What do you give to a person who has everything? That’s the question I asked myself on birthdays and Christmases as I racked my brain for gift ideas for my parents. What about sharing memories? They are something you don’t end up sticking on a shelf or shoving in a box or piling on a table. Memories stay with you forever – in your heart and in your soul. So, over the years I would often write letters or poems to my parents in lieu of gifts.
One of the letters is especially meaningful as it was the last letter I wrote to my father – John Edward Perreault – on his 78th birthday in July 2014. He passed away on Monday, March 16, 2015 after a courageous battle with that horrible disease, cancer.
Although you probably don’t know my dad, I’m going to share the letter. I don’t know why. I guess I just need to put it out there on the interweb for posterity’s sake. And maybe I just want to keep writing and talking about my dad. And like the Lesley Gore song, “It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to…”
July 19, 2014
Like I’ve done in the past, I thought I’d put into writing some of my thoughts and memories of growing up with you.
I always got a kick out of your many names. You were christened John Edward Perreault. But you became known as Ed, Eddie, Edward, Fat Fingers, Fast Eddie, Oh Ed!, Ed Perro, Doctor Prawlt, Doc, J. Edward, John Edward Perreault, Sr. (once you had a son). But, to me, you were my beloved DAD.
Speaking of names, I always marveled that you grew up in a family with two Ed’s.* Two Ed’s whose birth names weren’t even ED! No wonder you and Ed Bowen had such a connection with each other…you were brothers from another mother!
(*Although my father was an only child, he was not alone. He grew up in a 4 bedroom, 1 bath (no tub or shower!) matriarchal home with three Irish sisters, my aunts Mamie and Agnes, and my grandmother, Mildred. Mamie was a spinster school teacher who ruled the roost. Mildred had one child – my father – and Agnes had seven children. Dad always considered Agnes’s children – Rita, Robert, Betty, Geraldine, Kay, Barbara and Gerry (also known as Ed) – to be his brothers and sisters.)
I remember walking to school with you. For a vertically challenged guy, you walked at the speed of light. We were like little ducklings following you in a line. Dad, then Jan, followed by John and Kay. I had to hustle to keep up. You walked with your head held high and said hello to everyone you passed. “Who was that, Dad?” I’d ask as you offered a “Good morning” to a passerby. “I don’t know,” you answered. “But, you always greet people as you pass.”
When there was no one in sight, you turned your eyes downward. You told us to always keep an eye on the ground for money. You rejoiced when you discovered a coin – even if it was just a penny – and you sang, “Find a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck,” as you jingled the coins in your pocket.
I remember (and not always happily) your habit of waking early and leaping into the day with gusto. You’d offer an exuberant “Up and at ’em!” as you rustled us out of bed. How you hated to waste a moment of daylight, whether it was heading to the office early, the golf course, the ski slopes, the pond, your leg weights, the garden or church. And it was never good enough to get somewhere “on time.” On time was late. Early was on time.
You weren’t just an early riser. You were a HAPPY early bird. When I saw you shaving in the mirror, you appeared excited to get on with your day. You always kept moving as you sipped your coffee. You ate your Wheaties with enthusiasm. You inexhaustibly absorbed the news in the papers and on TV. You energetically hopped on your bicycle or strode down the street to work. You opened the dental office with the eagerness of someone starting a new job. You efficiently and happily greeted and treated your patients, asking about their families, inquiring of their health, making small talk while you drilled and filled … patient after patient after patient … day after month after year. I marveled how you could go to work every day and be so darn happy. Isn’t work supposed to make you grumpy?! Not you. You LOVED work. You LOVED dentistry. You LOVED your patients. And you LOVED your staff.
You always championed an education and a profession. John, Kay and I may have disappointed you by not becoming a dentist, doctor, lawyer or banker – all the careers you espoused. But I know you are proud that we are hard workers and have happy and fulfilling lives and awesome children. Your eyes sparkle and your pride is evident when you talk about your grandchildren. They seem to have inherited your gifts of intelligence, hard work, and a desire for learning, helping and healing.
Family comes first in your book. Number one. Our reason for being. Family memories abound. I was always enthralled by your endless energy to entertain and be entertained! Martin Meadow Pond. Waterskiing, swimming, fishing, partying. Snowmobiling. Skiing at Wilderness and Bretton Woods. Apres ski at the Balsams. Barbecues in Waterville Valley with Ed Bowen and Norma, Barbara and Marce. Milton 3 Ponds. Maidstone. Bird hunting in South Dakota. Florida vacations. Pool parties. Tailgating at UNH football games. Thornton Central basketball. Holderness School soccer and field hockey games. Dartmouth field hockey. Kenyon. Gardening. An enviable garlic crop that you loved to share. Laughing hysterically at repeats of Hogan’s Heroes, Mr. Bean, Wile E. Coyote, Benny Hill. Sipping a Martini or Manhattan and smoking a cigar on the deck. Birthday parties, baptisms, graduations and weddings. Christmas eves. Easter mornings. Halloween toothbrushes. Thanksgiving meals. Any excuse to be with family.
Your life was full of love. Your love of Ma was at once inspiring and embarrassing. When you’re an angst ridden teenager, the last thing you want to see are your parents smooching. You proudly smooched and snuggled with Ma throughout my youth. Your eyes lit up when she entered a room. To this day, you have a photo of Ma in a swimsuit circa 1958 propped up by your computer. As I aged, I realized how very lucky I was to have two parents who loved each other so passionately – through the ups and downs and all arounds of life.
Your legacy of love has been passed on to your children and grandchildren and your soon-to-be-born great grand(children).
And the memory making continues…and this letter is to be continued…
That’s how the letter to my father ended in July 2014. I didn’t have a chance to continue the story for my dad’s 79th birthday. The wretched, insidious bone cancer took him from us.
Although dad is no longer with us, it’s hard to forget someone who gave us so much to remember. Farewell, dad, see you on the other side.
This is the last picture I took with my father – my sister, Kay, and I holding his hand.