Dear Dad

This is the second posthumous letter I’ve written to my dad since he died in 2009. Sometimes I just need that connection.

Gerald K. Sands. October 9, 1937 – February 27, 2009. Dad and his sister as teenagers.

Dear Dad,

The world has changed drastically since you died. Remember when I told you in the nursing home that Barack Obama was elected in 2008? I remember the little grin creeping up on your face. You had voted for Hilary, but liked Obama too. He served two terms. And then something terrible happened. You probably remember Donald Trump as a reality television actor as well as a pretty awful person in many ways. Somehow, the unthinkable happened. He ran against Hilary Clinton in 2016. At the time I couldn’t believe he won the nomination. Imagine my surprise that he won the presidency. Well, his performance has been as expected: a terrible leader, a racist president egging on white nationalism, a man who disregards climate change and the importance of environmental regulations on companies that pollute, a guy who mishandled a major pandemic this year that you would be surprised is actually going on, and so many other terrible things. He’s been accused of criminality, was impeached, and has ongoing investigations. And ongoing stupidity. You once told me that we would all be okay as long as fundamentalists and haters were kept at bay. I don’t know how Trump happened in the United States, but he did. Not by my watch. Morgan and I even went to Washington DC’s women’s march in 2017. It was a beautiful time. Seeing Washington DC was secondary to raising my voice. I’m not sure we’re okay due to this fundamentalist.

Climate change is getting worse, and yours truly has tried to be a strong advocate for it, especially when it comes to environmental themes in literature. I guess I owe this to you and Mom, so thank you. You raised us with not just a lip-service appreciation of nature but with an active involvement in it. How many times did we go on trail 3 at Turkey Run? Remember your call that embarrassed us all, that super loud whoop-whop? I’m happy to say that the forest call has passed on to us as well as your grandchildren and even great-grandchildren that you never got to meet. We still go on trail 3 and do the forest call every time we’re in Indiana. There’s multiple news about the family, but this is a public blog, and I respect their privacy, so certain things you’ll just have to trust me, have been really cool. But I think we all appreciate the way you led us into the wilds. Remember when we hiked and went horseback-riding in Arizona? And then my horse ran away with me across the desert? Elaine and I were reminiscing not too long ago about that time you took us up to the Wolf River in Wisconsin to go white-water rafting. It wasn’t the first time, but that time there was a tornado warning as we were on the river. You thrust us head first into trails, rivers, deserts, and mountains. This made us appreciate our planet on the scale of reverence. This, of course, leads to activism. You might remember back when I was a kid and made everyone turn out the lights not being used, to save electricity, and vowed that the world had too many people already and I was never having kids. Famous. Last. Words.

Remember that house on East Jefferson? It went up for sale last year, and the realtor posted photos of it empty. Looked very similar to my memory, even though we only lived there for a few months.  The house of my childhood, on Center Drive, recently burned down completely. We still keep hoping that the Twin Oaks house goes on sale someday. We’ve joked that we’d pool our money and buy it, but that’s just silly dreaming. It wasn’t the house that made memories; it was the people filling it. The family is still spread out across mostly the US, with Morgan and I in the great white north. You remember we lived in the Vancouver area for years. This year we finally moved away and bought a house in Nova Scotia. It was a long-time dream, but we actually did it. You always played that game around the dinner table with us: where do you picture yourself in ten years? We’ve played that game since, and for the first time I feel settled and exactly where I want to be until I die. So although I have dreams for the world, I am where I want to be in 10 years. Oh, maybe when we retire we’ll sell this house and buy a house down in Yarmouth or something, but probably not. This place suits us well. It’s country-ish. We have 1.5 acres that is private in the back yard, and we can have bonfires, gardens, hammocks, etc. back there and yet is close-ish to neighbors (who are all friendly, compared to the strangers in Vancouver!). And we’re only 10-15 minutes to the nearest actual town with stores and all.

