People have been telling me for years that they love my Christmas letters. I do love writing them. This one was really hard, and bittersweet, and took me until March to finish. But the more people I share it with the better, I think, so I've decided to post it here. Especially since I haven't posted anything else here...yet. This one's long but worth reading when you have a moment, and perhaps a cup of tea. Pics included.
Last year I wrote this in January on a plane heading for my Grandpa Edwards’ funeral. This year I started this letter on a plane back in January having just learned that my Grandpa Petty had moved into a nursing home. He died February 12th, 3 weeks shy of his 95th birthday on March 6th, and a month before my birthday, which is today, March 12th. Since this is the first birthday I’ve had without him I knew what I’d do today…and how I’d finish my “Christmas” letter: tell you about my G-Pa P.
I can’t begin to sum up who Joe Petty was – not just to me, but to all the people he touched in his 95 years. It’s too big and goes too deep. If I had to tell you one thing about him that said the most I would say this: Joe Petty wrote letters. He wrote letters to friends, he wrote letters to acquaintances. He wrote letters to businesses, bill collectors, and government officials. He wrote letters to (and about) the young men of the Delta Upsilon fraternity chapter at DePauw University (his alma mater and brotherhood) in his unwavering dedication to and support of them. He wrote a consistently thought-provoking column in his church’s newsletter right up until he died. He got a particularly mischievous kick out of writing letters to newspaper editors – the most notorious of which exposed a secret illegal gambling ring he’d stumbled upon while walking home from his job at the Indiana state employment office, which eventually led to the Saturday Evening Post labeling Terre Haute, IN (where he lived and where I was born) “Sin City”. My grandmother was mortified, of course, and just wished he’d shut up so he wouldn’t get fired. He never did…get fired or shut up, that is, at least when it came to writing letters. I received hundreds of letters from him over the course of my life – all signed “G-Pa Petty” or “G-Pa P” when he was in a hurry. Thankfully I realized long ago what priceless treasures they were and I started saving them. I now have 20 years worth of his words to reach for when I am in need of his voice. (Currently I only have to reach as far as the living room floor, where they’re spread out in piles by year – quite a sight) Many of you were familiar with his letters, because if he knew you, he wrote to you. And he…wrote…beautifully. His letters were how he most freely expressed himself. He wrote such a beautiful obituary for my grandmother when she died that my mom asked him to write his own…which he did with his trademark elegance. Here it is, edited slightly by Mom (I’m not the only writer in the family that he influenced):
And here’s the one he wrote for my grandmother: http://tribstar.com/obituaries/x1155678332/Floris-Marguerite-Arnott-Petty His letters to me were particularly precious because they were manifestations of the relationship we shared. He was my most trusted confidant and I loved sharing my life and my thoughts with him. Writing to him I knew I was speaking into a listening that was quiet, contemplative, profound, insightful, warm, and steadfastly loving. And the man was flat out hilarious too. When I visited him in the nursing home a few weeks before he died I said to him “Grandpa – Bryan told me to tell you that you rock…” His reply: “Oh! Well…that’s certainly something coming from someone who does it all the time.” He would occasionally (and always cleverly) call me his favorite granddaughter. Even though I was his only granddaughter I still felt the tangible distinction of being his favorite. When he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in August of 2009 he decided against chemotherapy. Choosing instead to “enjoy the days as they come”. This surprised no one, since he’d been living that way every day for 94 years.
If I tried to say all there was to say about this man I would most certainly fail. Those of you who’ve praised my letters or my emails in the past now know whom to thank: Joe Petty. I trust he wouldn’t mind me sharing a passage from one of the last letters I sent to him to help me move on from here to the rest – the rest of the letter and of the living and telling of life:
“I have thought about what there is to say and do in the wake of your recent diagnosis. While it goes without saying that I am saddened to think of you being not well, I don’t think getting hysterical will do much good. Yet just being business as usual and listing the regular litany of things I’ve been up to and will be up to doesn’t seem quite right either. But I still want to share things with you, as I always have. So while I’m conscious of the background, I’ll follow your lead and stay in the foreground by enjoying the days as they come, as you so elegantly stated you intend to do.”
It’s my privilege to share with you, as I did him, snapshots of our many and varied days and the enjoyment we’ve derived from them. Thank you for indulging me and listening thus far.
No day would be complete or near as enjoyable without a conversation with or about Lucian the cat. He is almost 12, fat, grumpy, and – no offense to my husband – still the love of my life. Grandpa sent his regards to Lucian in every letter and loved when I’d bring him to visit. I just found this passage from a letter a few years ago when I was planning a trip: “The myriad of engagements listed on my calendar for Sept. 19 have been swept aside, so that I can be at home that day. It would be great to see you, but, if your plans change, maybe Lucian could come alone.” Another one said “Tell Lucian that he is welcome here anytime. He behaved very well. Bryan is welcome too, if he behaves as well.” Told you he was hilarious. My other longtime companion – The Wife - turned over 260,000 miles on the way home from my last visit with Grandpa in January. Fitting, since he gave me half of the down payment I put on her when I was fresh out of college. (He stressed that it was a loan - not a gift - payable upon the earning of my first million dollars.) She’s getting grumblier and sometimes won’t start until I say something sweet to her, but she always starts. 1993 Nissan pick-ups: highly recommend them, especially the red ones.
