Six Pages of Filler Paper
by Rebecca Ann Blanchard

From the writer: This assignment was designed for us to explore the impact memory has on one's personal view of one's self and of one's writing. My inspiration for this piece came from one of the most traumatic events of my life, the death of my father. Although I can never escape the effect his death has on me, this writing assignment made me realize that I had finally come to terms with his death over the past six years.

From the editors: The tragedies of life and the realities of growing up are captured in this piece. Reflecting on the loss of her father, Blanchard moves the reader as she comes to terms with being comforted by the closure that she achieves in their parting moment.

From the teacher: The first writing assignment for 105 asked students to capture a literacy moment with visual and sensory language. Becky successfully does that and more with her powerfully moving description of her father's funeral. She takes us into that moment to share how she experiences and how she expresses her grief. Later in the semester, for her final essay, she again reaches into her childhood to discover more extraordinary insights.

Time seemed to have slowed down for the twenty minutes it took to reach the funeral home. Traffic lights, oncoming cars and even the falling, fresh, lake-effect snow seemed slow and blurred. My palms were cold and sweaty and I wiped them roughly on my black dress, as if to rub away the anxiety and sense of fear in my heart. It was my first funeral, on that slightly cold day in December, only two weeks before Christmas and eight days before my thirteenth birthday. And although the actual event only lasted a short while, it would chill my heart forever.

With our hands tightly clenched together, my mother and I walked into the funeral home and into the designated room. Other family members were there and I began to rub my moist hands harder against my side as I approached them. The calling hours had yet to start, since I arrived early. The tears had already started to flow as time, once again, became idle.

I knelt down next to the adorned casket, my shaking hands reaching up to brush away the tears streaming down my warm and saddened face. My trembling hands gripped onto his Ńso cold, motionless and clammyŃ in an effort to hold on forever. His eyes were peacefully closed and his hands were placed together over his body. He looked handsome lying there so still in his best suit. I stared at his hardened face through my tears, waiting for him to wake up from his deep sleep.

After a moment of waiting for a dream so unrealistic to come true, I pulled the items I had for him out of the tin he gave me years before. A bottle of his favorite cologne, an intended Christmas gift from me, that I unwrapped from its festive paper the night before. "Here Daddy, now you'll always smell good in Heaven." I reached down and placed the bottle next to his inanimate body.

With a deep breath and a clean tissue, I unfolded the letter with my trembling hands and began to whisper my message to him. "Dear Daddy," I began. Surprisingly, I read the words so gently and calmly, as if another person had stepped in to do it for me. I had written the words earlier that morning, while sitting in bed crying at the thought of life without my father. My words and thoughts grew, eventually covering half a dozen sheets of filler paper or so, complete with my tearstains.

But it was at that moment, reading my letter to my father, with one hand on top of his, that my heart began to mend in some small, but significant way. Admitting to myself and to him aloud that I was scared, angry and spiritless allowed me to eventually come to terms with his death.

By the time I had finished reading my letter and had gone through practically a whole box of tissues, the emptiness in my heart began to replenish itself with the thought of how my father would always be with me in spirit. I sealed the letter in its envelope and gently pressed it against my lips. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but when I placed the letter underneath his suit jacket, directly on top of his heart, my once cold and shaking hands were relaxed and warm.

Matching Taillights

by Rebecca Ann Blanchard

From the writer: This was my final piece of the course and was one of the most difficult. The objective was to connect the ideas of the course with our personal writing style. Once again, my inspiration was my father and also a piece of artwork that reminded me of him. As a writer, I am proud of this piece because I was able to connect my writing to another artform.

From the editors: A nostalgic look at the simplest yet most memorable moments of family and childhood, this piece defines Blanchard's struggle between past and present. With the death of her father as the link between the two--who he was and who she now is--this moving piece is brought together as a literary revelation.

From the teacher: The first writing assignment for 105 asked students to capture a literacy moment with visual and sensory language. Becky successfully does that and more with her powerfully moving description of her father's funeral. She takes us into that moment to share how she experiences and how she expresses her grief. Later in the semester, for her final essay, she again reaches into her childhood to discover more extraordinary insights.

It's summertime. The sun is out, the windows are rolled down, and we're driving on the highway in the family's station wagon. Our destination? The campground that my family spent two weeks of our summer at every year.

I'm six years old, driving with my fourteen-year-old sister, Kelly, my mother and father. Dad's doing the driving and mom's having some adult conversation with him. My sister's listening to her Walkman and leafing through a magazine. And I'm just coloring with my crayons, gazing out the window in between pictures.

Then Dad turns his head around and shouts to the back seat, "Hey Beck! What kind of car is that?" as he points to the red one that just passed us. I quickly answer back "A corvette!" with a sly smile on my face as if to say, "Give me a harder one, Dad." The ride continues, and I color about ten more pictures by the time we get to the campgrounds. Dad hollers back to me about three or four more times asking me what kind of car just passed us. And, I holler back three or four more times the correct answer: Camaro, Firebird, and Corvette. It wasn't hard for me, since Daddy had taught me how to tell which car was which from its taillights.

