On my refrigerator, there is a magnetic pad of paper, a Christmas gift from one of my children, full of green pages with a cheery little reindeer at the bottom of each.
And on that pad is a list.
I don’t remember what caused me to be scrolling through a map of the state of Indiana, but I’d grabbed that pad as I perused the state at close detail, because I needed to note the hilarious city names I’d found.
Muddy. Correct. Advance. Herod. Tunnel Hill. Galatia. Buncombe. Oolitic. Popcorn. Bippus. Lost Hill. Lively Grove. Loogootee. Santa Claus. Tunnelton. Alto Pass. Wynoose. French Lick!
I kid you not; they all exist.
As do Coosawhatchie (FL), Hunker (PA), Frostburg (MD), Loyalsock (PA), Short Pump (VA), Ypsilanti (MI), and Barker Ten Mile (NC).
What do all those have to do with Dad? I’m so glad you asked.
When it comes to my relationship with Dad, there was so much that we shared that it’s hard to pick something. Everything reminds me of him, but if I had to choose just one thing, it would be this: we were both obsessed with words.
We collected and shared city names that tickled our fancies. In part, that’s where the list above came from.
We’d started with vanity plates. His favorite, to this day, was the snooty, uppercrust, expensive car with a tag that read: TIS JAMES. The more we could challenge each other to figure a plate out without writing it down first, the better. Dad would often give me only two letters or characters at a time, deliberately pausing when there was no break, just to throw me off.
I think it was in 2002 when the hunting of wordplay took off, though. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan had just started, and I watched a fair amount of news with the patient I was sitting with. Dad sent me an email with only this question: “What do you think is the most fun city name currently in the news?”
For the girl who had once giggled constantly over the word purple, this was fun. My reply was one word only. Jalalabad! Which, of course, having known me all my life, was exactly what Dad knew I would say.
Our collection expanded to cities. Then streams and rivers (Hellbranch Run, Difficult Run Creek, North Anna River…and South Anna River, too)…and street names (Mutton Hollow Road, Pre-Emption Road, Temporary Lane, and Puckertoot Road, to name a few)…and businesses (Lost Sock Laundry, Curl up and Dye beauty shop, and Hickdaddy’s BBQ).
When he started working for ACS (now Xerox, which is a fun word in and of itself), he would occasionally consult me on matters of grammar or phrasing. Or he would call to tell me the latest crazy commentary one of his coworkers had left for him.
Then I got laid off from my job, and decided to launch my own business. Dad was thrilled. We could now compare notes on the horrible sins of bad writing (and not just Mom’s penchant for dropped words)!
And now there was a new layer to the word game: I started texting him with the last names of sources for all of the scholarly journal articles I was editing. I’m not sure which of us laughed more at the potential pronunciation of some of those.
We didn’t stop there, either. We enjoyed many of the same TV shows, and we would text each other our favorite lines from whatever we were watching, whether it was The Mentalist, NCIS, or Top Gear (hands down, a favorite). Even better was trying to figure out what the other had just quoted from…because we often didn’t say who was speaking, just for the fun of guessing. We loved the art of wordplay and turns of phrase (this included song lyrics, too).
With the advent of memes mashing words together to create new ones, and Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day notifications, we had even more to share with each other. Most recently, I told him that I had to find a way to work the verb “absquatulate” into my regular conversation. (He naturally responded, using it in his reply.)
Words tied us inextricably together. Whether they were vanity plate shortforms, names of people, places or things, blog posts about the kids that made him nearly shoot soda out his nose (I did that more than once, and giggled every time he told me that), or commentary on whatever prose he or I were currently dissecting, always there were words. Perhaps it’s fanciful of me, but I always thought Dad and I understood each other on a level that we didn’t really share with anyone else.
There are so many, many things that made Dad all that he was to me, and not nearly enough words to explain them all. I have lost my daddy, my mentor, my friend, my partner in crime, my anchor…and I cannot even begin to describe everything that Dad was. There simply are no words.
No words for the amount of love, no words for the laughter, no words for the heartache.
The hope I cling to is that, someday, the Word made Flesh returns, and wipes away every tear…and Dad and I will be able to play with words together, again.
**Note: This was my personal tribute, which was read at Dad's memorial service on Monday this week.