“Write Back, Will.”

As an educator, I’m committed to lifelong learning, so you know what I did today? Learned something new.

Papa Will had “talipes equinovarus.”

That clubfoot he’d been born with was the reason he couldn’t walk easily and the reason every time he got new shoes one of them had to be altered.

I hear it’s pretty treatable these days. Things were quite different in 1895.

I wonder if other kids gave him a hard time because of it or were children in nineteen aught-somethin’ a kinder demographic? Bet your bottom dollar Lena Analiza Atcheson didn’t let it get in the way. If she had, you’d be reading somebody else’s ramblings today.

Papa Will had a stroke sometime before I came along. He struggled to speak clearly enough to be understood.

Every week or two during the springs and summers of my childhood, I’d go with Daddy to cut Papa’s grass. Sometimes Momma and Aubrey would be with us, but usually they were working their jobs over at Higginbotham’s.

Starting when I was 10 or so, Papa Will would have me read his mail to him. Every now and then there’d be a handwritten letter from some lady…a “friend.” I wish I could remember her name.

That letter may have been in his possession a few days before we visited, so right after I finished reading one of her letters to him, he wanted to write her back…right then.

After all, that was her last sentence each letter…

“Write back, Will.”

He’d hand me a well-worn Blue Horse writing tablet, ink pen, envelope, and stamp that he had all neatly arranged at the base of his rocking chair…ready and waiting…right there on his concrete front porch on Mulberry Street.

In his severely slurred speech which I had grown to understand…mostly…he’d say, “Now write what I say,” and then proceed to dictate the letter of reply to his “friend” while I played scribe.

He always smiled when he heard his words read back to him…he wanted to make sure I wrote what he said and that I remembered to close with, “Write back.”

Papa and I both learned lessons in patience…and humor…during those days sitting beside each other on his front porch, him in his rocker and me in the ladder back cane bottom chair.

I made the mistake one time of sticking my hand under the seat of that ladder back cane bottom chair…directly onto a nest of guinea wasps.

That’s the day Papa learned that I knew some words he didn’t know I knew.

He was an independent man. I never once remember him complaining about his physical challenges, but I saw the silent struggles.

He was able to live on his own until the last few months of his life.

Those months were spent being moved back and forth between a nursing home and a hospital.

I’m so glad I went to see him that Saturday in late February of 1983.

After a few minutes visiting, he said, “I’m so tired, sonny boy.”

“Okay, Papa. I’m going to go and let you rest. I’ll be back next weekend, I hope.”

I think he and I both knew it’d been the last time we would be beside each other on this side of heaven.

First time I ever saw my Daddy cry was five days later…the minute I walked in the back door at the house and looked him in the eye the day his Daddy left him.

Steve Latham – April 30, 2017

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