ORDINARY, YET EXTRAORDINARY

After my dad passed away last summer, my mom consolidated his stuff and let each of us kids choose a few keepsakes.  These items reside in a special box:  an everyday zip cardigan, a necktie, a cloth handkerchief, a Craftsman wristwatch with a leather band, a pair of clip-on sunglasses, a child-sized rosary (perhaps the one he received for First Communion), a copy of the letter I sent him for Father’s Day containing a hodgepodge of childhood memories, and the eulogy I wrote and read at his funeral.  Unbeknownst to me, he had been a journaler.  In small notebooks and diaries were records of his daily activities dating back to the late 70’s.  We didn’t fight over them, but we all clamored for our share.  On days
I really missed him, I would read a few pages.  His life, though ordinary, was full of surprises.  Who knew Dad was the garbage man’s favorite customer, a closet romantic who rewired lamps and misspelled words?

One of the diaries I have is from 1986, the year I graduated from high school and went away to college.  It was interesting to read about the months right before and after I left the nest.  The following poem is a mix of summary and insights in the style of Dad’s journal pages:

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32 thoughts on “ORDINARY, YET EXTRAORDINARY

  1. pranabaxom March 31, 2019 / 10:23 am

    Thanks for sharing. I left India a year after my father died and my mother passed away a few years after that. My prized possession is a copy of Bhagabad Gita that was presented to my maternal grandfather with his son-in-laws handwriting (that’s my father).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan March 31, 2019 / 6:40 pm

      That sounds very special, PB, all the more special for having been touched by both your father and your grandfather. 🙂

      Like

  2. LTodd March 31, 2019 / 10:46 am

    We are all heros of our own stories no matter how simple and plain our package.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan March 31, 2019 / 7:03 pm

      Thanks, LTodd, I needed to hear that today. Our stories are as individual as our DNA and yet, very familiar. Dad’s journals were largely mundane, sprinkled with stuff that blew me away. Their brand new car had to go back to the Chevy dealer seven times for the same problem? I would have clocked the service manager! A student had a seizure in his classroom? Holy crap! I didn’t realize teachers might have to deal with things like that. I, too, had headaches for years. I dig Disney movies, rebates, and naps. The garbage can thing must not be genetic, though. LOL 🙂

      Like

      • LTodd April 1, 2019 / 3:32 pm

        What a treasure your father left you.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan March 31, 2019 / 7:14 pm

      Thanks, 227. I moved away from home over 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten the highlights via letters and phone calls, but the day-to-day details were a mystery. This filled in some of the gaps. I now know what day they shelled peas and how many pints they put in the freezer, whether or not he finished the Sudoku puzzle, a precise list of the rides he rode at Cedar Point, the details that make him a 3D person rather than a cardboard cut-out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tippy Gnu March 31, 2019 / 6:31 pm

    What a nice surprise that must have been, to run across those journals. Think you inherited his writing genes, with your poetry and blog?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan March 31, 2019 / 7:27 pm

      I knew he made lists and jotted things down, but I didn’t think of his little notebooks as “journals.” He was more of a record-keeper than an essayist; the entries are short and factual, not touchy-feely. What impressed me most was that he wrote consistently for forty-plus years. Two or three sentences a day can paint a very accurate picture of a life. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. snoozing on the sofa April 1, 2019 / 9:05 am

    A lovely tribute! I liked the part about Ponderosa being fancy. In the mid ’80s Ponderosa was the most awesome restaurant in the world to me. How times have changed!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Just Joan April 1, 2019 / 10:41 am

      Thanks, Snoozin. I loved the time capsule effect, opening something from a different era. His words are handwritten in cursive, almost hieroglyphics nowadays. Back when Chevy made the Caprice and we took photos with cameras and stamps were 22 cents and the Browns were at their zenith. I would have sworn we watched the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up (with schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe aboard) when I was in 6th or 7th grade; Dad’s careful recording set me straight. Despite the dated details, the essence of his story would resonate with every dad on earth, working through burn-out to provide for your family, fixing things around the house, surprising your wife with flowers, vacationing at Disney, the inestimable value of a nap. In those days, “going out for supper” meant Wendy’s. An occasion had to be pretty special to warrant a trip to Ponderosa. The most awesome part was the sundae bar: soft-serve ice cream on tap with toppings, sprinkles, nuts, cherries, etc. 🙂

      Like

  5. murisopsis April 1, 2019 / 11:49 pm

    This is amazing!! I am all choked up and a little jealous that my father didn’t journal at all… But I have some of his counted cross-stitch pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan April 2, 2019 / 10:20 am

      Thanks, Muri. Diaries are a gift of the self, a peek into the inner life, a way to connect on a deeper level. The words we choose convey our feelings without having to spell it out, the old showing-not-telling thing. The items Dad mentions ground us in the time period (cameras, typewriters, Disney Sunday Night movies), but the themes that run through the pages are timeless and universal. Mundane details are the on-ramp that allows us to enter another person’s reality. I hope to write a memoir one day and have gotten some really good lessons here about the three crucial elements: summary, scene, and musing. Cross-stitches are the work of your dad’s hands, Muri, another precious gift, like the quilt my grandma made for me. Dad’s clip-on sunglasses are goofy, but a quintessential piece of who he was. Nowadays we think of handkerchiefs as germy and gross, but he always had one in his pocket. I’m launching a writing project that will probably keep me from participating in your National Poetry Month challenge, but I love the prompts you’ve chosen and will be interested to see how you handle them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • churchmousie April 19, 2019 / 1:15 pm

