Julie L. Vandekreke
I called that afternoon to Berney’s flower shop in Alsip, Illinois, from my apartment in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“I can get that over to him today or tomorrow,” Berney said in his Chicago accent. “Is his address still the same?”
“Yes, he’s still buried over at Mount Hope Cemetery.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s right. I remember your father now.”
I sat on the phone with Berney as he checked my information on his computer. He still had my credit card information from the last time I’d sent my father an artificial flower arrangement last Father’s Day. Berney is the shop owner of Berney’s flowers in Alsip, Illinois, about five blocks from where my father is buried.
Berney asked, “Could you spell his last name for me?”
“Yes, it’s Vandekreke. V-a-…”
“Yeah,” he interrupted, sounding like “Y-ee-ay.”
I started over again.
“Okay. V-a-n, d-e…”
“Yeah,” he said again.
“Ah, here he is. I remember him now.”
“It’s one of those last names you can’t forget,” I said.
“What would you like on the card?” which sounded in his accent more like, “Whuat weuld yah like on thie cah-ha-rd?” The “a” being drawn out as “aah,” like every sound had a sort of satisfaction hidden inside it.
“Um, let’s see. Happy Valentine’s Day, love your daughter, Julie. Does that sound okay?”
He repeated. “Happy Valentine’s Day, love your daughter, Julie…okay, I can get that out to him today or tomorrow, is that okay?”
“And your total comes to $46.27. I’ll charge that to the card on the account. Is your address and information still the same?” (He said charge like “ch-ah-rge”.)
“Alright, thank you.”
I hung up the phone.
My father used to remember Valentine’s Day every year. He’d give me generic cards with hearts on them, cartoon dogs and girls giggling, poems, paper designs, my father’s signature always “Dad” at the end. Sometimes, he’d make sure to include “with love” before the signature, remembering his daughter in a special way.
It has been almost twelve years since visiting my father’s grave. Because of my father, Valentine’s Day, to me, is just as significant as Christmas or Thanksgiving is to families, to children opening up their presents, eating their first slice of homemade pie, hugs and kisses from relatives. For me, Valentine’s Day is about my father.
The last time I’d been there to see his grave was the summer of 2005. My grandfather passed away in his sleep, and I got the phone call that morning he’d passed away. He was ninety-three.
My father was sixty-one when he died of lung cancer. He died seven years before my grandfather. It was strange how my grandfather outlived my father and grandmother. But unlike my grandfather, my father smoked very heavily.
After my father died, I moved to Colorado with my former husband and daughter, who, at the time, was a little over a year old. My daughter met my father when she was three months old. She was barely born when my father, ridden with cancer all over his body, his degeneration becoming more and more apparent, held my daughter for the first and last time before he died.
For years after, I would write letters to my father. I wrote my first letter on Valentine’s Day, the year of 2001, about three years after he died. I had just left my former husband. My daughter was almost three years old. When we moved in, I bought myself a cheap computer; I remember that first computer so well: an old Dell, Windows 95, a true classic. It was bulky, large, with a fourteen-inch screen that would hurt my eyes after about an hour of using it. I kept so many of those letters that were written about my father on A disks
—piles of them.
Years later, after so much has occurred in my life, I still think about Valentine’s Day and remember my father and how special he made me feel. When I was fifteen, my father gave me a Valentine’s card and heart-shaped box of chocolates. I found it the morning before he went to work. (This was usually the way my father would leave gifts for me.) Shortly after my phone call to Berney, I found myself digging through my old A disks, searching for a letter I’d written on a Valentine’s Day almost nine years ago. I finally found it; the A disk sat next to an old card my father gave to me when I was fifteen for Valentine’s Day. It read:
* * *
Valentine’s Day, 2001
I know it’s been almost three years since you passed away, but I miss you still like it has only been a short time ago. It’s Valentine’s Day again, and I can’t help but think of you, and the way no matter what was going on in my life with a guy, you were the one who always gave me that card and the box of chocolates. Sometimes I wonder if you know what I’m doing, if you can see me. Maybe you’re watching over me. Or, maybe you’ve moved on, and you are in a more special place.
I sometimes wish I could find someone special, someone like you, to take care of me. To love me and make me feel wonderful and special, important and beautiful. I know I will never find anyone like you, Daddy, but maybe a man with the same heart.
Daddy, the reason I am writing to you, though I know you are dead, and it would be physically impossible for you to read this, though I think it might not be impossible, is that I have a favor to ask of you. I know you want only for me to be happy. You used to say that to me all the time. And so far, I am trying to make a life for me and G, and when I get out of school I hope to be able to take care of the both of us. But I need to ask something of you, Daddy. But before I do, I want to remind you of a Valentine’s card you once gave to me. I was 15. The cover had a little girl and a doggie on the front, and they were both giggling (or so it looked like the dog was too!) and it said this:
“Daughter, you’re special!”
When I opened it, it had a simple, cute and corny poem inside:
“Sometimes you’re wiggly,
Sometimes you’re giggly,
And I love you because you’re you!”
That was the most favorite card you ever gave to me, Daddy. I don’t know why. But it always stuck in my memory. Especially the cover and the picture. And now, before this day, this hour, this minute and instant, I ask you to help me, Daddy. I ask of you these things. And if you can, Daddy, thank you. And thank you for always being there for me.
Help me be strong. Help me to make the right choices and decisions. Help the right thing to happen. Help G. Help us both.
Find me a man, someone worthy of your daughter! Someone like you, Daddy, who will love me. Respect me. Cherish me. Love G and want her in his life. And maybe on this Valentine’s Day, maybe something great will happen. Okay, maybe the man I need in my life won’t come knocking at my door with long stem roses saying, “Hi Julie, these are for you. I want you in my life and will always adore you.” But something. Something to give me a promise, a hope. Even a shooting star would help now, Daddy. Even to see something beautiful blowing in the breeze. Even a card from you. Or those cheap chocolates that made me gain five pounds and break out you used to give me.
I miss you.
Strength. I need some. Because I know that, one day, if I actually achieve these things I want, I know my life will have trials and more trials. It doesn’t end, I realize that now. You always knew. And I ask for the strength to live on and have a life.
I always want you here for me, Daddy. I want to know you’ll never leave me. I miss you. I know you always wanted the right thing for me. So let it all come to me now. Please, Daddy. I need you now. I miss you. Be here for me. And when you do, if you do, find a special person for me, I want you to know I will never forget you. I never did.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Daddy.
Love, Your youngest daughter
* * *
Taking the A disk out of the computer, I carefully placed it back where I had found it in an old drawer. I took the card from when I was fifteen and held it for a while.
I wished I could have been there to deliver them to his grave.