Tue09232014

The value in junk mail: Haugh About That?

Excited at the thought that someone sent me a present, I clawed my way into the dark hole with feverish hands. No sooner had I extracted the large, white carton than disappointment stomped its steel-toed boot on my big toe. The bane of every mailbox’s existence had done it again. It was just a piece of junk.

Looking at the sample of powdered Similac formula, I was sure it was meant for another neighbor. God knows my baby-making days are long gone, but when I read the name on the label, I shrieked. There, in bold, black letters, screamed my eldest child’s name. Last time I looked, Michelle wasn’t pregnant. Or was she?

Running to the phone, I dialed her number as fast as my acrylic-tipped fingernails would allow.

“Michelle, do you have something to tell me?” I asked, nervously.

“Mom, what are you talking about?”

Relaying my discovery, she exploded in laughter. No, she wasn’t pregnant, but she promised that I’d be the first to know if and when it happens. As I hung up, I placed the box with the other unsolicited items and found my mind wandering back to a time when junk mail was a welcome guest in our home.

During my father’s final two years, everything from his mobility to his physical dignity and eyesight had been stripped away. Isolated in his metal cage on wheels, he looked forward to three things each day: the evening Mass on Catholic TV, his mail and spending time with his daughter.

Wanting desperately to give him something to look forward to, we created a ritual. Promptly at noon each day, I’d arrive home for lunch from my job at Alain Pinel Realtors, grab the mail and sit at his side ready to read.

“What came today?” he’d ask with the excitement of a child ready for his bedtime story.

First, I sorted the envelopes into levels of importance: cards, banks statements, bills, throw away. After explaining the invoices and discussing payments due, he’d want to complete the pile.

“Dad, it’s just advertisements and organizations asking for money.”

Looking into my eyes, he pleaded, “There might be something important. Please read them.”

Slitting open each envelope, it was the same story: cancer research, Catholic Charities, Sacred Heart High School and St. Mary’s College – all wanting money.

“OK, you can throw them away,” he instructed, patting my hand to show his thanks before closing his eyes for his afternoon nap.

Didn’t he know that I had more important things to do than sit and go over stuff he’d just thrown away? Then one day, watching him drift away, it hit me. These envelopes were his only connection with the outside world.

At 97, my dad had outlived my mother, his family and all his friends. No one came to visit. The process of opening his mail made him feel alive and linked to the world at large.

Dad has been gone more than a year, and I have no one to read to, but I keep our practice the same. Some of life’s most precious times are found in the minutiae of daily tasks.

As requests still dribble in from his favorite charities, I place the opened envelopes by his picture and treasure the memory of a daughter reading to her father, as he holds my hand, smiling and ending always with a sincere, “I love you, honey. Thank you,” as the last letter is thrown away.

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