Communication? After all those years? True, their exchange was tentative, even a bit awkward. But they were actually communicating.
Decades before, Linda Fedder had settled on her own way of dealing with the uncomfortable fact of Tom Fedder. In the course of her lifetime she had known him as a childhood playmate and high school sweetheart, as a loving husband and caring father. She had also known him as a deserter, a betrayer of her trust, one who could abandon his own child. He had been the best thing that ever happened to her, and the worst....a paradox that had dictated her determined avoidance of all things having to do with him.
There had never been a reason to question that time-tested strategy....until the startling moment, just weeks earlier, when Tom handed her the paid receipt for her distressing real-estate loan. Even more surprising, he had actually apologized, claiming a remorse she had never expected to hear. She had returned home that night awash in unsettling thoughts, mired in unfamiliar emotions?
Their meeting had also produced another, more tangible, result. A week later nearly every room in the Asylum contained at least one piece of Betty Fedder’s furniture or furnishings. The heavy oak dining table that Linda had admired as a newly wed now filled her cramped dining room. It was much too large for the room, but so sturdy and elegant.
Yet, though the furniture was nice, and the paid loan receipt was certainly welcome, in Linda’s eyes the most positive element of Tom Fedder’s surprising return had been Sue Ann’s unexpected reunion with her father.
As a youngster the girl’s lament had been constant. From the time she was old enough to understand the fact of his absence, she had wondered what she could have done to disappoint him and why he had gone to such lengths to leave her. When she first heard of his return, those had been the concerns that resurfaced.
Fortunately Sue Ann had found the courage to ask her questions. Linda recalled coming home from work that Monday, after Sue Ann and Tom had lunched together, to find her daughter still crying tears of happy relief. Her father liked her. He had hugged her, and said he loved her. From that meeting, a single hour spent together, had come a stream of affirming changes.
For forty years there had been no reason for Linda to dwell on the possibility of ever seeing Tom Fedder again. The mere thought of it would have been an unwelcome reminder of the pain he had visited on their lives, certain to trigger the defenses she had so carefully constructed.
Now, however, she was dealing with the disorienting need to make room for his presence in her family's life. Sue and Sandy were eager for that to happen. In truth they deserved that. Linda had witnessed the way his attention mattered to them.
What’s more Tom Fedder, the enemy himself, had pulled them all from the brink of financial ruin. To be sure, their situation remained precarious, but at least they were afloat. So it was that after weeks of internal debate, Linda had finally settled on the need to communicate her thanks for Tom's help.
It was not a long letter, certainly not elegant or formal. Just a few short paragraphs expressing thoughts she had not realized she could still feel, much less put on paper.
I hope this does not shock you too much. I am not much of a letter writer, but it feels like something I should do. I promise to keep it short.
First of all, I forgot to thank you. I suppose I was too shocked to think of that. Anyway, thank you, from me and the girls. You had no reason to do what you did. But as you can imagine, having the loan paid off was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders. And all those nice things from your mother’s place, what a pleasant surprise that has been.
My girls have grown up with some harsh opinions of their father and grandfather. I confess I had a lot to do with that. You might be surprised to hear that I am glad they have finally met you, and that they like you. I don’t think I have ever seen Sue Ann happier. As for Sandy, you must remember that you have a very vocal supporter in Rick. Apparently the two of them are keeping in touch. I am glad it is your phone bill and not mine.
Just one more thing. I am not sure I should bring this up, but I think it may be the right time. I have always known there would come a time when I owed the girls an explanation....a chance to hear the truth. If that was true for me, perhaps the same applies to you too.
It never dawned on me that you might be around to do that yourself. But if you ever get back to Tanner, and Sue Ann certainly hopes you will, I think it is something you should consider doing for them.
I had better stop now.
She set her pen aside, leaned back in her chair to review her handiwork, then folded the page carefully and slipped it into her dresser drawer. A day later she reread it, wondering again at the wisdom of writing to him. Although she was still not ready to put it in the mail she did take a moment to address an envelope, using an address from a letter Sandy had received from Rick. Then, once more, it was returned to her drawer.
Two days later Linda took a break from her duties at Gilroy’s and walked the three blocks to the Post Office. At the mail box she felt an unexpected reluctance to let go of the letter. When at last she let it drop, she sensed the finality of something begun that could not be undone.
Shortly after Labor Day Rick met with a counselor at Highland Community College to review class offerings for the fall term and decide what courses he should request. By the end of their conference he had registered for fifteen hours of general, prerequisite classes. The reality of college was coming closer by the day....so too was his hoped-for return to Tanner.
Over dinner that night he spelled out his plans for a hurried three day visit to Tanner before his classes started. Listening patiently as the boy presented his ideas, Tom was smiling to himself at the boy’s obvious excitement.
Finally Rick paused to sip his coffee. “Well, what do you think? Have I covered everything? I can’t imagine what I’ve missed.”
“You’ve done a good job, son. Looks like you’ve accounted for almost all the details.”
“Almost all? What did I forget?”
Tom was showing the cocked-head grin that usually signaled he had a point to make. “Maybe I wasn’t listening close enough. Did I miss the part about the cost of your little expedition....about how you’re going to finance this adventure?”
Rick was not surprised. That was his dad’s way ....to hurry past the really important parts of an idea to focus on the economic considerations. “I hadn’t got that far yet,” the boy admitted. “I was sort of hoping .....” His words trailed off.
“Hoping that old dad might lend a hand on that part. Eh?”