Our move happened during a pandemic though. A new coronavirus emerged in China late last year (and is referred to as Covid 19). Theories are that it emerged in a wet market, though people like Trump and other conspiracy theorists think it might have been manufactured on purpose. Yeah…that’s the world we live in, Dad. I can see you rolling your eyes right now. But this has changed our lives, perhaps forever. It has shown that humans are vulnerable beings and not the invincible people we sometimes think we are. I know that you believed a great good existed among the human race, and I do too. The day after the pandemic was announced I traveled early in the morning, from Vancouver to Halifax, to take possession of our new house. I had already planned a pitstop in Chicago, so got to see Mom (who’s doing beautifully!), William, Elaine, and Jimmy. We had typical goofy times. Remember when we used to play Dictionary at the house in Twin Oaks and the living room was elbow to elbow full of people sitting on chairs, couches, the base of the fireplace, and the floor–and there would be nonstop laughter? Well, we only had five of us, but it was just as funny and we laughed so much we almost cried. That was a nice repose to the scary traveling I had to do. I went from Vancouver to Toronto to Chicago to Montreal to Halifax. Two days after I landed in Halifax, border travel was closed to nonessential travelers. Then we had to get Morgan here sooner than planned because travel was being reduced within the country too. The virus is highly contagious, though many people don’t experience symptoms. And because not enough tests have been available for testing everyone, it is not known how many people have gotten the disease. The United States, thanks to Trump’s mishandling of the disease at every level, has had, so far, 2.3 tested million confirmed cases and 122,000 deaths, the highest country’s confirmed cases and deaths in the world. It’s a different world, for sure. Most things in Nova Scotia are still closed down or run at reduced hours. Groceries stores have remained open, though you have to stand six feet apart and follow lines in the store. I always wear a mask and sometimes rubber gloves when I’m out.  Sit-down restaurants, hair salons, smaller produce markets, indie shops, theaters, dentist and doctor offices, churches, and many other places still aren’t open, except some for limited or emergency services. I got a new doctor here, but it has been phone consults only. We go out once a week for things like food and yard work stuff. Nova Scotia’s curve of cases/deaths has flattened, a goal used by many to determine when things can start opening up a little more. The goal is so that too many cases won’t overwhelm hospitals and those on the front lines. The US has not experienced this curve-flattening, yet is opening up stuff everywhere. It doesn’t make sense to me. We have talked with neighbors over fences but not close-up yet. Luckily, people around here are a little weary of things, and that’s good. But it is strange to have not been able to have friends over at all in the months we’ve been here. Morgan is working from his office remotely, as many people are, and I am not working yet, just volunteering (remote work) for an ecology centre here.

When you were alive, you lived through the various stages of the civil rights movement. In my life, I have seen the absence of Black culture and voices, whether it’s film, literature, or anything, really. Lately, the #blacklivesmatter (what’s that? It’s a hashtag, mostly after your time, Dad) has finally reached a bigger reach than ever, which is great. Black Lives Matter started in 2013, so, after your time here on Earth. I think of my upbringing and realize how white it really was. I don’t think that was by your design, necessarily. You went where your job took you. But it was really absent of the culture we needed to have and listen to. Fortunately, you raised us with the belief that Black lives do matter, but I think, looking back, that we just didn’t know how much due to living in areas that were lacking of much diversity. I am grateful, however, that you raised us with the belief that all were equal. And I’ll never forget those years when you took us, along with others at the church, down to Chicago to tutor children in poor areas that were predominantly Black. It wasn’t just a do-good thing on your part. You and Mom made genuine friends with people of the church, and we would go to their church services and eat at their very tasty potlucks, which reminded me of the way Mom’s mother cooked in eastern Kentucky. I remember you once told me that you preferred the lively gospel music and sermons at that church than the one we went to in the suburbs. That the latter felt sterile somehow. I remember in 2007 when I played some gospel music (that you loved, and your dad had loved) at the condo, and you had on a beret and snapped your fingers, and got lively, even though Parkinsons was ruining your mind and body.

