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“Hey, Penny. What’s up?” Dad was draped across his bed like a throw blanket, with his new puppy, Stub, snuggled in the small of his back. He was reading something—like me, if he found any books while salvaging, he brought them back.
Stub opened one eye, looked me over, and closed it again. Clearly, I was no threat to his bed. I grinned. “You’re going to be sorry for that when he’s grown and still wants to sleep like that,” I said.
Dad chuckled. “I think there might be some Golden Retriever in this guy,” he remarked. “I’m just glad we came across the litter so soon after his mama…well…”
A few days before, Dad and a couple of his friends had returned to camp with a litter of pups, seven in all. They had found the mother—what was left of her—while picking apples in a small orchard they’d discovered. She’d clearly been attacked and killed by something, probably a big cat, and it was obvious that she’d recently given birth, so they’d gone on a search for the puppies.
“You ‘came across,’ yeah,” I said. Beyond that, neither of us really wanted to talk about it. The puppies were alive, they were here now and being cared for, and nothing else mattered. I crossed to the bed and gave the pup a pat, then leaned down to nuzzle his little face when he looked up expectantly. “Cutie pie.”
Dad started to move, and I told him to stay put. “You’re fine, you look so comfortable.”
“My legs are asleep,” he informed me. “If I tried to stand up, I would fall on my face.”
I giggled and lifted Stub off his back so he could roll over and sit up.
“Ahhhh.” It was half groan, half sigh. “Penny, I think I’m getting old.”
“Ouch!” He gave me a rueful smile. He pointed to the book. “You might want to read this one when I finish,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”
I looked at the cover. “Stephen King? I’m down.”
He didn’t tell me I was too young for it. Some of the parents here do that, but that’s not Dad’s style. His style is, “If there’s something you don’t understand, come and find me and I’ll try to explain it.” Emphasis on try—even Dads don’t know everything.
I like it when I like my Dad. Today I’m feeling really good about him, and I appreciate that.
Some days, I am irrationally angry with him, even after all the time that has passed since Mamma died. I don’t know why I’m so awful; I just am.
But not today.
“I still have the photo album,” I told him. “We really like looking at the pictures.”
“You’re welcome to keep it with your things,” he told me. He smiled rather shyly. “I’ve been looking for a picture frame out there,” he admitted. “There’s a photo of us I’d like to hang on the wall…”
“Oh, Dad, I bet I know the one!”
“I bet you do, too.”
“I’ll keep my eyes open when we go out,” I promised. Surely a picture frame could be found somewhere.
“Anyway, I wanted to ask if I could look through the other boxes sometime. The ones I didn’t look in once I found what I was looking for the other day.”
“Of course, you can. Do you know what you’re looking for this time?”
“Not even a clue,” I admitted. “I just…it just makes me feel good, looking. And we really needed these,” I added, gesturing to the combs I’d woven into my unruly curls. I’d found a lot of hair accessories the last time I’d gotten into the boxes, and Dad had turned those over to us, admitting that he’d barely looked at Mamma’s things.
“That looks very nice.”
Stub was starting to squirm, and Daddy stood up and took him from me. “Someone needs a trip outside, I think,” he said. “Have fun, Penny. And—”
“Please put things away when you’re done,” I finished. We both chuckled, and Dad hurried away with his new little buddy.
Alone, I surveyed the stack of boxes in the corner. The last time I’d been looking for a locket, I quit going through things when I found it in the third box.
This time, I was just…looking.
I did have some hopes of finding other photographs since Mae and Dawn had really enjoyed the wedding album.
I moved the first two boxes aside. The third we had pretty much emptied, adding to our hair-care stash. I had put Mamma’s jewelry box on Daddy’s nightstand. It looked nice there, and he hadn’t objected or moved it. I regarded the empty wall space above it and made a mental note to tell anyone going out to salvage to keep an eye open for picture frames.
The next box in line yielded nothing of use. Old tax forms, medical records, immunization records, and all our birth certificates and social security cards were in a metal file box. Just seeing that sort of thing made me realize how much hope my mother had had that the future would hold some normalcy.
It was sort of depressing. I took my old marker out of my pocket and wrote “Old World Paperwork” on the box. Nothing meant anything anymore, really, but I would leave any decision making up to Daddy.
A little curious, I did examine all the birth certificates. I suppose it can’t hurt anything to know how old we are. Mae likes knowing what time it is, and what the date is, so I knew this would be something she’d be interested in.