        I’ve kept journals on my computer, making an entry nearly every day. I’ve been deleting them, because I didn’t think that my two sons would want to bother with them. I may re-think that…

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan April 19, 2019 / 1:29 pm

        I would urge you to save them. Word docs take up almost no space, a lifetime of journals would probably fit on a thumb drive. When a person is gone from our life forever, feelings about those “silly old journals” change; they become a sort of life line. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. L. T. Garvin, Author April 2, 2019 / 8:13 pm

    Oh Joan, how precious that you have journals from your dad! I would give anything to have something from my mom and grandparents. Alas, I’m the only writer in this family. I loved your essay, it’s everyday life and the moments contained within that define us. One interesting thing to note as I’ve gotten older, my spelling is slipping, and I have to look up words I would never had to before. And I’m an English teacher with a Master’s. I don’t know what that means, hopefully nothing bad….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan April 2, 2019 / 8:48 pm

      Thanks, Lana. Of everything up for grabs, Dad’s journals excited me the most. It’s hard to explain why. His notes were mundane and factual, but his essence permeated them. It’s like poets who think they can hide their emotions in a cryptic piece. It doesn’t work; the words set the tone and we see right through them. I led a poetry seminar at the library in 2017. Our exercise was a Blitz poem, a stream-of-consciousness technique, and I forbid the students to erase. The poems were very telling. You cannot write without unintentionally revealing things about yourself. I’m an excellent speller (albeit without an advanced degree), but still have trouble with certain words, like odyssey and lieutenant. Auto-correct, for all its flaws, is a blessing sometimes. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • L. T. Garvin, Author April 3, 2019 / 9:26 pm

        Grammarly is a good one for me now. I have to say that you are pretty astute when it comes to breaking down those poems! I think when I perish, my kids will most likely throw all my writing away. They are so not interested in it, lol.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Just Joan April 4, 2019 / 12:00 pm

        I hadn’t heard of Grammarly, but Word has an embedded grammar program that underlines questionable things in green. All writing is a reflection of the writer and her emotions, for example, I could refer to a person I know as a lady, woman, gal, bitch, hag, etc. I could describe her as fat, zaftig, pear-shaped, a tub of lard, you get the idea. I can convey how I feel about her without ever saying it, just through the words I choose. Do not throw your writing away because you think your kids won’t want it. They may seem uninterested now, but death has a way of changing our feelings about such things. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Quirky Girl April 5, 2019 / 6:47 pm

    What an unexpected gift that must’ve been! It’s personal things such as journals that make the most precious and priceless mementos.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan April 6, 2019 / 3:24 pm

      Thanks, Quirky, those journals were an amazing gift, one I will always treasure. 🙂

      Like

    • Just Joan April 9, 2019 / 6:58 pm

      Indeed, KE. For a writer, there is no greater gift than words, a father’s treasure trove of memories. 🙂

      Like

  8. krcc April 22, 2019 / 2:43 am

    What a special post this is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 22, 2019 / 7:55 pm

      Thanks, KRCC. Dad was a special guy and I’m glad to have documented details of his very ordinary life. What a gift. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. cupcakecache August 20, 2020 / 11:39 am

    As I read this, I think of my dad who might read the car manual and who watched zealously “The Avengers” and “Sonny & Cher” on Sunday night.

    The people we depended on helped us become adults. Today I hope it is the same with parents and children. In these times, the smallest things guide us including those who notice the details and wash out the garbage cans. I love your format. For some reason, I am getting the newer version of WordPress and am learning it now. I like how you were able to embed this like a journal. Did you use PowerPoint?

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and I am glad you enjoyed my Korea journal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan August 20, 2020 / 12:01 pm

      I have the original (free) version of WordPress. The poem was scanned and imported to WP as a “photo” via the Media Library. Dad did a lot of things I had no idea he did, and thought a lot of things I had no idea he thought. I don’t remember him or mom getting upset that the new car had to go back to the shop so many times. I didn’t know how burned out he was with his job or that he popped Excedrin like candy. He seemed fixated on the prices of things, but it’s interesting to know what a typewriter or car cost back then, or that a $5 rebate on motor oil was worth sending in. He loved our home movies as much as (maybe more than?) the Disney ones, and we loved when he would shift the projector into reverse and we could watch water go back into the pool and flowers be magically reattached to their stems…

      Liked by 1 person

      • cupcakecache August 20, 2020 / 12:29 pm

        Thanks. You put a lot of effort into this. I have done this also for a newspaper article as I have the original version of WP, also.

        Teaching is always stressful. Some of us through the years take a positive mental vacation by exercising or something or sometime we leave, and maybe return in a different type of teaching.

        My dad loved poetry and would write wicked limericks.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. judyrutrider August 21, 2020 / 1:38 am

    When my mom died last year, I found her little notebooks. Like your dad’s, they were mostly lists of what she had done and who had come to visit. It was revealing to see how the dementia took her away, until finally, there were no more entries. They ended many years before she died. But, they do provide a bit of time travel, and so I follow the trail back to when she was my best friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan August 21, 2020 / 9:00 am

      I’m glad you have them, as a path to lead you back to the days when your mom was vibrant and healthy. My dad stopped writing in his diary about 6 months before he passed, due to diabetic complications (gangrene) in his right index finger. That finger was key to so many things–writing, Sudoku puzzles, operating the TV remote, cutting his meat, feeding himself, brushing his teeth–and losing use of it was a major blow.

      Like

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