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The Powerful Precious Written Word

2551468After my parents died, it was a particular comfort to find numerous papers authored by my dad, all neatly typed and stored in a drawer in a file cabinet in his bedroom. There were copies of letters to the editors of  publications to which he subscribed, letters of condolence to the families of dearly departed friends, eulogies delivered at the request of such families, and copies of speeches and presentations he’d given. Reading them, I could hear my dad’s voice, his inflections, recall his laugh, see his wry smile at an inside joke. I felt the familiar camaraderie of sharing a good story, hearing his voice quake at a touching tribute for a deceased friend, or rising in volume with indignation at a foolish comment or statement. Memories are precious, but reading his words was like listening to him speak. I felt compelled to assemble some of Dad’s papers in the hope that we, his family, will always remember this gracious, generous, loving man, and that his great-grandchildren yet to come will have a sense of the character of their great-grandfather.  I hope they will see through his writings what was so clear to our family; that he was intelligent, witty, a devoted friend, and a loyal advocate for the Democratic party, the Catholic Church, and his community. Here is a sampling:

From a 1993 letter to the editor of Texas Lawyer expressing displeasure at a comment made by the dean of the law school of St. Mary’s University – “My interest is not in the debate concerning tenure but in her disparaging remarks about training ‘trial lawyers in Cuero and Kerrville…’ I take her remarks to suggest that the training of lawyers for practice in Cuero and Kerrville is a function unworthy of a first-class law school and by implication, that such practice is an unworthy goal for the graduates of a first-rate school.The people of Cuero and Kerrville have the same need for well-educated lawyers as do the people of San Antonio and Houston. We marry, raise children, make contracts, buy and sell property, commit crimes and die. We live under the same Constitution and enjoy the same equal education, employment, housing, facilities and voting rights. We need well-educated lawyers to protect and guide us in these life experiences.” 

This, from a letter to the president of Southwestern University upon delivering my brother to his dorm room in 1978 – “I think it is outrageous to expect a parent to spend over $1,800.00 per semester and then to house their sons in such conditions. If you have not recently seen the third floor of Ruter, I suggest that you make an inspection or have some member of your staff do so. The three flights of stairs deliver you to a corridor reminiscent of a Mexican night club. The corridor floor is covered with filthy, ragged carpet which does not match. Apparently tag ends of carpet were pieced together to make this attractive floor covering. The ceiling is falling in and a large bucket stands in the middle of a spreading puddle of plaster and water. The closet door is gouged out at one point where a previous tenant or burglar apparently tried to dig his way into a locked closet.”

These words were delivered at a close friend’s funeral in 1998 – “I have been selfish the past two days – thinking about what I have lost and only a little about what Mary and her children and grandchildren have lost and – almost nothing about what Howard has gained. But I am selfish – and so I say that I have lost my best friend. Howard was the only man I could turn to and ask, ‘Do you remember Polly Olsen and his jitney? Do you remember the horses that pulled the ice wagons and the ice men who carried the big blocks of ice into our old oak refrigerators?’ And Howard always remembered and remembered their names and where they lived and who their children married. I have plenty of people to keep me up to date on current gossip but what I will miss is someone to remind me of what happened 70 years ago.”

From a 1963 letter to the editor of the Cuero Record written in response to an editorial entitled “Minority Groups Honor Yarborough” – “In commenting on your editorial, I might remark that many people join me in resenting your newpaper’s repeated references to laboring men, Negroes, and Americans of Latin descent as ‘minority groups,’ or ‘left wing groups’ or ‘special interests.’ You seem to intimate that only your minority group – whichever it may be – is entitled to full participation in the American democratic process. We are all to varying extents members of both minority and majority groups; and sure the particular groups which you habitually harpoon are as much entitled to vote, to lobby, and to electioneer as are the Chambers of Commerce, the N.A.M., the T.I.P.R.O., or the Texas Press Association. But inevitably every effort by a Negro, a Latin American or a laborer to make his voice heard effectively is greeted by you with ridicule and contempt.”

There are many more letters and speeches and I am assembling the best of them for our family. While some of his statements would not be considered “politically correct” today, they were heartfelt sentiments based on firm and unwavering beliefs. It is rather remarkable that he was not afraid to speak his mind, considering that for most of his career he was a public official, serving two terms as County Attorney for DeWitt County and 35 years as City Attorney for the City of Cuero. Perhaps his written words will inspire future generations of his family to speak up, write letters, call out immoral actions and inaccurate statements, serve their communities, and support their friends.


4 responses »

  1. Trick, this is amazing. He was a brave man to have written about the inequalities in society at that time. I see where your deep convictions come from. How wonderful to have these letters and that you are compiling them for your family. Can’t you just hear his voice!

  2. Constance, I really enjoyed reading this post and wish I could have known your dad. What a fine example of a true southern gentleman! You have inherited his talent for writing and I know he must be beaming with pride from heaven. Keep the posts coming; I often don’t have time to comment but I love reading every single one.

  3. So special!!! The Howard one…..this one reminds me of your writing style that has me smiling/laughing/crying…❤️

  4. Katherine Bell Gerdis

    Thank you for sharing these. I still find it hard to remember that Frank is gone. He was just always there. I remember him a a little girl going into church with his family. And He was always available when I would call from CA – such a gentleman. What a treasure to find those letters! Katherine Bell Gerdis


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