Hi. How have you been? I know it’s been a long time since my last letter. I just wanted to tell you that we had a good year. Maybe even one of our best.
I don’t know. How does anyone score their best or worst year?
Anyway, I don’t have time to tell you everything, but I’ll hit the highs and lows.
For starters: we lost our thirteen-year-old bloodhound this year. That was hard. In some ways, it was almost as hard as losing you—which I know must sound ridiculous. But it’s true. I never thought I’d recover.
But eventually, we did recover. We found a newborn pup who gnawed on our hearts. Imagine pure love wrapped up in floppy skin and saliva. That’s her.
We got a second dog, too, because we are clinically insane people who can’t be satisfied with simply one destructive animal.
And in other news: your daughter had her second child last week.
Lucy is her name. Lucy was five pounds and fourteen ounces. So now you have two granddaughters. Something tells me you would’ve liked that.
Let’s see, what else?
This year, I met and interviewed Miss Betty Lynn—the ninety-four-year-old woman who played Thelma Lou on the Andy Griffith Show. She kissed me, then asked if things were serious between me and my wife.
That same day, I met the son of Floyd the Barber. And also, I met and interviewed a few others who actually KNEW Andy Griffith.
What a day that was. You were missed.
Also, I’ve been wood carving a lot this year. It’s been eons since I’ve whittled. But we are on the road so much, and it’s a good way to unwind at the end of a long day.
You were the one who showed me how to whittle. Do you remember that? You and I would sit on the porch, carving things. You’d fashion little figurines from pine sticks, like deer, fish, or bears. And I’d marvel at them.
This year, I’ve been practicing. And I’m getting a little better. I carved a few miniature fish, and one cowboy. I gave them as Christmas gifts.
I gave a redfish carving to my cousin Jenny’s son who frowned at it and said, “What is this? A fat mutant blob?”
“No,” I said. “It’s a redfish.”
“It doesn’t look like one.”
I just ignored him because Jenny’s son always was a little snot.
No. I’m only kidding. He’s not little.
Over the summer, I visited your mountain grave. It was the first time since we scattered your ashes, a lifetime ago.
I’ve been avoiding you for that long. The truth is, I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t think you deserved the pleasure of my company.
But a few years ago, I had a change of heart. I actually tried to visit you a few times. Once, I even drove all the way to you, but then I chickened out. I couldn’t bring myself get that close to your remains.
I guess I got mad at you. So I bypassed you. I drove to the Grand Canyon instead. I camped beneath the stars and tried to forget I was ever your son.
Well, I’ve grown up a lot since then. And this year, I enjoyed seeing your resting place.
I’ve let go of a lot of resentment toward you. I don’t get upset when I think of you. I don’t become uncomfortable when someone mentions your name.
I even visited your childhood home this year.
And I’ve made a lot of decisions in the last three hundred and sixty-five days. For one thing, I’ve decided I’m going to remember you, not for your sins, but for the person you were. And today, I’m honoring your memory.
That’s what this letter is. It’s my holiday tradition. Every year, I touch base with you at Christmas.
Because even though you hurt me, and you removed yourself from this world early, I am still your son. And I’m ready to wear this as a badge, instead of as embarrassment.
I am son of John Dietrich, the welder, the man who whittled, the singer, the loud-talking practical joker. And I just thought you’d like to hear me say that aloud, since it’s Christmas and all.
Anyway, I have to go now. We have a busy day ahead of us. You know how it is. I hate that you’re not here to be part of it.
Still, I hope you are at peace. I hope you finally found the perfect rest you needed. I love you. I will miss you forever.
It really has been a very good year.
Merry Christmas, Daddy.