In Focus: A daughter's tribute to her ink-stained father

By Eva Day WulffSpecial to the Herald

My father, Terence L. Day, was a farm reporter for the Tri-City Herald when I was born in Kennewick in 1967. My early memories are from Ritchie Court, where we lived in Richland.

I remember going to work with him when I was 4 or 5, looking through a window at the enormous pressroom, though the most thrilling part was the cold glass bottle of soda he bought me out of a machine that day. Little did I know that my life would parallel his in many ways.

When my father worked for the Tri-City Herald, he took his own photos for his stories. We had a dark room in our house, but it was off-limits to us kids. I pestered him to let me watch while he developed photos until finally he relented. I was enthralled with the containers of solution and the way a picture emerged as he dipped the paper and hung it on a line.

In 1972, my father accepted a job as a newswriter for the Department of Agriculture at Washington State University and we moved to Pullman. Although his job changed in many ways, he still interviewed farmers and wrote articles about the university's agricultural research.

My father had a curiosity about life and people, and the gift for conversation that must be essential for a newsman. He spent decades interviewing farmers, crisscrossing the state with his camera bag in hand.

Once, he took me on assignment when I was about 12 years old. I loved going on car rides with my father. I loved the sense of adventure, the feeling of going somewhere. While he conducted his interview outside in a field, the farmer's wife showed me how to press flowers in a book between two sheets of wax paper.

Whenever our family traveled by car, my father would quiz us about what crops we saw growing in the fields we passed. I did not excel at it, and only recognized the most obvious ones like wheat, mustard or onions -- which you could smell long before you saw them.

We visited many elderly distant relatives, and my father would get them talking about their past, telling the stories of our family history. Even as a youngster, I loved listening to those stories.

In 1978, my father took a job in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with the International Lifestock Organization. He spent three months chronicling the farming advances being made at that time. I was mad at him for not taking us with him, but he did not think it was safe, and he went alone.

When he returned at the end of the summer, he showed us slides of Ethiopia and Kenya that have stayed with me to this day, though I've never seen them again. My love of Africa was born.

Though my father didn't work as a newspaper reporter again, I believe he never lost his love for it. When I was in high school, he wrote a column in his spare time for the Daily News in Pullman. I was embarrassed when our family became the subject of his columns, and was mortified when I'd find my name had made its way into print. Even worse was when my U.S. History teacher would bring up the topic of one of my dad's columns in class. I would shrink into my chair and wish I could disappear.

From the time I was in sixth- or seventh-grade and started thinking about career choices, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories and poetry for fun. To his credit, my father always showed interest in what I was writing, even though the themes a 10-year-old girl committed to paper could hardly have been interesting.

He would take me to his office in the evenings so I could work on my latest project. I learned about editing from him. He would mark up my copy and then I would set upon revising.

But my father knew the struggle of trying to raise a family on a writer's salary. When I went to WSU and declared myself an English major, I insisted I was going to write books. My father replied with practicality, "OK, but how are you going to make a living?"

I was defiant -- certain I would be the exception -- the writer who would make it. Skirting the issue of supporting myself, I went into the Peace Corps immediately after graduation. I remembered the beautiful photos my father had taken in Ethiopia, and I, too, wanted to travel. I wanted to have experiences I could write about -- to be a female Ernest Hemingway.

In June 1989, I flew to Niger, West Africa, where I would begin training as a community health educator. It would not be my last trip to Africa.

In 1995, I became a World Teach volunteer, teaching English in rural Namibia. My early memories of my father's photos were mesmerizing. This time, in preparation for my departure, I purchased a used SLR, and my father gave me a few brief lessons in how to use it. Over the next two years, I would take nearly a thousand photos.

In my teen and early adult years, I was convinced that my father and I had nothing in common. I spent 17 years living outside of Washington state, being fiercely independent.

But in 2006, I moved back to be closer to family once again. As I reflect this Father's Day, I realize that of his six children, I am the most like him.

I inherited many things from my father -- my love of swimming in open water, paddling through whitewater, gardening, hearing old people tell their stories, and yes, my love for writing.

I am who I am today because of the example he set for me and because of the encouragement he readily gave. I realize now that my father is an amazing man, and I am proud of him. I am proud to be his daughter -- the daughter of a newsman.

w Eva Day Wulff works as a speech language pathologist for the Federal Way Public Schools. She is currently working on a book of nonfiction, Rescuing Pongo. Her father, Terence L. Day, retired from WSU in 2004, but continues to freelance as a writer and photographer. He is currently working on a book about family history.