When you live a freelance life like we do there are times when you’re super-busy and other times when your work calendar stares back at you blankly like “What? I’m a calendar…you’re the one with the pen.” During one of those conversations with my calendar, I got asked to play a club in Johnson City, TN. In an attempt to make the gig work musically while keeping the most money, I asked Bryan if he wanted to try playing it as a duo (all the money stays in the household, only one hotel room needed – genius stuff, really). His calendar was making faces at him too so he said yes. A fan saw the gig on our calendar and inquired about us coming to Knoxville to play a house concert as part of our Johnson City run. The Johnson City gig ended up falling through but the Knoxville house concert was a success – and our duo act was born. Also born was our love of performing at house concerts – which is exactly what it sounds like – a concert in somebody’s house. (If you’ve somehow missed me yakking about these repeatedly in my gig emails and would like more information, do let me know) We’ve been traversing the country in Bryan’s 2000 Toyota Sienna playing gigs and having the grandest adventures. Between gigs with me, gigs with Mike Keneally and his own Bryan Beller Band gigs, he put 30,000 business miles on that car last year!! Since starting this adventure last spring we’ve played in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, New York, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah, California, and Mississisppi. It’s been kind of chaotic but we’re having the best time. And the minivan has been our rolling home – carrying us safely and effortlessly through blizzards, rainstorms, and over mountain passes all while piled with instruments, sound gear, suitcases and our elaborate mechanisms to make snobby coffee at any funky gas station that has a hot water tap. We’re looking at getting another one…they come in red. Please don’t tell The Wife.
Other highlights of the last year: WesFest 4 in 2009 and WesFest 5 a few weeks ago brought our total $ raised to almost $70,000. Pretty amazing. (We’re still only a few hundred dollars short of this year’s $20,000 goal. If you’d like to help, click here and scroll down for ways to donate – i.e. buy CD’s/DVD’s: http://www.myspace.com/weswehmillertribute )
I sang on a Peter Frampton record called “Thank You Mr. Churchill” - it’ll be out in April. Pretty amazing. (Thank you Mr. Frampton – you are a gentleman and a bad-ass.)
Bryan had a banner day in September when the Dethklok album he played on (“Dethalbum II”) debuted in the top 10 on the same day the Steve Vai live DVD from the tour he was on was released (“Where the Wild Things Are” – contained Grammy-nominated track!). Pretty amazing.
Bryan and I celebrated our first anniversary while I was stowed away on the Dethklok tour bus watching them play to thousands of rabid metal fans each night. During our anniversary dinner in Columbus, OH (where the tour happened to be and they had a day off) my rock star husband accidentally set a napkin on fire and ate so much steak he fell asleep at the table. Pretty hilarious. And amazing.
I went to fricking Scotland!!! I went with my dad, brother, and brother’s girlfriend Claire (whose delightful and patient auntie hosted the bumbling lot of us for 8 days). I could write a whole letter just about that – maybe I’ll post a blog w/more pics one day - but I’ll just say this: utterly amazing.
While in Casa Grande, AZ for Christmas, Bryan and I borrowed my grandmother’s car and drove to Kanab, UT to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It’s the biggest sanctuary in the US and I’ve been supporting them for years. Bryan shared a bed with a dog for the first time thanks to Jackson the adorable pit bull who was our “sleepover dog”. Precious. We volunteered the next morning walking dogs and soaking up the magical, healing beauty of the canyon. If you’ve seen DogTown on National Geographic Channel – that’s Best Friends. Here’s a link to check them out: http://www.bestfriends.org/ Pretty amazing.
And then there were all the mini-vacations we managed to have on the way to and from our other gigs, such as….an impromptu tour of Montpelier (James Madison’s home), a day off by the ocean in Galveston (Bryan had no idea this adorable place existed, or at least didn’t know how adorable it was), a night of beer and darts in bizarro-town Wendover, NV where I did a gig for a month in 1996, a drive over the Donner Pass and astounding view of Donner Lake (who knew THAT was there?? Gorgeous!!), and my first drive down the CA coast which, of course, took my breath away. Totally and completely amazing.
Suffice it to say, our lives are genuinely amazing these days. And we’re looking forward to more of the same. We’re headed for WI/IL next weekend and Bryan is doing his first ever tour with his own band on the East Coast in May. More plans for more places are in the works. And I should finally have a new record out this summer which I will surely email you about at least 14 times. We’re so lucky to be doing what we’re doing, doing it together, and having such a ridiculously good time. Talk about enjoying the days as they come…
I can’t help but share some words from G-Pa Petty to close this. This simple but lovely paragraph closed a June 2009 letter: “A robin and a blue jay have lit on the bush outside the window in front of me. When it isn’t too humid, I sit on the front porch to read, watch the birds at my feeder, and enjoy the varied hues of green in the surrounding trees. I love you. G-Pa Petty” And from his 2008 Christmas letter, which he sent to the nearly 300 people on his list: “True to life, this year has brought both trying times and much joy. I try to remember mainly the latter…Perhaps the international outlook is dim, and the monetary fiasco has brought some loss, but the value of friends and relatives remains as great as ever, or even stronger, brightening my life. Thanks!” I couldn’t have said it better, Grandpa. Thanks. And thanks to all of you, who brighten my life.
May you enjoy your days.
With gratitude, Kira