Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Writer Through the Years

Yesterday was one of the most emotionally exhausting days of my life, and I hope to not see a day like it again for a long, long time. I shoveled dirt over my father's casket along with half the attendees to the gravesite ceremony, I hugged more people than I can count (Dad would have been so happy to have seen so many caring folks!), I cried infinitely more tears than I thought were in me, and I read the first eulogy. [Whether or not I ever print that eulogy is up to Mom.] I thought my brothers did a much better job focusing on Dad, especially Gene who didn't have anything written down and just spoke extemporaneously. My remembrance wasn't exactly "all about me" but more about how I related to Dad, of which I was conscious, but my reasoning was that this was the only time I would get to say to Dad what I needed to in the way I needed to.

And I was half right. The cemetary's only about a half hour from where we live, and if I want to I can go and "talk" to Dad more easily than just about everyone else in my family. Heck, I still talk to him in my heart all the time, because that's where he is. So I know parts of the eulogy were the selfish writer's ego talking, the need to have an audience hear me discuss my never-ending quest for the perfect words that would finally have succeeded in my father understanding and accepting me and my life choices, how that quest was the reason I became a writer, and how in the end it didn't matter because love transcended all that.

Lots of folks approached me afterwards with kind words about the eulogy, and that same selfish writer's ego prefers to believe they actually thought it appropriate and well-written rather than that they were just saying that to be comforting and nice. But what's really interesting to me is the kick everyone seemed to get out of my old college paper about my father (and mother) that I wrote for a course called Your Family In History, which I had placed on the coffee table in my brother Jay's living room (we're sitting shiva at Jay's house). That was almost 30 years ago, and many folks said they learned quite a bit about Dad from reading that (as I had when I wrote it). I just wish I'd been a more skilled writer back then. At one point I actually referred to a couple, I believe my maternal grandparents, as "homely." I know I could not have meant it that way at the time, but my memory isn't good enough to capture my mindset from 1979 and try to figure out what word I'd actually wanted to use. But little things like that really amused the readers yesterday, who appreciated the lack of pretense and the heartfelt impulses behind it.

I think I'm still the same kind of writer I was then. Sometimes I think I was better, more imaginative, when I was back in college, but then I cringe at some word and structure choices, just like my relatives did yesterday, and realize that I've become more skilled with experience. I wonder if my Dad ever saw any of it and whether any of it ever made him proud. I know it shouldn't matter but it does, even though I'll never have that answer. And my quest for the perfect words continues, but now I do it for me.