Friday, May 25, 2007

Detritus, not Detrius

One of the final lessons my father gave me, when I saw him for what would be the last time and he was in a hospital bed, was that the word detritus is not pronounced det-tri-us. The emphasis is on the first syllable, which is a long e, as in weed, not a short e, as in eh, whatever. The second syllable is try, as in attempt, not tree as in the oaks and pines. And there's a t at the last syllable. De'-tri-tus. It annoyed him that I never pronounced it correctly, and my father annoyed was quite imposing, even when flat on his bed and at death's door.

It's a good thing that I now pronounce the word correctly, because this morning I have, once again, been dealing with the detritus of my father's life. I have before me just one of the credit card slips he saved: a gas purchase at Hong Ki Han's Arco station in Lomita, CA. He got 10.7 gallons, for which he paid $6.30.

Following Fussy's example, I have been throwing this stuff out. She is shredding her father's papers, but mine has been dead well over ten years, so I don't think there's a danger of identity theft. Is there? I've tried to be firm and analytic about what to save. But I have to save some of it, because I am, after all, my father's daughter.

So I've saved his Cabrillo Beach Museum docent's patch, because it reminds me of his frequent attempts to do the dance of the whales. I saved some index cards on which he wrote things. My father was an inveterate writer of notes and he was extemely frugal with paper. Some of the index cards have been cut in half, because then you get two for one. I've thrown the ones on which he wrote shopping lists and designed castings or created on paper one of his many bricalages out, but there's a couple where I think he may have been writing a poem. I saved the letters he wrote to my mom before I was born, but I didn't read them because she once told me not to and I am, as ever, a dutiful daughter.

This is what I'm doing today, slowly but surely winnowing down the detritus of my life....


  1. There's nothing more poignant than a handwritten piece by someone now gone. My grandmother's recipe cards, written in her iconic hand have great effect on me. I get a lump in my throat when making beef stew or blueberry cake.
    Good luck winnowing it down into a few small parts that represent the man. Detritus thinning is a good, cathartic exercise.
    It took me several years to destroy the love letters that my first love sent me and I dumped them all right before I married My Better Half. Now I wish I'd kept them. You know, because a person's twenty only once and love letters are the domain of the young and the idealistic. I haven't received one since.

  2. The other genre that I saved from today's box was letters written by me. I'm looking to read at LA Angst, and I came across some doozies of written bershon.

  3. Sending you blessings and love as you sort through things. May you be surrounded by happy nostalgia, and declutter large amounts of DEEtrytus.


    Decluttering is good!

    Move back east so we can play!

  5. i think i love your writing, and i won't forget the t now...

  6. I just used the word DEE TREE US talking to a coworker and she looked at me as if I'd just made up a word. So we looked it up, and sure enough, I had. So I googled for it thinking surely there's an explanation for why I used it wrongly and your blog came up. Wow what a poignant tale! I can only wonder at the conflict of emotion I'll feel the first time I have to do such detritus cleaning!

  7. Bernard....don't know if you'll get this, but thanks for the comment. Just the other day, I realized with a start that I couldn't remember which pronunciation was the correct one. Clearly, I still need my father....

  8. Anonymous4:34 AM

    My spouse mispronounces "de tree us". It's an inheritance from parents and grandparents. I will attempt to fix it. Sadly, the Oxford English Dictionary or some other "creditable" institution will ultimately declare it to be proper pronunciation and spelling by virtue of popular usage.


So--whaddaya think?