Words for my father:
If my mom taught me through her quiet strength, then my dad taught me through adventure. As I have been combing through my treasure trove of memories this week I am certain that the first adventure I remember from my early childhood was a walk with my father when we lived in San Fransisco. On this walk we hopped and skipped over the ubiquitous slimy trails the snails left on the sidewalk and ended up at the local library for story time.
After story time we would check out books and then hop and skip back over the slime as we made our way toward our flat. Instead of immediately going inside, we would climb the tree out front. There in our Reading Tree I would curl up next to him on a sturdy branch as he read to me the adventure in our new books.
The adventures continued, of course, when we moved to Atlanta. Through Shel Silverstein’s poetry Dad taught me the importance of having a sense of humor and of seeing everyday things in a new light. As I got older these adventures, I dare say, got more “adventuresome!” We went to the Yukon during the Gold Rush where a dog named Buck taught me courage and survival in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Imagine the shock and wide-eyed wonder of my Southern Baptist little girl self when Dad sang about alcohol in the pirates’ sea song from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”. Oh, what adventures Dad and I went on!
At some point Dad stopped reading aloud to me, but by that time his love of adventure through words had etched itself into my heart and wrapped itself up in my DNA. Through his recommendation I went on an epic journey of redemption and reconciliation with Raleigh Whittier Hayes in Michael Malone’s Handling Sin and learned perseverance in the face of failure in Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.
It wasn’t just the reading of books but how Dad would weave them into my life. Often in reply to a question or comment I made he would reply by quoting opening lines of books such as Anna Karenina, A Tale of Two Cities, or the Gospel according to John.
The most memorable moment I have with Dad quoting a book to me was when I was as senior in high school. Standing in his home office I pitched the biggest fit about all I had to do for classes, work, and college applications. In a raised voice I emphatically told him that it was an insurmountable task. Calmly he replied, “Bird by bird.” I am not sure there has been another time when I have been as irritated with my father. Angrily, I responded that I didn’t even know what “bird by bird” meant. Dad, again calmly, told me about Anne Lamott’s memoir in which she shares a story about her brother who procrastinated so long on a report about birds that he only had one day to complete it. Her brother, like me, felt overwhelmed by the enormity of all he had to do. In response her dad told her brother, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
I no longer have Mom or Dad, my two adventure guides, to help me navigate life. This gives me great pause. I wonder if you have felt like me this week: a little unsure, a bit lost, confused on how exactly to proceed in life without our beloved Wally Buckner. My guess is that in response to this confusion we will learn to navigate our next adventures in our own way, in our own terms, doing so bird by bird.