The Colonel’s Plan – Worn Gears

July 18, 2018

Dear Daddy –

I didn’t write to you last week, and I just realized I’ve skipped sharing these letters on my website for two weeks. It’s been a busy and crazy time. 

Mother, Susan and Charles are in North Carolina right now. Mother wanted to see your tombstone, which took quite a few months after your funeral to be placed. Apparently the man who supplied marble to the local tombstone maker was killed in an accident. (Is there a word for a person who makes tombstones? Like farrier or cobbler?) And then the usual slow pace of life in Yancey County probably also kept the gears from turning too fast. Might be for the best. Gears that turn too fast heat up and can be damaged. I think something like that has been happening to my gears lately. 

Anyway, the stone is in place, and Mother was very happy to see it, according to sporadic text messages from Susan. There’s still no cell phone reception at the Chocolate House, so she has to wait until she’s off the mountain and off the Cattail Creek Road to send messages to the outside. Mother actually asked me if it was time to put a phone in the Chocolate House after 62 years. I agreed it might be, but she only asked seven days before they were leaving. I don’t think a crew could be sent out to run that line through all that wild terrain and be done inside seven days. 

Mother’s cousin Fred had called a week or so ago, not realizing she was coming to town and just wanting to talk about you, apparently. Fred, like you, was a man from the mountains whose life was all about education and learning. He wound up as President of Elon College. He admired you a great deal. When he found out Mother was coming, he set up an impromptu Briggs reunion, gathering as many of the grandchildren of my namesake, Howell Briggs, as he could get together. I think that’s happening Friday. I’m glad Mother is getting out and seeing people. She stays in the house too much. 

The last task in the green bathroom–finishing cutting the countertop for the second sink–should be done today. I’ve got a couple more electrical pieces to do, but they can wait until Gary gets the water running. Renee may then dive in, paint it and have it 100% done before we get the blue bathroom painted. That one had to wait because we had to start using it. 

After the green bathroom will come the pink one, because we’re on deadline to get that plumbing done. The pink one will be the one that looks exactly like you planned it, I think, with tile all the way around the room, and pink mosaic tile on the floor—a true retro bathroom. I’ll probably only do one wall, the wall with plumbing, in tile before I call the plumber. 

Once the bathrooms are all done, it will be time to stop and take stock. We’ll list all the rooms left to be done and what needs doing. And we’ll clean up the basement, then the garage, then the living room. We have got to make sense of all the tools and supplies you left us. Right now they’re scattered to the four winds, because there was no one space big enough to hold them all. We have the space now. We just need to get organized. 

Dawson just texted. He’s very excited about getting your gun collection cleaned, placed in locked display cases, and put out with placards that tell their history. I had thought that was a good idea, too. I won’t dampen his enthusiasm by telling him that the entrance hall isn’t going to be ready for that kind of displays any time soon. 

The last few weeks have really drained my energy. I won’t go into family details in a letter that I intend to share publicly. I’ll just say that our family has a much higher distribution of anxiety disorders than I think the average family does, and leave it at that. I think all that anxiety, which can produce hostility, explains a lot about how you reacted over the years, and about what did and did not get done in this house and in your life. 

The emotional static takes its toll. When I wake up in the mornings, I don’t want to get out of bed. I’m not excited to go to work. I’m not excited to start work on the house, if that’s where I am. I’m not excited to do this writing, or write fiction, or write the essays I’ve started publishing about life lessons from science fiction. I guess I’m fighting stress and situational depression. I’m coping, and, yes, I’ve talked to a medical professional about it. She said, “Sounds like you’re coping as best you can.”

But coping isn’t being happy, and I’m not sure what to do about that right now. 

Work has not made things easier. I’ve been at the Fire Department for 21 years, with an eight-month detour into private industry back in 2000 and 2001. When I started there, Jim Heller, the Fire Chief, asked me to help him accomplish three things: he wanted a new automated records system, he wanted mobile data computers on his apparatus, and he wanted our computer-assisted dispatch system to recommend the closest resources based on the actual locations of the vehicles, not the location of their home station. 

I wound up writing him a new records system in 1999, and then recommending the purchase of a new system to be installed two years after he retired. I didn’t even get to manage the implementation of that new system, because Jim had retired and the new leadership didn’t know my skill set. But I did also help the County select the platform on which we would run those mobile data computers. Those were turned on six years after Jim retired. 

The AVL Dispatch, the third item, took a lot longer. A lot longer. We turned it on sixteen days ago. It’s the last thing I promised Jim I would deliver, and I finally delivered it. But it was not an easy delivery. Nobody likes change.  

Worst, I can’t tell Jim that I finally kept my promise. Well, I can tell him. I just doubt he’ll understand me. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago. I found out about his diagnosis two days after I had taken you to the hospital for the evaluation that resulted in the same diagnosis for you. It was a crushing blow. Like you, he was an engineer, and, like you, he looked out for me and changed the direction of my life. Like you, he was one of the smartest people I ever knew. And you both were hit with the same cruel disease that took away your greatest assets. Jim is still alive, but he doesn’t talk anymore. So I don’t know what he would understand if I went to tell him. 

It’s a shame when the people who would be happiest about the work you’re doing aren’t able to tell you that they’re happy. But I hope that, somehow, he’s happy that I finished the job he gave me, and I hope you’re happy that I’m finishing the job you left me. 

That’s what keeps me going, honestly. 



(The AVL Dispatch System was turned off 14 days after this writing. Sorry, Jim.) 

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