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`Look what your dad sent!'

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BY now my secretary has learned to recognize my father's peculiar handwriting. All she has ever seen is the outside of mailing envelopes. But that's all it has taken. In the center of the envelopes appears my name and business address. No doubt it was written while he was accomplishing at least one other task. He might have been listening to Bartok on his Walkman. Or conversing with a business associate on the telephone using a headset like those switchboard operators wear. In the upper left-hand corner is his cryptic return address -- all abbreviations and numbers -- written using the fewest possible letters (all consonants). The envelopes would be addressed with whatever writing instrument was readily available. Black crayon-like packing markers were as common as blue, black, or red ball point or felt-tipped pens.

If the penmanship did not tell her the origin of the package, the packing material itself would. Large brown mailing envelopes are the most common. Some -- their previous destinations marked out and their metered postage stripped off -- already have traveled many miles courtesy of the US Postal Service. Padded book mailers finished a close second, followed by cardboard boxes. Rumpled, torn, and held together with baling twine and masking tape, these packages arrive at odd intervals.

``Look what your dad sent you today,'' my secretary said as she dumped a large pile of newspaper clippings on my desk. Dad has a three-newspaper-a-day habit. The present assortment would have been accumulated over the last two months (the time elapsed since my last shipment of clippings). In my mind's eye, I could see him sitting in his recliner in the family room, legs covered with a quilt, peering over his reading glasses and armed with his Clip-It.

This particular crop of clippings was typical. There was an article from the Wednesday food section on the nutritional value of organically-grown food. I remembered when he taught me how to select and polish our homegrown produce for the country fair. ``The key thing,'' he said, ``is to choose the vegetables which will be at their peak of ripeness in three days when the judge will inspect them.'' They were entered in my name, and that year we won three blue ribbons and one red.

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