Letter from Birdland: My father: The ultimate teacher

Letter from Birdland: My father: The ultimate teacher

It's a cold winter day, and the sun has not yet risen. Even without my glasses, I can see from my window a light in the sky. It is not the moon. It must be a planet. It is so big and bright, it astonishes me.

Now I am walking my dogs in the still, dark morning. The temperatures rose yesterday and fell again in the night. The earth breathed warm air that caught in the branches of trees, and I can see the sparkle in the light of my aunts' security lamp.

With my glasses on, the planet I saw from the window is as big and luminescent as a pearl. The other stars are smaller this morning. They shine, but like a supporting cast to the planetary main act.

As I walk the dogs in the dark, I am thinking of my father.

My father taught me how to pitch a tent and how leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. How to dig a hole and line it with red-hot coals. He taught me to bury a Dutch oven there to cook the stew. The stew will be ready when you get back from your hike. He taught me how to identify a pin oak, a burr oak, a white oak or a red oak. How to build a fire and how to put one out. How to walk quietly in the woods. But he never taught me to whistle, and I still can't.

My father taught me when to take a stand and when to take a walk. How to write a letter to the editor or to a friend. How to take a joke and when to tell one. He taught me how to support an argument. My father taught me how to rage — and how to go gentle. How to speak up at a school board meeting. He taught me to love justice. He taught me how to take responsibility and to rise from humiliation and get back to work. He taught me that I will always have work to do.

My father taught me how to stand tall when playing the clarinet and how to trim a reed. How to sing a round, and how to harmonize with my brother and sisters. He taught me that singing on a road trip stops bickering in its tracks and shortens the drive. He taught me the difference between Rudolph's nose and a light on a radio tower on Christmas Eve. He taught me how to keep pretending for my brother and sisters. But he never taught me to drink my coffee black; I take it with cream.

My father taught me the points of the compass and the names of the stars.

How to find the rings of Saturn in the telescope and how to view an eclipse without going blind. He showed me the moon's craters. He taught me that the moon will sail right across the night sky while you watch and that I can always find the North Star.

He taught me how to read a map. He taught me how to question authority and when to respect it. My father taught me how to teach. He taught me how to let the world fall away when I have a book in my hands. He taught me to read to my kids. He didn't teach me to make up my own songs, but I think he somehow showed me that I could. He taught me how to tell a story using funny voices.

My father taught me where I came from and how to love the land. He taught me how to name a dog and how to dam a creek. He taught me how to curse. My father taught me how to palm a quarter for a parlor trick. He taught me to pull it from the ear of a child.

He taught me how to make up magic words. He taught my children to make snow ice cream. He taught me how to squat behind home plate and make a target of my mitt.

My father taught me how to be beloved. And now he is teaching me how to say goodbye. This good stew will be ready for you, Dad, when you finish your hike.

Sail in beauty; navigate peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Hartland near White Heath. She treasures every moment she has left with her dad. She hopes she will always remember that we don't have time to waste. You can read more of her writings at http://www.letterfrombirdland.blogspot.com. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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rsp wrote on January 31, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Beautiful tribute

Mary Hays wrote on February 04, 2016 at 8:02 pm
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Thank you.