Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meet Dad, in his own words

I'm an intellectual, with all the baggage that the term implies.  By contrast, Dad was a scholar: not only did he teach at the University for 40 years, but he wrote a whole bunch of scholarly (history) books.  His last showed up in January; SUNY Press rushed publication so that he could see it before he died.

He also wrote his memoirs.  It was really for family and friends - and for himself.  He had quite a good time going through his old journals and letters.  He self-published it at Staples, but I guess you don't lose your "scholar" cred by doing this if you have a bunch of actual publications to your name.

One of these was a history of Franco-Americans in Maine during the Depression.  He had found a bunch of 1930s photographs in the Library of Congress, all taken in northern Maine back then.  He started investigating to see if any of the people in the pictures weer still alive, and interviewed them.

In academic terms, the book was a sensation.  It got a ton of press attention, because the story of the people in it was irresistible, and people all across the state were interested in the history of "normal" people.  In many ways, this was the highlight of his career, and he went out on the top of his game - the University president surprised everyone by showing up to speak at his retirement party.  But that wasn't what pleased him the most.

I'll let him tell you what did, in his own words.
The biggest thrill was yet to come.  One day the mail brought a letter written in pencil in block letters on a lined pad of paper.  It looked like the writing my children brought home from first or second grade.  The letter writer pointed out a mistake he had found in [my book], and he was right.  He ended his letter by saying that this was the first letter he had ever written and he was helped in it by his literacy volunteer.  His handwritten letter was accompanied by a typed one by that literacy volunteer explaining that the letter writer had been given [my book] because he was an Acadian [New Englander of Franco-Canadian descent - Borepatch] in his seventies.  It was the first book he had ever read.  He liked it so much that he bought a copy, the first book he ever bought.  Plus, his letter to me was the first letter he had ever written.
You can be a great man without being a general or a politician.  All you need to do is to make a difference to people.  To touch their souls.  My Dad was a great man.


Blue said...

Excellent. Thank you for sharing.

Midwest Chick said...

I'm sure the letter was a prized possession. Your dad was a true teacher and to receive something like that has to have been the highest tribute. Thank you for sharing some stories about him.

North said...

Borepatch: I thank you for sharing - it means more than you might know.

"Zack" said...

"... My Dad was a great man."

As is his son.

Cond0011 said...

"All you need to do is to make a difference to people. To touch their souls."

From this snapshot of your Dad, he sounded like a true historian/teacher.

Besides living in your memory, he'll live on in the books he has written, Borepatch.

I am sorry for your loss.

Josh Kruschke said...

Why did you have to go an make cry.

Boat Guy said...

Yes, indeed, your Dad was a great man; may he rest in peace.
My condolences - and congratulations on growing up with such a superb example.