Time goes by—this I know; and beyond that, I’m not all that fussed about whether it’s Tuesday or Saturday. Maybe someday it will matter to me, but not now. Let Mae be the timekeeper.
The next box was more to my liking. It was actually a very large-sized Rubbermaid storage chest, and inside there were stacks of photo albums, loose photographs, and—oh, wow! Our baby books!
I was surprised to see those and more surprised to discover that there were also baby books for Mamma and Daddy. She must have been saving those for years, and it made me wonder about my paternal grandparents. They were both gone before I was even born.
I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to look through all this alone. We should look as a family. But when I was putting the books back, I discovered a stack of letters at the bottom of the box. I lifted them out, replaced the books, and went to sit on the bed.
Without consideration, I opened the first letter.
“From the first day I met you, my heart no longer resided inside my own body. You carry it with you now, and I can only hope you keep it guarded closely next to your own.”
Oh. I should stop reading, I thought.
There followed a bit more mushy stuff, and then this curious phrase: “I now believe I should go bald. It is getting hot.”
My Daddy? Bald? What did that mean?
Next, he wrote, “My C.O. has promised I will be home in plenty of time to greet our newest miracle.”
(So this was before Dawn was born!)
“I cannot wait to see you all and hold you in my arms again.
“Kiss my Copper and Belle.”
(That would be me and Mae. He called us Copper Penny and Mae Belle. Pet names; it’s a Dad thing.)
I shook my head as I searched through the stack of letters, slipping first one and then another in and out of the twine-tied bundle. I made up my mind not to read any more—they were private love letters, after all.
Then I saw the envelope marked “To My Copper Penny.”
Well. It’s addressed to me! I can certainly read this one.
Suddenly, a huge lump rose in my throat, and I was nearly overcome with tears. I blinked them back and chided myself for being silly.
I just didn’t remember ever getting a letter from my father.
“Hello, my good-luck Penny!
“Even though I’m pretty sure you are a genius, your Mamma tells me you haven’t learned to read yet. I guess we will have to let her help you read this, and trust that she won’t let it go to her head when I tell you, in secret, that I think your mother is beautiful.
“I am writing today to thank you for the beautiful picture you drew for me. I have hung it on my wall, and everyone here agrees it is the best piece of artwork in this whole place. I sent you a picture!”
I looked inside the envelope, and sure enough, there was a photograph of Daddy, showing off what was a childish—but recognizable—rendition of a barn owl. His smile was huge and proud. Hot tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.
“I am so proud of you, Penny, for being such a good helper for Mamma and such a great big sister to Mae. And the new baby will be blessed with you, too. I want you to know that I worry less about everyone, knowing you are there. You have a great heart. I hope no one ever breaks it.
“I love you very much.
I remembered the drawing. For a little while, when I was really little, I was enamored with the messenger owls in the old Harry Potter movies Mamma had collected. When we got our mail, I would ask where the owls were. So, when Mamma said she was sending a letter to Daddy, of course I had to send an owl.
Of course! Mail should come with owls.
Memories are hard; even the good ones are hard.
I put the letter and the photo back into the envelope and tucked it into the front of my shirt. I was sure no one would mind if I kept my own letter.
I brushed tears away and then I returned the rest of the letters to their original place, underneath the baby books. I pushed the container over to sit next to the doorway until Daddy came back.
The rest of the boxes could wait until the next time I felt up to looking. There weren’t many left.
I heard Daddy coming. He was whistling some unfamiliar tune. “Hey, Lucky Penny!” he said. “Find anything good?”
“Lots of pictures. And baby books!”
“Really?” Daddy sighed. “I suppose I should have opened those boxes before now, but…well, I just…”
“I know, Daddy. But I want to look at all the pictures. Can we do it all together? Just the family?”
“Absolutely.” He reached to pat my head. Hesitated, because he never could tell with me; I can be kind of mean.
I hugged him. He hugged me back, and I could feel the love he has. The love he always has, even when I am being mean.
“Do you want Grandma and Gramps, too?”
“Not yet. Just you and me, and Mae Belle and Light of Dawn.”
I was still clinging to him and felt him chuckle. “You have a weird Daddy, don’t you?”
“Just a little weird,” I agreed.
Stub wiggled over to us, lifted a little leg, and peed on Dad’s foot.
So much for a serious moment—we didn’t stop laughing for a while after that.
I do need to ask him about going bald, though. That was a weird phrase…
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