I never took my daddy for the sentimental kind. And in this assessment, I was not alone. He was a man’s man with a generous heart and compassionate spirit but sentiment seemed to have no place in his life.
I suppose it’s because his young life had been so hard, so downright sorrowful that he closed his heart and mind to looking back. For that’s what we sentimental people do — we look back. We find the tender parts of the past that trails behind us and we hold them dear forever in our memory. We keep those times alive. But Daddy? He scoffed at birthdays, grumbled at Christmas presents and never met an anniversary he cared to remember. Hallmark lost nothing when he died, for he had quite possibly never bought a card of any kind.
That’s why I was surprised at what I found, astounded even that no one, my sister particularly, had found it previously. But there it was in the little desk that sat in our family den as far back as I could remember. I pulled a drawer out to find pencils, pens, pictures, coupons expired by ten years, bits of something and pieces of nothing. In the back of the drawer was a little black cardboard book scripted across the front with “Autographs.”
Curious, I pulled it out and discovered that Daddy, maybe for just a brief, misled period in his life, had indeed been sentimental. Apparently, he toted this little book around and had people sign it, including Tootsie who, on July 22, 1938, had written about kisses on the first page. More than a few entries were from women who had great affection for Daddy. I knew he was handsome, so I should have figured that the ladies liked him. But who knew they liked him this much?
The book covers slightly more than two years but there are three hand-written passages from a woman named Bonelle. I knew her as Mama. The first passage was March 4, 1940 and she, with the twirling way she had with words, wrote a lilting little poem, “I’d like to live in a cozy house that’s built on Friendship Street where folks like you are apt to come and we could often meet.” It has a few more lines to it but she was clearly saying, “We’re just friends.”
By April 23, she had started to change her tone a little bit. She liked him better but still acted a bit aloof. “I will always remember the times we have spent together and how much I enjoyed being with you. You were always so nice to me. Though we may drift apart and you may be many miles away, just remember I’ll be thinking of you and the days that are past and gone. May you someday find someone you will love and trust and may Jesus lead you in the right way and forever bless you.”
Now, anyone can see that she is clearly hoping to be that one but she’s acting like she isn’t expecting to be. She’s playing it cool. I suspect that she didn’t know she had competition from Mildred who wrote, “I will always love you. Yours until the Statue of Liberty walks down Broadway.”
I’m still not over all of this. It’s been quite a jarring experience. Just when you think you know someone then, lo and behold, you discover that his stiff upper lip had a sentimental quiver to it.
Mama, of course, won and, fittingly, wrote the last entry in the book. They were married by then and she began with, “Darling.” It’s pretty mushy so I’ll spare you the details of young love.
But I’m thinking now that maybe Daddy wasn’t sentimental. After all, I can only find what others wrote to him. Nothing he wrote.
I guess he was a collector of sentiment and not a personal participant.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.