My father was a terrible speller. A voracious reader with a brilliant mind, he had some incomplete synapse in his brain that kept him from stringing together letters correctly to make words. If he were alive, he’d never, ever understand my affinity for Words With Friends.
For me, fewer things are more delicious than playing M, U, Z, J, I and K tiles in double- or triple-word spots. Well-placed words like “QI” and “JO” make me swoon. Once I played “JOYRIDER” in a spot with double-letter and triple-word bonuses; I racked up over 150 points in what remains my greatest WWF move ever.
I love words. I love spelling, too. Unlike my father, I am a human dictionary; I innately know how to spell (well, most words, at least). After winning a goldfish in the fourth-grade spelling bee, I went on to become a newspaper editor. Need I say more?
Since I now work at home, I use WWF as a reward, meting out playing time for writing a blog post or finishing a freelance job.
Without that bit of self-control, I fear I’d stay in my pajamas all day long with the television on, spelling this word and that on my iPad, grousing about the letters I drew and talking to myself.
It’s something my father would never have understood.
This past holiday season was the sixth without him, even though I think about him every day. Usually it’s a fleeting thought: “Oh, that’s something Eugene would’ve loved,” or I’ll smile at something funny that he once said or did.
When we realized my father was dying, it was too late for conversations or anything more than holding his hand. I hope he knew that we were there for him. Sometimes I think about his last few days in the hospital, in a coma, on a ventilator, and I comfort myself with the thought that maybe, just maybe, it was the way he wanted to leave: He wasn’t big on sentimentality.
Shortly after he died, as I was waiting for a lunch date to show up, a man walking into the restaurant took my breath away. From a distance, it was my dad. The height, the bearing, the profile: it was him! But the closer he got, the more I realized I was wrong.
I burst into tears, right there in the restaurant.
Was the man the product of a daughter’s heart longing to see her father again? Or was it my father, all right, spiriting in for a brief moment to say hello?
Maybe it was grief, plain and simple.
My son’s elementary school principal told me children grieve in waves. I’ve learned that’s how we all grieve: Some days, big waves; most days, water lapping gently on the shore.
Big waves happen more for my mother, I think, than the rest of us. She and my dad were married a long, long time, and his death left a huge hole in her heart and life.
But as the two of us got caught up over eggs and coffee at a favorite breakfast place yesterday, my mother told me that she had finally packed up my dad’s bathrobe and his favorite shoes. The bulk of his earthly possessions had been passed along earlier, but those things held special meaning for my mom, and it was hard to get rid of them.
She teared up as she told me about folding the robe. I understood her emotions, but I was glad that now, nearly six years after my dad’s death, she had conquered another wave of grief, that she was ready to move forward a bit more.
So it was that I thought about my dad all day, wishing once again that we had had the chance for a more proper goodbye, to hear him call me “sweetheart” one last time.
I struggled to work. With Words With Friends as a carrot, I started dinner and emailed a freelance piece to a client, before gifting myself some playing time.
I zipped through the various games in progress waiting for me. The final one had me flummoxed.
“What am I going to do with all these vowels?” I thought.
There were three Es. And a U. I could deal with the U, but three Es? Three?
I scrambled the letters once to get a handle on creating a word. Then, I scrambled them again.
Something drifted into focus.
With my finger, I swapped the position of the last two letters, a T and an E.
I shook my head in disbelief.
E-U-G-E-N-E-T. Eugene, my dad’s first name; T for Tolot, his last.
I laughed out loud, delighted that my dad had come by to say hello again.