Small Beginnings (A Dedication to my Boppa)

personal essay

The first thing I ever made on a typewriter was for my Boppa. He had just been diagnosed with cancer — the second time in the last year or so — and was to begin chemotherapy not long after. He was 87 at the time and had only recently shown signs of aging: Until a few years ago, both of my grandparents have always approached the world like active 40-year-olds, which has only exaggerated my idea of them as a second set of parents. 

The process of beginning to accept their mortality as their old age finally begins to show — especially for my Boppa — is upsetting. It's a process that I don't want to see through.

Despite his recent physical illnesses, my Boppa's mind remains brilliant, witty, and creative. I'm closest to him in the way we both love words — an aptitude of his that shows up in the limericks he writes for big occasions. He started writing these when my aunt got married, and has since performed them for graduations, birthdays, and everything in between. When I was gifted his father's 1931 Remington Noiseless just over a year ago, it came with this single verse rolled into the platen that he had written to explain the purpose of the gift:

flora & phrase

When I was told of his latest diagnosis, I turned to that typewriter, which had been sitting unused on a shelf for nine months. And I used it to write a limerick about him: everything I know of him. I typed it onto the end pages I ripped out of a book because I didn't have any other paper lying around, then glued on an old pressed flower because the empty space at the bottom of the page looked odd. 

flora & phraseflora & phrase

And I liked how it looked. I started trying it out with my own poems, and with those of my friends. I wondered how they could be made sturdier, and bought thin birch wood that I could cut to the size of the pages with nothing but a box cutter. I paged through my favorite poetry books and started typing up the poems that pulled at me most. I sold them to my friends. I started selling them to strangers, too.

That's what this whole thing, flora & phrase, is: a somewhat accidental extension of that limerick, which I wrote to honor a wonderful man who is not yet gone, but who I somehow already miss. 

When I spend hours creating with the typewriter on my lap, I think of my Boppa when he was a little boy — how he must have heard the same typewriter's loud clacks (the Remington Noiseless is in fact anything but) from his father's study. I think of all the things I love best about him, about all the words he has arranged in rhythm and rhyme just for me. 

I think of trying to make sense of a world without him, later — soon, maybe. And I am comforted by these things that I am making. In a way, I feel like they are his, too. 

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