Past Due

When I was in Kindergarten, my mother remarried. 

My stepfather was unlike anyone I had ever met before. The man danced in parking lots and didn't eat ham or chocolate. (Does it get more nefarious than that?) And he wanted to adopt us. Which, to his credit, he did.

He was 27 years old, childless, the baby of his own family, and here he found himself the head of household of six. And the little ones peered out at him with eyes of suspicion.

He did his best. He made up strange stories–Maple the Dragon and Sir Up the Knight–and unique games. Things like blindfolding himself and letting us lead him wherever we chose. He was an intriguing sort of puzzle, but also a convenient scapegoat for our own childish frustrations and fears. We weren't overly cooperative I'm afraid.

The poor, poor man.

Today, he sends me a letter, every month, telling me stories about his childhood and the years of his single-adulthood. He always includes a dollar bill so that every month I can have at least one "bill" to look forward to. He does this for all six of his children.

And for more than a year, I've been mulling over the best way to respond. This man owns books the way some men own sporting equipment. He loves words, loves bending them in unexpected ways, like sending his children a "bill". And so I've been pondering the question: How do you pay your bills? Should I send him a big batch of Chex mix, with a note: Here is your overdue "chex"? Feeble. He would smile, but still, feeble. I want it to be just right.

Last month, enclosed with the greenback was "An Explanation of Your New Bill". And it was a new bill. He'd gone to every financial institution in town in search of a brand new, uncirculated series of bank notes to send to his children. 

Strange, funny, trying little man.

How do you pay an overdue bill? 

With interest. 

So here it is. 

I want you to know that I read your letters, every month. 

The first few months I intended to make up a book and organize them, but I can't bring myself to do it. They accumulate instead in the back cover and between the pages of my scriptures. Sometimes they flutter out in the middle of a Sunday School lesson and I read them again. And I smile. 

Thank you for teaching me respect for the English language, for believing in stories that had never been written, and for allowing me to put them on paper. Your paper, with your typewriter. 

Thank you for teaching me to love the scriptures. I am me because of the words I find there, every day. I open those pages you helped us wade through in our youth, blinded by disinterest and inexperience and I am surprised, every day, that I know my way. Sometimes it is Isaiah, and every once in a while it is you. More often, the answer comes without any form at all; it just comes. Because I am listening.

And I am listening. With interest. 

Thank you.

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