“Yeah. I guess so. The thing is, it will be my last chance to get back there until the Christmas holidays. And by then the roads will probably be a mess.”
“Does Sandy know you’re thinking about this? Is she all excited about it?”
“No.” Rick’s silly, head-shaking smile was signaling his intentions. “I want it to be a surprise. I think she’d like that.”
“I’ll tell you what. Let’s see what we can figure out. We should probably start by doing some math. Okay?” Tom was hoping to turn the moment into a practical exercise in financial logic....a learning experience. Would Rick be interested in any of that?
“You’re planning to drive four days altogether, two days each way, in order to spend three days in Tanner. Right? That’s a whole week, and a thousand, maybe twelve hundred miles worth of expensive gas. Six or seven nights of motel bills. A bunch of restaurant meals. And a lot of miles on the car.”
Tom watched the boy’s enthusiasm retreat perceptibly with each additional expense he named. “What do you figure all that will cost?”
“I don’t know,” Rick admitted. “Probably a few hundred anyway.”
“A few hundred?” The old man was shaking his head. “I’m thinking it would be closer to a thousand by the time you and Sandy go out on a couple of dates.” It was a fine line the old man was walking, instructing Rick on the cost of real-world travel, without turning him off.
“A thousand? No way. It couldn’t possibly take that much.”
For the next five minutes Tom walked them step by step through the numbers he thought might total as much as a thousand dollars. “Okay,” he finally admitted. “You might squeak by on nine hundred. But you’d have to cut some corners to do it.”
Meanwhile, Rick was growing more dejected by the minute. Why had he let himself get his hopes up? When his dad asked if he had any other options in mind, the boy could only sputter, “You mean like asking her to meet me half way?”
With a raised hand Tom was trying to calm the boy’s sarcastic agitation. “Look, there’s no need to get all upset,” he said. “Let’s think this through a bit.”
He stood and walked to the kitchen, returning a moment later to refill their cups, while Rick waited impatiently for the encouragement he thought he heard in his dad’s voice.
“I wonder if it’s time to declare a dividend on our Orchard House sale,” Tom continued. “At least enough to do this the right way.”
”What’s the ‘right way’?”
“The right way is to get your traveling done in one day. Take the bus to Great Falls. Fly to Spokane, then to Portland. Rent a car there and drive to Tanner.” He grinned across at the boy. “How does that sound?”
“It sounds fine. But it would cost a fortune.”
“Probably not much more than driving.” Was Rick following the logic? “You’d save a bunch on motels, meals, and gas. Besides, I’d rather spend a few extra bucks for you to fly instead of having you on the road all those days. By the end of a long day’s drive you’d be bushed. That’s when accidents happen.”
“And it wouldn’t cost too much?”
“I think we could manage it. After we clean up the dishes let’s go online to see what kind of tickets we can find.”
Later that night Tom returned to his own Tanner thoughts....to questions he had yet to face head on. Taking the single folded page from its envelope he read again Linda’s brief note, as he had every day for nearly a week. Poring over the few paragraphs line by line, he wanted to wring every bit of meaning from her words.
The letter itself was neither chatty or personal, though it felt more cordial than he might have expected. What struck him more than the content, however, was the simple realization that she was intentionally communicating with him. It was a bit surprising to realize how much he liked that.
From the first reading he had known that he would not let her timid epistle go unanswered. Though he was not sure how to respond, he knew that he would. What he had to say was not as important as the desire to maintain contact. How would she respond to that possibility? With that in mind, it was time for a letter of his own.
What a pleasant surprise it was to receive your note. It makes me think I did something right for a change.
I appreciated hearing about Sue Ann, and how she felt about our time together. I assure you it was a special time for me too. A real eye opener. I definitely want to see her again.
I am not sure that I am allowed to say this, but I will anyway. It was good to see you too, and have a chance to help out with the mess I made.
About telling the kids. About them knowing the truth. Are you sure that is a good idea? I was just getting used to my daughter liking me. I’d hate to undo all the nice things that are happening.
P.S. If you feel like writing again it would be nice to hear from you.
As letters go it was short and to the point.... hopefully inoffensive and non-threatening. Reading it over once more, he reminded himself it was not what he had said, but the fact that he was saying it to her.
Days later, when Linda read his single page for the first time, she was asking herself why he had bothered to write. What was the point? He had acknowledged his feelings for Sue Ann. That was nice. Yet in the next breath he had brushed aside the need to speak of his original transgression.
As for her writing to him again. What was that about? True, she was prepared for Sue Ann and Sandy to have their father and grandfather in their lives. But she certainly had no intention of making room for an ex-husband in hers. Did he honestly believe she was ready for social intercourse with the likes of him?
It had been four years since Rick’s first and only flight, a short hop with his dad in a twelve-passenger commuter plane from Butte to Great Falls and back. His day-long journey from Highland City to Portland had been something very different, with larger planes and larger airports, just like the ones he had seen on television. By nine o’clock Friday night he had picked up the compact sedan Tom had reserved for him and checked into a motel a few miles from the Portland airport.
Stretched out on the king-size motel bed he reviewed his schedule for Saturday....built around information gleaned from the North Tanner High School website. The school’s first football game of the season was scheduled for one-thirty that afternoon. Pre-game activities would begin with a rally at noon.
If he arrived at the Fedder home by eleven-thirty he could take Sandy to the rally and then the game. After that there would be dinner and a movie. She had no idea he was coming. It would be exactly the kind of surprise he had dreamed of springing on her.