See, my Dad always had an interest in old cars. Going to car shows was one of his favorite pastimes. At least when he wasn't busy restoring an old, run-down car that he'd purchased. I used to help him, too. During the summers when I was very young, I would stand in the driveway with my Dad and just watch him work his magic on the old junky car. After a while, Dad would ask me if I wanted to help him out. I didn't understand much about cars, since I was only six years old, but I knew all the tools he used to fix them. So, I would stand next to the car and watch him with amazement while he did his work. And when he would ask me for a wrench, I'd reach down into his toolbox and give one to him. It wasn't much, but I was happy helping him, especially since at the end of the summer the car looked so shiny and new. I always hated seeing the "For Sale" sign with our phone number sitting in the front window, though.

Even in the wintertime, when the cold Syracuse weather prohibited my Pops from restoring another car, we would still "restore" T-birds, Corvettes and Camaros inside the house. And this time, I would get to do most of the work. My Dad would buy car model kits for me to build from a hobby shop near our house. Together we'd finish about one car every week or so, complete with fancy decals and all. But by no means was I as magical as my Dad; my cars never came out as shiny and beautiful as his did in the summer. Rather, mine were covered with globs of modeling glue and lopsided stickers. Still, I was always eager for him to come home from work, so I could make another model to put up on the bookshelf.

So here I am staring into the taillights of this 1960 Thunderbird, remembering how I could name the car just by looking at it's taillights. Dad's not with me now; we're not driving to the campgrounds anymore. And I'm no longer six years old. Rather, I'm eighteen years old, and I'm staring at a pencil drawing of those 1960 Thunderbird taillights in the art gallery at Syracuse University. The drawing is of the back end of the car, and it's done with such detail that sunlight and shadows of trees reflect off the chrome. The image was so powerful that it transported me to a time when life was good, worries were few, and Dad was still alive.

My Dad has been dead for almost six years; he died of a heart attack when I was in the seventh grade. And Mom and Pop were divorced for several years beforehand. The impact of my father's death, on top of my parents' separation, has influenced my life in numerous ways. Yet, those two difficult memories almost always overpower the more pleasant ones of when I was younger. I don't know why it happens, really. It's as if I suppress all the good memories and focus on the difficult times in my life and claim that they're the experiences that have made me who I am now, rather than a compilation of them all.

But while I gazed at those Thunderbird taillights, it was if a secret door in my mind had opened up, releasing years of lost memories hidden within. Perhaps it was the way the details of the image were drawn. The sunlight and the shadows of the trees reflecting off of the chrome reminded me of my youth, when virtually everything seemed so bright. Most of all, the taillights staring straight at me "jump-started" my memory of that one summer. If my Dad was alive still, I'm sure he would occasionally grill me on which car was which from looking at the taillights, but since he's not, I really don't pay much attention to a car's back-end anymore. Therefore, the impact of this image was almost as if my Dad was right next to me, asking me for the one-hundredth time if the car was a Corvette or a Thunderbird.

It'd be rather interesting if I knew just why Mr. Timothy Coolbaugh drew the 1960 Thunderbird. Does he, too, have a fascination with old cars like my father did? Does he own that Thunderbird or did he just see it somewhere and stop to draw it? Was there any significance behind his drawing? Or was it really all, just coincidence that he drew the back-end of that car and I've gotten so much out of the artwork?

I guess what I'm alluding to is the fact that everyone's lives are different from each other; no two people can have exactly the same experiences that in turn affect them the same way. Because of that, everyone's perception is different, too. My experiences, my family and friends, and the events that have shaped my life and who I am today are completely mine alone. Sure, there are people that I know who have had similar experiences, but none are exactly like mine. And we haven't been affected the same way either.

But regardless of the artist's intentions, I experienced a literacy moment when I viewed his artwork. I had never really thought of it before, but literacy isn't strictly reading and writing of the written word. To me, rather, it's a basic quality that everyone possesses that allows them to be critical and analytical of the world around them and allows them to relate those assessments to their own lives. I was able to see meaning within that drawing. Whether there really was any meaning at all to the artist, I do not know. But it was literacy all the same in the way that I was able to relate my past life experiences and connect that to what was on the wall in front of me. Personally, that was the first time I ever connected literacy with artwork.

So as I left the Lowe Art Gallery, a whirlwind of memories overcame me. The model cars that used to sit on the living room bookshelf, 4 o'clock walks in the summer with my father, "I Love You" notes in my lunchbox, piggy-back rides, macaroni and cheese and kielbasa dinners, and being Daddy's little girl. The memories were all happy, yet I was sad. But the taillights that kept passing me in my mind were directing me home. I entered my dorm room, laid down on my bed and let the memories flow with my tears.


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