For Father's Day when I was 9, I wanted to give my daddy a gift, the best gift he'd ever gotten.
Lucky for me, this would not be too hard. When you grow up "country poor" -- as we did, my dad and I, short on money, but rich in things money can't buy -- your treasures don't often come wrapped in fancy paper.
I didn't know that then. I wanted to give him "fancy." He and my mother had split up when I was 2, and I didn't get to see him often -- not half as often as he or I would like.
My mother said I couldn't go see him that Father's Day, but maybe later in the summer when it was more "convenient."
I knew exactly what "convenient" meant: Another way to spite him. Children always know these things. If you think they don't, think again.
When I realized I wouldn't get to see him on Father's Day, I wanted his gift to be extra fancy. This left two problems. Or three.
One, I had no clue what to buy him. Two, I had no money to buy it. And three, even if I had one and two, I didn't know how on Earth I'd get it to him.
As with most matters of consequence, I sought counsel.
My friend Jane said to give him a necktie to wear to church. I didn't mention that he went to church about as often as he wore a tie: Never.
My friend Brenda said to do what she planned to do for her dad: Cook him a big breakfast. I didn't mention that I wasn't much of a cook, especially from afar.
And my cousin Bad Linda said to give him a Hershey bar and see if he'd let me split it with her. I didn't mention that I wouldn't be seeking her counsel again.
As Father's Day drew near, I remained clueless about a gift, but resolute in my intentions.
Finally, I asked my grandmother -- my mother's mother -- what should I do.
She handed me a fancy sheet of "airmail" stationery that she kept for writing letters to her daughter in California, and a pencil she used for fudging the score when she and Aunt Agnes played Rook with Granddad and Uncle Hugo.
"Just write what's in your heart," she said. "That's the best gift you can give."
So I sat down at her big kitchen table with a pencil in one hand and a biscuit in the other and wrote:
"Dear Daddy, happy Father's Day. Hope 2 C U B4 __."
I wrote it in code, like the kind he had used in the Army, so I knew he would know what it meant. He was good at figuring things out, my dad.
My grandmother read it, nodded her approval, sealed it in an envelope, added an address and a stamp, and sent me off to the post office.
"This is for my daddy," I said, handing it to the postman. "Will you please be sure he gets it?"
"I will," he said. And he did.
A week later, my grandmother showed me a letter addressed to me. I ripped it open and read: "Hope 2 C U B4 __ 2!"
That summer, when I finally got to visit my dad, and on every visit that followed, I would see that letter -- the first I'd ever written him -- tucked inside a box on his dresser. I asked him once if it was the best gift anybody ever gave him.
Close, he said, but no. The best gifts of his life were from my mother, he said, when she gave him my sister and me.
He's been gone more than 20 years now. I think of him often, not just on Father's Day, more with each passing year.
After he died, my sister, God bless her, had to clean out his apartment. She didn't mention seeing an old yellowed letter on fancy "airmail" stationery.
I wasn't surprised.
I figure he took it with him.
(Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or at www.sharonrandall.com.)