Last week I was in the computer room at home when I noticed a thick envelope on my mom's desk, with a copy of a handwritten letter sticking out.
The letter was written in my dad's handwriting.
Most of you know Dad died in 2013.
Taking a breath, I opened the letter and was transported back in time as I read Dad's neat, unique scribbles across the page.
The letters in the envelope were in response to a woman in Michigan whose maiden name was Zavada. She had contacted my now-deceased aunt to find out more about the Streator Zavadas for possible inclusion in a family tree, and my aunt passed her on to my dad.
The current envelope I read from was from the same Michigan woman, now a 78-year-old widow, who discovered the letters in the back of a desk and took the chance of sending them to see if anyone was still around.
In the original letter, Dad included a photo of his birth family, outlining how his father John had married "a girl named Veronica," and named all of his brothers, sisters and spouses and how many kids each of them had.
He also included a photo of our family, circa December 1990. He pointed out his "lovely wife, Janet" and each of us kids. Yours truly was 18 and a freshman in college at the time.
Some parts of the letter were clearly Dad. Like how he went into detail about the current weather pattern in Central Illinois. Dad often kept a journal of weather data throughout his life. I don't know why, other than it was a throwback to the job he was assigned in the U.S. Army in Germany.
What struck me most was how shades of Dad's personality I had never glimpsed shone through his choice of words. Dad was a fairly simple man and his vocabulary matched his personality. He didn't put on any airs for anyone. So it was intriguing to me to see his sentence structure and a few "complicated" words (for him, anyway) peppered in the letter.
Finding this proverbial message in a bottle is a treasure for anyone whose loved one is gone, and one whose traces of their personality have since been boxed up and stored away — or worse — thrown away.
People often talk about how they get "messages" from deceased loved ones. Sometimes they feel them nearby, or they will hear a song that reminds them of the one passed on, or sometimes they will even dream of them and feel them as near as when they walked the Earth.
Dad, in his ever quiet personality as much in death as in life, doesn't do any of that very often, at least not at one's beck and call.
So for that letter to pop out of the envelope on Mom's desk last week was a real treat.
For a golden moment, his hand, through the magic of writing, reached through the veil and took hold of mine once again.
- SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.