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A Heritage of Words

August 15, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified August 15, 2012

My father was in the hospital last week, and I was going to share something about him, about how he taught his children the importance of education and about the joys of the written word. I didn’t get that article written before he passed away, so I thought I’d mention a few thoughts about the way his life influenced mine.

He was always a reader—we had daily newspapers, several weekly magazines, and a subscription to Reader’s Digest Condensed Books as far back as I can remember. We used to fight over who got to read the Reader’s Digest first when it came in the mail. I was introduced to many authors by way of Reader’s Digest and my dad. And while I was probably reading some stories I shouldn’t have been reading at my age, I certainly didn’t feel that way. Here was a way to get a handful of novels in one volume. If there were YA or middle readers back then, I wasn’t aware of them, so we read what was available and what we could afford and if that meant adult novels, that’s what we read.

When my brothers and sister and I were very young, my parents moved away from their families and to a state unfamiliar to anyone they knew. One of the first tasks my dad undertook was getting us library cards. He took us on a tour of our new town—and the surrounding two or three counties since Dad wanted to know what was where—and one of our stops was the public library. It wasn’t too close to the house, but he and Mom made sure we could get there and could pick out books. Ah, the joy of checking out as many books as you could carry.

Except when I was on an extended stay in Germany, I’ve never lived in a town without having found the public library right away and gotten a new library card. At one point in the 80s, I had three valid library cards. When I had a temporary job with Pan Am and was stationed in New York, I even got a card to the New York City library. I can highly recommend a visit there if you’re ever in New York.

One of the best libraries, of course, is the Library of Congress. I don’t know that my dad ever got to visit it, but I have. I actually try to go any time I’m in D.C. Again, well worth your time if you can fit it into a visit to Washington. If you love books and words and history, you’ll be in heaven.

Dad loved fiction but he also read biographies and history. He was seldom without a paperback, and his choice of entertainment in the evening was almost always a book over TV.

For fun, and it was fun, we’d get quizzed at the dinner table on state capitals, naming the presidents in order, times tables, and spelling. But if we simply wanted to know how to spell a word new to us, the response would always be, “Look it up.” And Dad would make sure we did look it up; no slacking allowed. We always had a better than decent dictionary in the house. And while this may seem weird, there were times when you’d catch someone reading it and sharing cool, new words with the rest of the family.

Thanks, Dad. You made learning fun.

Dad also made sure we could write, could make a point with words. He did some writing at his job, but he often got pulled in to work word magic on reports submitted by others. He saw no reason that government reports should be unclear or poorly written. It was Dad rather than any school teacher who first taught me about taking out unnecessary uses of that. Yeah, there are some lessons that we take to heart.

He always wanted to write a book, had lots of ideas, but never sat down to try. I’m not sure what he would’ve produced, something on ethics or history, I’d bet. But whatever books he had in him, he took with him when he died. I’d like to know what, out of millions of thoughts and ideas, he would have gathered into a book, but I know what he said and how he lived, and I can guess the focus and theme of any book would have been on living right, living honorably and honestly, and treating others well. He was big on doing everything right, whether that meant being honest or brave or defending others, even if it cost you something dear.

Thanks, Dad, for the example you lived.

A former co-worker of Dad’s spoke at the funeral and mentioned Dad’s writing and editing abilities; I never knew he was so valued for them. But I’m glad he had them and passed the love of words and communication to me. We had a lot in common, but I love that something so important to him is likewise such a big part of my life. I’m part of his legacy. Not only through my genes, but through what he passed into my heart.

Thanks, Dad, for a heritage of words.



Tags:     Posted in: A Writer's Life

21 Responses to “A Heritage of Words”

  1. Nancy says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad, but so happy you have so many wonderful memories of him and his influences. He sounds like a wonderful father and a person I would have liked to know. Your words honor him with respect and love.

  2. sarah says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. This is a lovely tribute to your dad.

  3. Beth,

    Praying for you as you walk through this difficult season.

    I am so grateful for the legacy my father left me with and I love to hear stories of other wonderful fathers in a day and age when fathers seem almost expendable. Keep those memories close – they are precious.

  4. Jessica says:

    How funny, I read Readers’ Digests when I was young too. I always thought the $50 you’d get to send in a story was a fortune and I always planned that’s how I’d become rich when I grew up. I’m very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful legacy your dad left you – a love of words and books. You can honour him every time you read and write.

  5. Robert Darke says:

    A beautiful and moving tribute to your father. Sorry for your loss

  6. Xenia says:

    This such a wonderful tribute to you Dad. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  7. Thank you all for the kind and gracious words. And thank you for allowing me to share something so personal on the blog.

    He was indeed a good man and a great father. He did it well, raising his family, and I never heard him utter one regret about what he might have missed out on. I think he truly enjoyed the life he and my mother made.

  8. I, too, would like to thank your father. Thank him for passing his love of books and words to you, so you can share those loves and your talent with us. He did good a great job as a father. My condolences.

  9. Tanja says:

    I just checked in to get my weekly tutorial, and was disheartened to read about your Father’s passing. Take comfort in knowing that your father lived long enough, to see your amazing talents as a writer.

    I’ll have you in my thoughts Beth.

  10. Beth, so sorry to hear that your Dad has passed. He has left you a wonderful legacy. Words do matter and you have inherited a deft touch in wielding them. This is a special gift that will be with you in the years to come.

  11. Sia McKye says:

    Ah, to lose a parent is rough. There are no words, my friend. I only know the bottom of my world dropped when I lost my dad. There are times, even 17 years later, that I think of something I’d love to share with Dad. You simply never stop missing them.

    Thank you for showing me the man your father was, Beth. It brought tears to my eyes. I’m betting he was very proud of you.

    We had the same fuss over who got to read the Reader Digest Condensed version. Someone, where my dad worked, was going to throw out a huge box of them and Dad brought them home–what a treasure chest! We always had library cards too.

    May the God of love and peace hold you in his right hand and give you comfort Beth and to your family. Loving hugs to you.

    Sia McKye’s Thoughts…OVER COFFEE

  12. Holly says:

    This is heartfelt and beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us such a personal thing. I feel like I’ve had the privilege to know a little of your father too, which is nice because he sounds like an amazing person. I always find that I have an instant click with anyone who writes, and I sometimes feel that people like that are entirely different to everyone else. Writers, I think, are all secretly in love with the world, in love with the way that things are and aren’t and should be, in love with the words that can get it all down. What a wonderful thing to inherit. He may have taken his stories with him, but he has helped you find yours.

  13. Pat S. says:

    Beth, I’m sorry for your loss, but he’s left a wonderful legacy in you. You brought back so many memories of my own youth, and the words “look it up” at the dinner table. Nothing would do but to bring the dictionary or relevant encyclopedia to the table right then and there (much to the dismay of my non-reading mother). Know that you and your family are in my heart at this difficult time.

    • Wasn’t it great to have a father interested in your life? Of course I didn’t always feel that way, such as the times I was late getting home and he was waiting up for me, but otherwise it was a benefit.

      Is this where I admit that while we had great dictionaries, we never had encyclodpedias in the house when I was a kid? I was always envious when I saw them on bookshelves in my friends’ homes. I finally got a set as an adult.

      Thanks, Pat.

  14. Robin Lyons says:

    Thank you for sharing your dad with us. He sounds like he was a great man. My condolences to you and your family.

  15. Cass says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss. I’ve experienced it before and I know how hard it is. But I also know that one single word can spoil it. I’m sure your dad would be proud of you, and his legacy will carry on forever.