By SCOTT SAALMAN
Six years ago, I wrote about how my parents used to communicate to each other via kitchen Steno Pads. Dad was a swing-shift man. Each week, his work shift changed, either from days to nights, nights to midnights, or midnights to days. This was the best way for them to communicate.
Eventually, he retired early from the factory and opened a tool and die shop at home. The notebooks became unnecessary. My parents could actually speak to each other anytime they wanted.
I learned recently that dad hadn’t totally given up the pen. Mom showed me a green shoebox stuffed with scores of messages he wrote (and continues to write) to her on Le Merigot hotel stationery.
Le Merigot is a luxury hotel that they have stayed at every weekend for many years. The hotel always reserves them the same room. They are comped very well by Tropicana Evansville casino. My parents live for weekends there. On Sundays, they return home with new hotel stationery.
Each morning, dad writes mom a note on the pad’s top sheet and leaves it by the kitchen’s automatic coffee maker. Then, he makes them coffee. He has done this daily, ever since she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer 41 months ago.
The word count per note is slim, but his succinct morning message never fails to fulfill its mission. “I do it because I love her,” he explains.
When mom gave me access to the archives, I plucked each note one by one from the shoebox.
• “Loving you again! Over & over & over & over & over, ETC.!!! Love My Honey!” (Like many notes, this one displays dad’s trademark illustration of a heart with an arrow sticking through it. Sometimes, he double-arrows the heart.)
• “You are the lifeline to my heart.”
• “Loving you is all I ever wish for!”
• “Good morning Honey! Sweet dream about you!!”
• “Good morning, Gorgeous!”
• “How much I love you? UNBELIEVABLE. My sweetheart!!”
• “My girlfriend. My lover. My ‘Beautiful’ Wife!!” I love you.”
• “You’re just like Campbell’s Soup. M-M-M Good.”
• “Many Many Thanks for all the big and little things you do for me! Many reasons to love you!”
• “You must have been a BEAUTIFUL Baby!! Cause—Look at you now!! Wow!”
• “I am your rock. You are my rock. Together, we really rock.”
• “Honey, you’re living with the happiest guy in the world. And—I love you so.”
• “Love you, Baby Doll!!” (With this one, he includes a scribbled self-portrait, the same one he has drawn since I was a child. I came to know it as Smoking Man. It’s a side profile with a cigarette sticking out of his mouth. Smoke curls upward from the cancer stick. Both parents kicked their 30-some year habit 20-some years ago—still, Smoking Man weirdly remains.)
• “A life sentence with you has been the most wonderful trip of my life!”
Sometimes dad gets poetic by the coffee pot and showcases his undying love for her via fragments of simple rhyme. “It’s Friday night and I got a date! / So hurry on down & don’t be late / The slots will be hot & there will be a big pot / C’mon baby let’s rock the house tonight. My lovely date, my wife. I love you.” Or, “Why—Mrs. Saalman / How do you do / did you know – that I love you!”
Mom’s cancer is the proverbial elephant in the room during dad’s writerly thoughts. Only a handful of notes allow her illness to surface.
• “Honey, am so sorry for your pain. Hope today gets ‘better.’ I love you deeply.”
• “Hoping for good news today. I love you.” (Mom undergoes frequent bloodwork to chart her cancer markers.)
• “Happiness is: Yesterday’s Dr. Report and you and me together. Love you.”
• “So happy they set you ‘FREE.’ Cancer Free!! I love you.” (Like most of his notes, this one is undated, but it was likely written September 2017 when her cancer was deemed to be in remission.)
• “A new beginning. Love you.”
• “First day of third radiation therapy. I know you will whip cancer & prevail!!! I love you.” (This is dated 10-7-19.)
My father possesses a super power: love. Still, he’s only human.
• “Two notes to make up for the one I forgot. #1 – I love you. #2 – I love you.” (This note includes two single-arrowed hearts.)
Then there is the note that mom found wadded up in the trashcan. On it, he wrote, “I tip my hat to the Queen of the &*#holes!” (Mom recounts an argument that ensued between them over what to watch on TV the night before. She uncharacteristically left dad stranded on the couch and went to bed, leaving him alone with his “war movie.”)
Dad pens his daily affirmations of love, smells the fresh coffee being brewed and takes comfort in seeing two awaiting coffee cups. Mom reads her morning note. She places his words in the shoebox, closes the lid.
Mom reflects, “It’s one of the first things I see in the morning. He has done it for so long now that I would think something was really wrong if he stopped. I would really miss it.”
After their most recent wedding anniversary this past New Year’s Eve, she read his latest note: “A happy beginning to #58th year of a wonderful life. Love you forever.”
Contact Scott Saalman at email@example.com