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OPINION | DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: A letter of love from daughter to dad

by Debra Hale-Shelton | January 3, 2021 at 8:45 a.m.

Dear Daddy,

So many times in the past 16 months I've wanted to give you a call and tell you the latest. You were always good to write letters when I lived far from home. Now it's my turn. I know the post office doesn't deliver to heaven, but maybe this letter will somehow find its way to you.

You left us in the middle of the night in September 2019. I don't think you could ever imagine some of the things that have happened since then.

We celebrated Christmas amid a pandemic. A respiratory illness that resembles the flu but is often much worse has ravaged the United States and much of the world. It's called coronavirus, or covid-19. Already it's killed more than 1.7 million people around the world with 333,000 of them in the United States. There have been more than 80 million cases worldwide.

At one point, indoor restaurant dining and barber shops and salons were among the businesses that had to shut down in Arkansas and elsewhere because the disease is so contagious. Many businesses have shuttered forever. Many schools in the country have switched to online classes.

Most Americans are wearing masks that cover our noses and mouths to help prevent spread of the airborne illness. The masks' shape resembles those worn by surgeons.

More than once, Mama has wondered what you, a retired barber and part-time preacher, would think of all this.

For a long time, I didn't know anyone who got the illness. Then things changed.

You remember Randy Shinabery from Marked Tree? He died of covid-19 recently. You knew Randy and his dad well. Randy, his sister Dale and I played on the bag swing in our backyard on Union Street. Your mother, my mammaw, baby-sat for them. We got some of our medicine from the Nyal Drug Store where Randy and his dad were pharmacists.

I never heard a bad word about Randy. And you know how it is in a town the size of Marked Tree. Folks, even the best ones, spread plenty of gossip.

Our family has been fortunate so far. Tyler got sick but had a smooth recovery. Mama has stayed at home most of the time to avoid exposure. Terri and I visit her daily. Mama misses you a lot but is doing OK. She's 90 but looks better than most 70-year-olds. She stays busy reading, crocheting and creating, and watches the news day and night. She's more informed at times than her journalist daughter.

Because of the virus, the elders at church have encouraged members with health risks to stay home and worship with online services. That's what Mama and I have been doing. The church has provided us with communion supplies. It's much safer this way, but we look forward to worshiping the old-fashioned way with other people again.

It's been a busy year. I had two open-heart surgeries in two weeks. I am doing well now. I can't run a marathon or do 50 pushups. But as you well know, I never could.

A year ago, I moved into the apartment next door to Mama. Now we are only steps from each other. When she cooks salmon patties, hoe cake or Great Northern beans, I'm ready to help her eat them. And when she needs me, I can be at her place fast.

JR is still living in our house across town. We'll sell it eventually. I'm not shy about telling you we are separated. You knew that was likely, and you not only understood but were supportive. Starting over at my age and when I wasn't well has been hard, but I'm confident 2021 will be easier. Mama and Terri have helped me with some furniture and a brand-new TV for Christmas.

One of the first things I watched on the TV was that movie you saw a couple years ago and called to tell me about: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." I read the book several years ago but hadn't seen the film. It's really good. Mama is going to come over after I get a sofa, and we're going to watch it together.

Annie is doing well in college. She's 19 and is transferring to the University of Central Arkansas to be closer to her friends and family. College is different and harder during the pandemic. Still, she made all A's last semester and works part-time at Kroger.

I almost forgot to tell you that I now have a weekly newspaper column. I so wish you could have known that because you were always my most faithful reader. I've written about you, Mama and Annie.

I've also written about someone neither of us liked much: President Donald Trump. You'll be happy to learn that he lost to Joe Biden in November. Despite a decisive election, Trump has refused to accept defeat. He has been what you would have called "a sore loser" back in the days when you coached Little League baseball.

I think Trump is worried about finances as he's in debt, and is probably also scared he'll get charged with a state crime. He might be able to pardon himself of a federal crime, but not a state one.

I have mixed feelings on whether Biden should pardon Trump. I have long thought Gerald Ford was right to pardon Richard Nixon--not for Nixon's sake, but for the country's sake. That said, there's speculation Trump will pardon himself. That is wrong even if it's legal. Such a pardon could set a dangerous precedent with future presidents feeling they can break the law for four years, then pardon themselves.

As you can probably tell, I miss our political discussions. We were usually on the same side; that always helps.

It has truly been a tough year. But I've had help from Mama and Terri along with friends, including two I haven't seen in decades, MJ and George, and two I met after moving to Conway, Jan and Brenda. My writing friends and I still get together on Zoom, and they were especially kind when I was hospitalized. Mama got to meet one of them, Rhonda, at the hospital.

We miss you incredibly, Daddy, and think of you every day. Someday we'll have a family reunion. We'll talk about politics and church, dine on beans and cornbread, and laugh a lot.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

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