An impulse and the voice of a good man

26 04 2011
Yesterday morning I experienced a sudden flash of urgent activism. I decided I needed to do a Salvation Army run, get rid of stuff that was cluttering my Florida condo.

When my father died in 2007, we gave most of his clothes to charity. Over the next two years, we renovated his condo, replaced 35-year-old kitchen appliances with modern ones, tore out the 70’s charm and freshened up the décor. The place really needed the makeover. He had talked about doing a general overhaul for years, but the logistics of life always got in the way, and he never did get around to it. He would like the new look, I think.

New kitchen!

Some stuff we left where they were – old photos hanging on the walls, personal ornaments on shelves, knickknacks in drawers and closets. These were things I just felt like I had to deal with at a later time.

There are a lot of drawers here that are still waiting to be dealt with.

So that morning, a bag with my own old clothes was filling up fast. And I found other stuff at the back of a walk-in closet that really needed to go – things that served no real useful purpose anymore. Like an old cordless telephone with an integrated answering machine. Since we no longer have a fixed land line here, I put it in the bag, along with a brand new never-used racketball racket and some dvd’s that no one ever watched.

And then it occurred to me. Before I give the answering machine away, I should probably check just in case there are any personal messages on it. So I plugged it in. It beeped and whirred, like old answering machines used to do and a little red light went on. I pressed a button.

And then a male voice drifted out of the speaker:

“You have reached 954-893-9648. We are unable to come to phone at this time. Please leave your detailed message and we will answer as fast as possible. Thank you very much.”

I didn’t recognize it. The voice came across to me as very foreign, with a heavy German accent. I don’t remember it that way. My father spent almost 50 years in the United States… and that was the kind of accent that other European immigrants had, but not my father. Weird.

I blinked and shook my head, and listened to it a second time. And a third. And then a fourth. It had to be him, who else could it be? It’s the first time I heard that voice in more than three and a half years, as if it was speaking to me from the beyond. It is the only recording of his voice that I have. The only real and tangible shred of my father that I have left. And it sounded so… different, so unusual. So not like I remember him.

The answering machine went back on the shelf, to be dealt with at a later time.

A few baseball caps that were looking a little past their prime also wandered into the bag. One had the words “USS Bonhomme Richard” embroidered across it in gold thread – a gift from a fellow journalist who spent some time embedded on the Navy’s amphibious assault ship years ago (…and all he brought me was this lousy ball cap….).

I had my second epiphany of the morning.

Bonhomme Richard.

Good man Richard.


My father’s first name.

That’s it. The ball cap stays, too.

Souvenirs from another age.



4 responses

26 04 2011
Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom)

Bonhomme Richard. Indeed. What a find.

How did the other clearing out go?

26 04 2011
Evelynn Starr

Oh.. moderately well. I kind of lost my drive after finding this stuff, so I sat down at my computer and wrote a blog post instead.

12 05 2011

Keep the telephone recording from Pa, its the only voice remembrance left.

13 05 2011
Evelynn Starr

Yes indeed. Listen to it anytime you want to.

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