1/05/2007

You Put Your Left Foot In...

One year in grade school, we had to write a personal letter as an assignment and were each given the name of a kid to write to in a class far away in a foreign country, the United States of America.

I took great care in composing my letter not only to ensure a good grade but to provide a friendly, inviting and topical read for the recipient. When I got a letter back, I was excited but also surprised at the limited length and scope of the reply. This couldn’t have been more than a C- for this poor kid. We were encouraged to continue the correspondence and so I wrote back. I never got a reply and moved on to other disappointments.

My parents, being people of letters, could have taught this kid something about writing. Dad has his journals, Mom’s a letter writer and they're both worth much more than their weight in xu at Scrabble.

In 1944, when my father was 16 years old, he was one of many who contracted tuberculosis which was rampant at the time. The prize for a diagnosis of this sort was a free ticket to the sanatorium.

Although treatments included fresh air therapy, the main attempt at remedy was through complete bed rest. From the ages of 16 to 21, my father spent most of his time in a hospital bed. I can only imagine the toll a theft like that would have taken on me.

To help pass the time, there was a pen pal program at the hospital and patients were encouraged to write letters. My Dad got matched with someone in South Africa and before long they were learning about each other and their worlds. The letters became something nice to look forward to.

Dad also began looking forward to visits from a young hospital worker who’d begun working there. My mother had begun work at the TB hospital to support herself after leaving home at 17. In my Dad, she definitely had a captive audience and put her charms to work.

Although not deeply religious until some time later, my mother was skeptical that the Lord would approve of her visiting a fortune teller when her friends suggested it as a lark one day. She tagged along but felt guilty and parked the things the fortune teller told her that day in the back of her mind should any of them ever come to pass.

My Dad began to show improvement over time and was eventually proclaimed cured. He was asked to pose for before and after photos for a health campaign and these showed him in bed and then up and working in the on site woodshop, a paragon of health.

Years of laying in a hospital bed had one lasting effect on my Dad. All that bed rest caused a muscle contracture in one of his legs and left him with a slight limp. It’s barely perceptible now but my mother used to love to dramatically lower her voice while telling us kids what the fortune teller had told her that day: You will marry a man with a limp.

As for the South African pen pals, my parents still exchange cards, letters and news. Several years ago, one of their daughters visited and eventually settled here in Canada.

I’ll probably never know who my disappointing American pen pal was. Wait a minute, how old is George W.?

29 comments:

Bubs said...

Wow. What a story.

Don't blame Dubya for your disappointment, I suspect I was your failed pen pal. I'm a terrible letter writer. Heck, if I could write like you, my blog wouldn't be so full of mug shots, animal attacks and freak stories.

Mob said...

I remember having a pen pal in Salt Lake City, Utah, that petered out after about six months when I was around 11 or 12. I guess you can only talk about comic books for so long before you lose interest in things.

What a wild meeting place for the parents. Mine met at a drive-in that my mother worked at, which I figure is much more common.

Of course, the blogs are one big pen pal circle jerk, so now you have all kinds of correspondence to field, be careful what you wish for.

Jill said...

DAmn!!! You are OLD!!! A far away land, USA, while living in NB!!!
The meeting of your parents could do a good movie!!!
I'm gonna shut up now, cuz I'm in a mean mood with you lately!!!

justacoolcat said...

Your dad really does need to start a blog. Zoltar Speaks!

Chancelucky said...

Dale,
great story. You know if it really had been George W. the letter would be worth a lot.

for whatever reason it reminds of the time a couple years back when Laura told the press that George had written her a poem (no one now knows where it came from)...the poem started Roses are Red....

lulu said...

Is it very wrong that I am jealous of your father? 5 years in bed sounds great, at least if I had a big stack of books to pour over.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Perhaps it's a good thing that the crappy penpal dropped you like a dirty diaper. Who knows, you may have been invited to go duck hunting or something.

How old is Dick Cheney?

Still though, that is a fabulous story about your parents, eerie fortuneteller and all.

God-damned word verification almost made me go blind!

Grant Miller said...

Interesting story. I bet that disappointing pen pal has a blog now.

Dale said...

I don't think it was you Bubs, you would have forsaken the written content but at least have replaced with tiki lamp doodles or something.

I don't know, the drive in might not be so common a place either Mob. I enjoy my comments correspondence Mob but if you ever email me, I'm heading for Salt Lake City where you'll never find me.

If you think I'm old Jill, you should talk to my parents.

Then I'd have to worry about what he'd say about me Justacoolcat and I couldn't have that. But just to be sure, I'll consult Zoltar.

