You know those people who pack up and move and three (or maybe ten) years later still have sealed boxes shoved in closets or perhaps stored on the second floor of their barn? Well, if you didn’t and you’re reading this, now you do. We’ve been digging through some accumulated clutter lately and have finally ventured to unpack a few of “those” boxes. What treasures we’ve found!
The first box, bursting at the seams, was filled with my children’s elementary school writing and guaranteed a nostalgic, laughter-filled evening (and material for a different post at another time). When my husband brought in another box the next day, I dug into it eagerly. It contained a mish mash of items: a college psychology notebook, electric bills from 1994, long-expired coupons, a high school notebook, a horribly angsty poem scribbled on a torn out piece of spiral bound paper, a creased baby picture of me, and more. How had all these items ever been combined into one box? I felt like an archaeologist, sifting carefully through accumulated layers, wondering what would be revealed.
And then I found the letters. My grandmother must have given me these, but I have no recollection of receiving them and have never read them before. How they came to be in this box is a mystery to me. They are letters that my mother wrote to her parents. They remain in their envelopes, postmarked Birmingham, Alabama from 1965-1969. Some are casual and chatty, others more occasion-specific. Only one was written after I was born.
Overall, these letters were a precious, unexpected gift– a window into my mother’s daily life as a mother, a wife and a daughter and a glimpse into the times. In July of 1969, my mom was ending her week-long stay on the maternity ward and wrote to share the name of my newly-born younger sister. She confided that she had read 7 books and written notes, but was bored and didn’t have enough to do. She also detailed how my older sister had been “burning up the wires”, having figured out how to call her at the hospital, and noted that she must “driven the switchboard crazy!”At the end of another letter she shared an anecdote about my older brother, who was maybe 4 or so at the time. They’d been talking about his dark brown eyes and he’d solemnly stated, “I guess I must have drank a lot of coffee, Mommy!” Her shortest note was a heartfelt thank you to her mother, my grandmother, for an unnamed yet clearly meaningful gift that had moved her to tears. She wrote with news of neighbors and friends, asides about rinsing diapers and doing laundry, information about a raise for my dad, stories of her children, and in one letter described a large November snowfall in Birmingham that set the town into frenzies of excitement and snowman building. My intrepid older sister was apparently “thrilled to death” while my brown-eyed brother became furious every time his gloves got wet. One letter even enclosed the “profile shot you were promised” of my mother 5 1/2 months pregnant with me–and gloriously large already!
I read each letter again and again and I held them in my hands, tenderly, knowing my mother once held them in her own hands. She wrote these words, sealed these envelopes, addressed them to her parents, certainly never dreaming that I’d be their recipient so many decades later. I’m sure she never imagined that she wouldn’t be here and that these simple, chatty letters would connect us through time on a random sunny morning in 2016. Nor did she imagine that I would read them aloud to my daughters, hoping they would feel a connection to this woman they had never met–that these letters, artifacts of a long-ago time, would help them to imagine their grandmother. Finding and reading these letters was such a gift, albeit a bittersweet one.
I’ll close with my mother’s written words to her mother as they seem especially apt for this moment of connection, 51 years after this letter was written and 35 years after she died.
“I have an enormous lump in my throat – so enough for now.
So, daughter to Mother – I love you.”