windinthemaples: (kind)
In October 2009, two magical things happened in my life. One, I discovered the book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life and I also came upon an old metal newspaper box that had been repurposed as a community book box and chained out in the elements on our Chicago neighborhood's sidewalk. It was covered in graffiti and heavily battered, held more trash than books, but it was still glorious to discover. I started making it a regular stop on Graeme's daily tricycle ride. We'd stock the back basket of his trike with books to donate and transfer all the wadded up newspapers, fast food wrappers, and empty Starbucks cups from the bookshelves to the nearby trash can. We loved being part of that project--even though we never met any of the people who were leaving or taking books. I don't know who created the box and stuck it out there on Chicago Avenue but they brought me such joy.

And so, while I've contributed to coffee shop book shelves and other little community book swaps in the past, I'd not heard of the Little Free Library movement until [livejournal.com profile] mrsbrewer started stewarding her own book box outside her home. It was wonderful--an organization that promotes and registers all these tiny independent book philanthropists, a searchable map on their website studded with little free libraries all over the world. I wanted one, so much, and so entirely lacking in carpentry skills, I started saving up money from holiday and birthday gifts to buy a ready-made box that I could plant right outside our new home in Florida once we moved.

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That pine box arrived and smelled divinely of fresh-sawed wood. I painted and stained it a buttery yellow color, to honor the spirit of our Sunshine House, and then it sat in our laundry room for seven long months because, frankly, I can no more install a library than I can build one. Finally, last week, I posted to our local town residents' page on Facebook asking for someone who had a post hole digger that I could hire for the job. To my surprise, within an hour, a team of five or six people had volunteered themselves to bring the supplies and show up for a sort of tiny barn-raising party on Sunday. Friday, another neighbor called me to talk about how best to install the box. In the end, he was so eager to help that he and his wife showed up with all the tools necessary on Saturday and found a way to tie the box into our preexisting fenceline so we didn't have to install a post at all. "You're in the library business", he said as he ran the last screw through. The Little Sunshine Book Box was born! :)

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Instead of having a post-hole digging party on Sunday, we gave out donuts to everyone who came by to donate books. In two hours we had about ten families come by and they gave a total of just under 200 books. We've got visitors to the box every day and up to 124 likes on the book box's Facebook Page. It's all pretty wonderful. :)

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So, we are now happily hosting a book box and it is JOY to drive by it in our comings and goings, to restock the shelves and to see what's been taken and what's been given.

I got the box up and running before I realized my father's last gift to me, the check he'd sent at Yuletide, had paid for most of the Little Sunshine Book Box.

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That's heartbreaking and soul-warming both. My father was ever on my side when it came to my hare-brained philanthropic projects. (Thanks, Dad. Whether I was collecting storybooks or warm pajamas or holiday gifts or canned goods, you always made me feel like it was the right thing to do and you were always the first to pitch in to help. I cannot tell you how much I'm missing that.)

The Little Sunshine Book Box was a gift from him to me. May it be a gift to the community, as well.

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windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (ocean heart)
I didn't get my brother's phone calls, I was sick and had turned my phone to silent. Yesterday afternoon, though, I got an email from Daniel that I needed to call my brother. I called him and he said, "Oh, hey Rachel. How are you doing?" and I said, "I'm alright, sick though. Is something wrong?" and he said, "Yes, something is wrong. Dad passed away."

As I understand it, staff at the assisted living facility he's at found him yesterday morning, having died in his bed. The coroner expects it is a cardiac issue, and given my father's medical history that is very likely. He was 69 years old.

My father weathered (and at times miraculously survived) a series of health crises. He has been code blue and resuscitated, on ventilators and then revived. We have sat at his hospital bed, in vigil, more than once and in more than one city. It is just unbelievable that he is gone, truly and irrevocably gone, and we didn't even get a phone call as warning. It feels like there has been a mistake. I didn't know that our last phone call was going to be our last.

He was really down last week. He only picked up my phone call because I left a rambling message that began with "Dad, are you there? If you're there, pick up! Pick up, pick up, pick up! Well, I'll tell you about me..." He hadn't seen much of my brother and was isolating himself in his room. He was having all his meals delivered so he didn't have to get out of bed or socialize with anyone. I bullied him, albeit good-naturedly, to take a shower, put on fresh clothes, and to take his next meal in the cafeteria with the rest of the residents of the assisted care facility. He said something about how he had nothing in common with those old people, those infirm and forgetful. I lashed back, in disbelief at his snobbery, saying he had everything in common with those people--he also had trouble moving around, needed care, was in poor health. (It turns out they all outlived him.) He said he had to go to the bathroom and he'd talk to me later. He was cagey, never promised to get out of bed, and I said, "Okay, well call me back if you want to talk."

Those were the last words I ever spoke to my Dad. His spirits did improve, though, and he went to dinner at my brother's mother-in-law's house on Saturday and then ran errands with my brother on Sunday. Things were fine, we never expected to lose him this week, no matter how fragile we knew his health to be.

I wish I'd been kinder, in my words and in my thoughts. I wish I'd known the last time we talked was going to be the last time. I wish he'd gotten to see our new home, the one we'd be staying in here in Florida. I wish he'd been able to go to Disney World with us, to experience it with his grandchildren after so many adventures there with his children. I wish his life had been better and more fulfilling. It is tragic that he died after decades of waiting for renewed health in order to live. The tragedy wasn't his death, as that was something he yearned for as a perfect respite from suffering, but in the waste of his life and his potential all the years before. What a shame, what a shame, what a shame how much mental illness stole from us all.

I was digging through boxes of old photographs, looking for something appropriate for the obituary or the visitation. A letter from my father, written on the back of a piece of church bulletin dated July 15, 2002, fell out onto the table and was overlooked until I'd repacked the rest of the box. His scrawled handwriting leaps off the page. It wasn't one of his cruel letters, but one of his kind. It says, in part,

"You are very special and a wonderful daughter--I am proud of you! If you get a little discouraged, just get healthy and think of Michener's quote on character!!!!"

(Which, with a little Googling, I believe is this quote from my birth year--"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth times.")

He went on to say, "(never give up, you have great genes) (you have Viking and Scottish Highlander blood--great potential) (not to mention Irish grit and determination) (BRAINS +)".

He wrote about Vietnam after that before closing:
"LOVE,
FOREVER,
DAD."

It was kind of an extraordinary find yesterday, a letter I never remember receiving saying everything you'd want a Dad, forever gone, to have said.

He was so sick, so, so sick, and yet I know that he loved me. He really did.

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~*~
I had no idea how devastating his loss would be. I couldn't have imagined that I'd be surprised when he died, that it'd be so sudden, so unannounced, so final.

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windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Default)
windinthemaples

December 2015

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