I'd have cashed in by now for sure Chancelucky. I recall hearing about the Roses are red poem, that's pretty funny.

Lulu - Have it filmed and present it as a time lapse reality show of some sort. It was you that got me thinking about the TB! I was going to put something in the post about me coming by my talent for loafing around naturally.

I'm glad you didn't go blind Barbara! TB, blindness, this blog is supposed to just cause laughter and dismay, nothing more serious.

Why Grant Miller. What are you saying?

Molecular Turtle said...

That was such an interesting story. Thank you for sharing it :)

Jill said...

Your parents are probably about the same age as my dad!!! You are still old!!!

chelene said...

I tried to do the penpal thing with a guy when I was in college. It lasted exactly two letters and he was only in New Jersey. Canada is out of the question. All that extra postage...there's no way.

Old Lady said...

What a sweet love story! You have a bunch of pen pals now.

mellowlee said...

Aww, what a terrific story Dale :)

X. Dell said...

I think you're a little too young to have been communicating with W, but Noelle Bush (Jeb's daughter)might be closer to your age.

I had a pen pal in France, once. But while I wrote to him in French, he would write back to me in French. And it was handwriting, so it was French script too.

The way you put the story of your parents, it sounds as though your mother had a wish that came true.

Mob said...

I enjoy my comments correspondence Mob, but if you ever email me, I'm heading for Salt Lake City where you'll never find me.

Stern warning taken under advisement, sir...;P

Dale said...

My pleasure Molecular T. I can't figure out why everyone doesn't have a TB blog!

Guilty as charged Jill. I probably won't make it to the end of the day.

You're setting cross border relations back several minutes with that kind of attitude Chelene.

Seems that way doesn't it Old Lady? I'm okay with that.

Hey Mel, glad you liked it.

I think everyone got what they wanted X. Dell in part 2 and part 3 of your comment.

Of course I'm kidding Mob, I'd never move to Salt Lake City, maybe Provo though.

mellowlee said...

I was going to say earlier, that blog buddies are sort of like pen pals, but it's just not the same. We don't have to wait for weeks on end for a lengthy reply...so it's better right? Hmmm Plus we get to post photos, music, videos and all that good stuff. Still, there is nothing like getting a letter in the snail mail. It's fun. The summer when I was 12 I met a girl from Alberta, dn we wrote back and forth for about a year. It was a lot of fun. I wonder what she is doing now :)

Dale said...

Was it Carrie Fisher who wrote 'The problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long'? It's true, this is a much faster medium Mel.

As for your little lost pen pal, she wrote to you one last time and you just never wrote back. She's waiting. You're terrible!

Jill said...

Which color of rose??

Dale said...

Yellow roses please.

Jill said...

A single one?
(And by the way, you are supposed to be dead already!! So I'm talking to a ghost)

katie schwartz said...

that's a hell of a yarn. I love that they still keep in touch. how sweet is that. did you meet the fruit of the pal's loins? is she a lovely dame? does she visit your parents often?

what else came true that the fortune teller told her?

love that stuff. so festive.

Dale said...

Maybe you should be whispering Jill.

That's a lot of questions Katie. I met her and yes, she was lovely. I think it was only once that she visited. If you knew my parents for real, you'd wave, smile and hit the ground running. I make them sound sweet but they're crazy.

Coaster Punchman said...

Ah yes, the old disappointing pen-pal story. I think we've all had at least one. Sorry about your dad's limp. But at least he got married!

Tumuli said...

What a story. I'd give anything for a pen pal/e-mail buddy now. Perhaps it is a bit of an embellishment to christen written correspondence "a lost art," but seems incredibly intimate and, sadly, all but forgotten.

Oddly enough, I lost a pen pal in third grade: a Texan who even took the trouble to mail me a glittery green pencil. I wrote back promising to also send a gift -- which ended up being the pencil he sent me. Even then I felt horrible about being so thoughtless...

Dale said...

She married old gimpy and they went on to have many rotten children but one glorious one CP.

It is a bit of a lost or dying art Tumuli and I can't imagine anyone not wanting to read anything written by you. I'd write out my email but I'm scared Mob might see it, haha. It's actually somewhere around here though.

Berry said...

Seriously, Dale. Stuart McLean has made a killing writing stuff like this. Go get yours!

p.s. - Am I special, or is everyone else also getting the same old smenita word verification every time they post a comment?

Dale said...

Berry, you're special always. So what you're saying is anyone can churn out this dreck? :-)