I will always remember your love for everyone, black, white, brown, yellow; gay, straight, transgendered; people of all backgrounds and faith. It went beyond the world you raised us in, which was mostly white and homogeneous. I remember the old days in central Indiana when globalization was starting, and I was just a kid, and you’d get a new coworker from China or India or Russia and invite them into our home–and, oh the food experiences were wonderful as we shared ideas. You’d invite so many people over for meals, and they’d invite us. Never mattered to you where they were from or what they looked like. You told me you were fascinated by different religions and cultures, that they didn’t threaten you and you accepted them. You went beyond so many people at church who were threatened by differences of any kind. I remember a story you told me of a young gay kid at your church whose parents kicked him out of the house. He was just a teenager still, and he called you from a train station in Ohio, and you did not even think about it before going to get him and bring him home. I remember long before that, in the farmhouse when I was just four or so, and I heard you arguing very loudly with a conservative Christian named Ruth about evolution. We were having a Halloween party in the barn for the church, and Mom had decorated the barn all spookily, but what scared me the most that night was Ruth’s shrill voice because she was just so hateful and irate that you believed in evolution. You were never one to stand down, and I was proud of my papa for getting right in her face and stating your beliefs. By the way, you probably remember that I worked for that family later, and she was still yelling at people, like me. She was a very angry woman. Thanks for rising above that mentality that we lived in. It taught me to rise above it too. The world hasn’t changed in a lot of ways. A strangely high amount of people seem to want an authoritarian government, white supremacy, and so on. But what is seeming like a louder voice nowadays is calling for more equality, freedom, and love. Of course it is the latter I stand with. I’ve seemed to have lost the respect of more fundamental family members and friends from high school–but more and more I am seeing a switch in the white community, toward trying to understand what it’s like to be Black in North America and Black from other places. I hate to say it’s all the rage, but it kind of is right now. I want it to be long-lasting and have never understood the division anyway. White people are lecturing others on how to be more respectful of Black people. All I’m interested in right now is the Black voice that actually matters, in the voices that have been suppressed and silenced and have not been able to breathe. Thanks, Dad, for raising me the way you did. I loathe inside if I wouldn’t have had you and would’ve been instead a crazy guy wearing diapers at a Trump rally.

Not only intellectually is the world finally listening to Black voices and dismantling a terrible white narrative but statues of slave-owners and other people who acted brutally towards people of color and first peoples are being  torn down. I want to see this as the beginning of a new world, where we must, must, must get rid of the terrible narrative we’ve had since we landed here from other places and thought for whatever reason it was okay for us to brutalize, silence, and murder people we considered different so we could get ahead. Who does that?

I thought of writing this letter last night when I was reading back on early entries. I started this blog in 2014 when I decided to start running. That lasted until 2017 or so when I had injured my left foot and ankle so many times that some of the ligaments have never healed and I’ve developed arthritis in the foot. The arthritis I’m not worried about too much; Morgan’s aunt, who is over 70, still runs with arthritis. I do want to run again. I enjoyed it so much. It was in my blood since the day I could walk. I remember as an adult when I retrained to run, the first 5k I did was a Father’s Day race and I wanted to listen to music during it that reminded me of you. I thought of gospel music but couldn’t quite find the right tunes. At the end of the race, I was waiting for Morgan to get done with his 10k, and the band there played You’ll Never Walk Alone. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a sign from you, or something. Like, you, also once a runner, were looking down on me and cheering on me. That had been a song you absolutely loved. I hadn’t heard it for years. Listening to it now, I realized you probably liked it for religious reasons. I wonder how that turned out for you. Is there a heaven? Are you there? Can you see me now? Have you been able to talk with Mammaw and Pappaw? Tell them I said hi and I am sorry I never got to know them better, but they died when I was 12 and 13. I’d love to taste Mammaw’s shucky beans and just one more time hear one of Pappaw’s stories. Say hi to all of them: Grandmother & Bill, Grandfather & Jean, CeCe, Great Aunt Evelyn, Great Aunt Gladys and Uncle Hilary, our cousin Barbara who we just lost, Linda, Uncle Harold and Aunt Helen, and all the ones before I never got to meet. Maybe you could say hi to Kris’s father-in-law who just died recently, to “Big Jim,” and to James who Elaine used to date.

I guess I need to end this letter and go weed and mulch the garden. It’s been nice, this Father’s Day, spending some time with you just to say hi. I love you so much and miss you every single day. Oh, and don’t worry about Mom. We talk sometimes once a week, and she is surrounded by love and support.

Dad happy that gospel music is playing




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