A Letter To JoAnna

Originally written on Friday, June 4th, 2010

It was big, exciting news when your mother told me she was pregnant. Your family waited, with very limited patience, for you to be born. All our friends and neighbors  were  thrilled with us at the prospect of another Caywood child. As soon as you were born, your sisters put up a big pink flag in the front yard to announce that you were a girl. The whole block got a kick out of that.

That was only the first of thousands of times your sisters found a way to say how thrilled they were over you. In my case, while I have frequently been the proud Papa out in the open, the public  things I have said  are overwhelmed by the millions of times I have treasured you in my heart.

Lots of people wondered if I had a secret wish that you had been a boy. I never had any such wish. I did not wish for another girl and I did not wish for a boy. Like billions of dads before me, I just wanted our new baby to be healthy.  There you were, my new baby daughter and you were happily, obviously healthy. You were instantly, completely, totally welcomed to the place where you remain today, in my heart.

One time, someone said,” You will never know what it feels like to have a son. I responded, “I feel sorry for you because you will never know what it’s like to have four daughters.” That is exactly how I still feel. The Universe must have honored that feeling in me, because I now have two amazing granddaughters as well. I was born to have daughters and granddaughters.

When your Mom told me she was pregnant, I was so happy. I will admit to a little trepidation because we were so strapped for money. I prayed, “Dear God please don’t put me to the test of not having enough money to provide good medical care for my wife and new baby.

That Sunday night at church, we announced that we were expecting, but I neither spoke of nor hinted about my financial fears. The following week the problem was solved.

A woman from our church named Betty Paveglio came by the house to visit us. After the normal chit chat and tea, she told us she had something to say. She said, “My Jesus told me I was to pay for all the expenses involved in this pregnancy. Let me know when a bill comes in so I can get the money to you. If it is a major expense, I would appreciate you giving me a few days notice.”

After she left, your mom and I began to worry. “I wonder what she meant by that. The hospital bill is so big. Surely she did not want to pay the hospital bill”, but we did not phone her.

A little while later, Betty called us. She said, ” I want to make sure you understood me. I want to pay for the doctor, the hospital bill every vitamin or other medicine you need. Everything.”

I said, “Betty you don’t know what a pregnancy costs these days”. She laughed and said “I know it has been a long time since I had my children, but I want every single bill”. And she meant it. She joyfully took care of every expense.

When you were about six months old, she came by to see us. As she always did when she came over, she took you on her lap and played with you. Then she said, ” I guess you are old enough for me to tell you my secret. When I told your folks I was going to pay for your coming, I had no idea how I was going to do it. This has been one of the greatest adventures of my life.

Every time a big bill needed to be paid,  some extra money somehow came in. The money always got there in time.” We were touched by her courage and her heart.  You can imagine how grateful we were.

Betty earned some of her living money as a foster parent. As things turned out in terms of the work that you grew up to do, I have often thought there was some kind of synchronicity in that.

While you were  still in the hospital, the big decision was who was going to hold you first.  Each of your sisters was determined to have that privilege when you came home. There was no way for me to peaceably make that decision.  Finally I said, “You all will hold her at the same time.” I got a few puzzled looks on that one.

So I explained, “We will draw straws. The longest straw gets to hold her head, the medium straw gets hold her middle and the shortest one will get the feet. After exactly two minutes we will rotate positions to the right and continue doing that till each of you have several turns in each spot. Then I get to hold her. I was very impatient for my turn to come but the fuss your sisters were making admiring their new sister was so endearing that actually ended up enjoying my wait.

From the beginning, while I was admiring the wonder of my baby girl, I had another thought in my mind. I kept saying to myself, “I wonder what it is going to be like to someday be talking to JoAnna  adult to adult. Thinking about that fascinated me.

I can tell you now talking to you as an adult is an enjoyable, engrossing and  delightful experience for me. I am so proud of you. Coming from the childhood I had, to see you so involved  bettering the experience of children in our society moves me.

You had a darling smile. It never failed to amuse me. Once, the family went to Aunt Evelyn’s in Virginia. We all loved your smile so much that  your entire family  spent the first fifteen minutes we were there getting you to smile. We loved showing off our baby.

When you were three or four, the family had a fun beach day. Your mom turned to me and said “Watch how JoAnna gets things organized.” You were digging a hole in the sand. Gradually, a group of kids were gathered around you wanting to dig a hole with you. Some of the kids were considerably older that you. Pretty soon you said something like, “We need to get the sand around the hole back away from the hole.” Immediately, two or three of the children jumped on the project and kept the sand back from the hole from then on.

At various times at your high school you showed your natural leadership. You never led in a dominating way. In fact, it looked to me like you had no intention whatsoever of leading. Leading situations just came your way without you asking for it at all.

At your graduation some or even most of the students were acting up. The graduating seniors were a small enough group that they could all sit on the platform. There must have been twenty or twenty five of the students on the stage with cans of Silly String.  Silly String was flying all over the place. I think it was a natural reaction to four years of an over controlling  school administration. The faculty could do nothing to stop the Silly String play.

It came time for you to make your speech. You took your place at the podium.  Then you turned around and looked at the fun your fellow students were having. You thoroughly enjoyed it. You watched it for a little while and then while still facing the students you casually lifted your hands in an “It is time to stop the playing around” motion. The confusion ended immediately and you turned back to the audience and calmly and effectively made your speech. You had the audience in the palm of your hands.

Then there was the time that the administration took an unkind and unjust stand over the girl that got pregnant. There was a grassroots student uprising organized in which you participated but did not lead. Midday, the students met in  open space in the middle of the campus. The protest was not rowdy but it was very determined.

Someone had notified the local press so there were reporters there. The reporters asked, “Who is the leader here.” To your surprise, all the students turned and looked at you.  When you told me about it, you said, ” All I could see was eyes looking at me”. Then you gave a statement that made the newspapers.

The school was very image conscious. As a result of the newspaper coverage, the school modified their stance against the pregnant girl. The modification was neither  fully kind or fully just, but it did improve the girl’s situation. I am sure the kindness,  justice and support of her fellow students was the thing that was most healing for her. I certainly was one proud Dad.

Then there were the Virgin Mary roles in the sister plays; the week we spent trying to understand a William Faulkner story. Our conclusions about Faulkner’s story that completely changed how I understood the limitations of words, especially Biblical words. Also, there was the total joy of spending an entire Saturday with you doing errands and talking. We shared good times and hard times, both yours and mine. We mostly just enjoyed each others company.

You have always loved learning, both learning yourself but now also making it possible for people  to learn,  about the needs of children. Curt Simmons was a great Major League pitcher. Hank Aaron was one of the best hitters ever, Curt Simmons once said, “Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster.” When you were growing up, My saying was “Sneaking a fact past JoAnna is like sneaking the sun past a rooster”. I remember you coming to me during your early  days at UCI with tears of frustration in your eyes saying, “Dad, I just don’t have the time to learn all there is to learn in my classes. All the recommended books look so interesting.”

I explained to you that one of the most important functions of college was to help you figure the field that was your passion. Then you would have the opportunity to learn as much you wanted to about any field that had the power to hold your interest. The good news in your case, is that any interest you would like to explore is wide open because of your intellect and your powerful emotional drive.

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