our writing efforts… This is a fabulous post.

        • 🙂 (you should see the photo of me from the 1960s holding up my Frosty the Snowman cake—I’m wearing my favorite birthday present that year: a long-haired “fall” AKA ‘When hippie hair was big’)

  • Revelation is always life changing, isn’t it. Plus, it comes at the most unexpected times. Thanks for your vulnerability. Hoping the best for you on the novel!

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