Anne Looney Cook
The worn, brown, accordion style folder, tied with a string, was the size made to keep #10 envelops still holding their worthy contents. While no label was affixed, its placement was among similar folders and other bindings that filled one drawer in a metal file cabinet and represented items stored for their personal value and historic relevance.
“What’s here that I’ve been keeping?” I mused. “I’m trying to trash-off, down-size, and de-clutter my life. With all else that I need to file, can I now remove this folder and its contents?”
I untied the string and found several greeting cards dating back more than 25 years. Their sweet messages reminded me of dear family members as well as special friends and times. The only #10 envelop there was the last one to open. Its bold address leapt forward but also signaled a pause to me about it contents.
The unmistakable handwriting, scrawled across the full width of that envelop, addressed the letter to Dr. Anne Evans Looney Cook—my absolute whole name with title!—and directed it to my work place rather than to my home. Without looking at the return address, I knew the letter was written by my father, C. Evans Looney. The faded postmark showed 3 Feb 1990.
Dad was left-handed with a crippled left elbow, both making his handwriting almost illegible. He wrote daily memos in his work journal, and, across the years, wrote letters to his nine siblings and to his elected representatives when he thought they needed his advice. After I left home, he seldom wrote to me except for phrases added to birthday cards, but I could read his peculiar script. Otherwise, he relied on Mama’s frequent letters as well as listening in on her phone calls for keeping track.
In the times I lived growing up, I was cared for and given opportunities for personal development that focused on 4-H Club activities, piano lessons, high school chorus, church fellowships, and every day chores on a working farm in Crossville, TN. My mother worked full time as a teacher and librarian in an era when few married women with children had professional careers. She and I developed a division of labor about household duties in order to achieve our goals.
Dad, meanwhile, held to notions that girls do women’s work and boys do men’s work, unless the men’s work needed extra hands handling livestock, shucking corn, or anything less physical than plowing. He set high bars for achievement, but immediately moved them higher whenever my brothers and I reached his pre-set mark. Since perfection was a constantly moving target, accolades or words of affection from Dad were too seldom to remember. Spontaneous gestures such as pats and squeezes or phrases such as “good job,” “thanks for your effort,” and “love” were not his nature to give. Nevertheless, I knew by certain other means that my father loved me despite his lack of affirmations.
Suddenly, on June 4, 2015, scenes from my history with Dad re-appeared when I found his 1990 letter and held it in my hands. I couldn’t wait to re-read it, especially since it had been addressed to my work place. “Was he telling me something about Mama? or giving me another directive about what I needed to do? Why have I kept this and don’t remember it?”
The letter began, “My Dear Anne:” He reported on Mama’s health after a sick-spell since Christmas, and then wrote, “I have written several letters this year, and said very little as I will with [this] one.”
After thanking me for Christmas presents, he continued by reporting that he’d bought a new blue suit because he needed a suit for special occasions and reasoned that it would also serve to bury him, although he didn’t want to think about dying. Across four more pages in broad cursive, Dad, always a farmer, discoursed about the family farm, the pastures and my brothers’ cattle interests, the value of farm acreage nationwide, and his comfort in having enough to live on, which he thought would last as long as he and Mama needed it.
Once more Dad said, “I guess the reason I wrote all this is I had little to write about.”
Then, the last paragraph contained the unsuspected heart of his message.
“You are our Pride and Joy. If I was going to name a person in the world that is tops—TOPS—it would be you. I know that I love you next to your momma.” (signed) Daddy.
In tears, I murmured joy in finding the forgotten message from my father. I began to reconstruct the time and circumstances before and after he wrote.
In February 1990, I was 51 years old and at a new height in my professional career. My husband was productive in a parallel manner, and we lived in Martin, TN, more than 250 miles away. Our two sons were married and well launched. My parents, still living in Crossville, had reasonable health for their 80’s, and they stayed engaged in church and community doings.
As the next months unfolded, my husband lived only until December 1990 when a heart attack struck him down at age 57. Except for family gatherings that December, which related to his death and to Christmas, I had no spare time to be with my parents. Six weeks after my husband’s death, one son, a Captain in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Desert Storm I. Then, one year and two months after I received my father’s letter, he died. In April 1991 Dad was a few weeks short of 85 years.
In real time, 25 years had passed since I received my father’s letter containing his words of love and appreciation for my being his daughter. Its affirmation was his last written message to me. Finding it was like finding a wonderful secret in an old envelop. With his letter, I have the permanency of his words, and I know it is the blessing that I once sought, received and stored away, and now have again.