Cleaning and Letters

I moved into my house well over two years ago, but despite this, I still have boxes unpacked sitting in my bedroom. This weekend, I rectified this problem. In the course of my cleaning and unpacking (finally), I found a stack of letters, some of them dating from more than a dozen years ago.

Most of them were from family – my grandmothers, my cousins, my sister, my uncle and my father. But there were a couple of other ones. I found a letter of recommendation for a scholarship that my elementary, middle, and high school music teacher (Mrs. Kniffen) wrote for me. Apparently I was a “good role model for the younger students.” Hmm. I must have been good at hiding my mischievous side.

I found a birthday card from my friend Leanne. She gave it to me at my 8th birthday party, and I remember being fascinated by it because she told me it came from Israel (where her mother grew up). The letters from my cousins were pretty hilarious. They were sprinkled with funny misspellings like “Your favorite cosine, Rainey” which really was entertaining. And I have one from my elementary school BFITWWW (Best Friend In The Whole Wide World) Vanessa that included an artistic rendering of my name in Elvish.

But the letters that really gave me pause in the midst of cleaning and unpacking boxes were from my grandmothers, who are both now eighty. Reading their letters and cards, in their distinct handwritings, and imagining their hands skimming over the paper brought me back to being a child. I remembered watching as their hands cross-stictched, picked blueberries, made tuna and macaroni salad, did arts and crafts projects with me, picked me up and gave me hugs, went for nature walks with me and plucked too-high leaves off trees for me to make bookmarks with, put bandaids on a million little scrapes and sneaked me illicit Hydrox cookies before breakfast.

Call me sentimental, but I can’t bear to throw those letters away. Imagining their hands reminds me so much of them. My grandma Jane, whose writing is characterized by minimal slant, loopy cursive, and a tendency to scrawl which makes it hard to discern letters from one another, had strong hands with long fingers and knobby knuckles, much like my own. She always wore fake nails, and when I was little they absolutely fascinated me. I would beg her to “tickle scratch my face!” until I fell asleep. Her writing looks like it belongs to a person who is sure of herself and talkative and a bit gossipy, which is accurate.

My grandma Beverly’s writing is strongly slanted to the right with very pronounced crosses on her “t’s” and slender loops on all her cursive letters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her print anything, and that includes lists of chores for me to do when I visit. I have always loved her writing – it reminds me of letters that you see reprinted in history books, that spidery, delicate, deliberate script. When I was a child, she had graceful hands with long fingers and no knobby knuckles. She never, ever painted her nails. Even now that she is old and ill, her hands are still beautifully shaped. They look like a pianist’s hands, but she never learned how to play.

Their letters are full of daily news (Grandpa is doing very well, I got everything on my list of chores done, write me back with all your chit-chat if you please) but the real reason that I can’t throw them away is because I know when both of these women are gone from my life, I will be able to look at their writing and envision their hands writing me letters, telling me from the time I was old enough to write back to them that I was important and loved.

And honestly, that’s half the fun in receiving a letter – knowing that somebody cares about you enough to send you something other than a bill.

Love, peace, and letter-writing-even-though-it’s-old-fashioned,

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