written by Nancy Malcolm
Happy Birthday in Heaven to my daddy, J.C. Claughton, Jr.
My Daddy was a “saver”. A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager. It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and an alternate.
When Daddy passed away we found boxes full of souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards. We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums. There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of his mementos.
My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying. Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!” “No, YOU take it!” Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of. His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out. Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” hoping he understood.
Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ from ten years ago. When I brought it home, I thought I would go through it right away. But, ten years had passed and I had just found the strength to open the box.
Inside were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essays, school pictures and more. I found an old, faded manila envelope, sealed with a piece of tape and enclosed were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him. Behind those cards were letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.
I unfolded one pristine piece of notebook paper and I was transported, as I read my brother’s childish handwriting.
Dear Santa, I hope that I have been good enough to deserve these things I want. I would like a bulldog tank, an electric football game and a boy scout nap sack. My sister would like a jewelry box, a ballarena doll, a girl cowboy suit and play doe, please. From: Jimmy and Nancy. December 16, 1958
This letter was written the Christmas after our mother died. My brother was nine and I was five years old. Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, just this one and one other.
My Dad wasn’t always good at professing his love. He wasn’t the sentimental, mushy type. But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia. The cards and notes his children had sent and letters to Santa obviously touched his heart, although we never knew it.
His heart was inside this box that took me ten years to open. And, suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See? I have always loved you.” And finally, my heart whispered back, “I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”