The first letter I ever wrote (and mailed) was two lines of pencil scrawls on one of those gray papers with red and blue lines on it, the kind for children just learning to write. I think it consisted of, “Hi. How are you? I am fine. Love you, bye,” and I was the proudest child ever as I walked to our mailbox and reverently placed the stamped envelope inside.
That letter was to my great-uncle, and my six-year-old self was utterly delighted at the correspondence it began — correspondence that lasted through high school, college, and babies. Uncle Jack taught me so much about letter-writing and communication in general. Each blue-inked, block-printed line of his was precious to me. “A letter is a gift,” he wrote, and so they were.
So, too, were the letters from my grandmothers, especially when I was a college student far from home (I lived within two hours of both of them and was fortunate enough to see them regularly before that point in my life). They both had spidery, flowing script, somehow similar and yet each one distinct.
I always wrote back — not as often as I should have, in some cases — and I hoarded these letters like treasure throughout my life. I still have quite a few of them tucked away in corners and crannies. Uncle Jack’s even have the ever-fainter scent of his tobacco lingering upon them.
My Nana passed away in 2008; Uncle Jack followed in 2010, and Grandma left us in 2014. All of my letter writing suddenly had no place to go. How I miss those exchanges, hearing the written lines in their aged voices, rich with love!
After Grandma died, my grandfather — one of the most amazing men on this planet — realized it was time to move into a nursing home (her death robbed him of strength he’d willed into being, for her sake, as she battled through her final while earthside). My mom visits him multiple times a week, and other family also goes as often as they can, so he isn’t lacking for company.
I started writing to Granddaddy when he went into the nursing home, in case he was lonely and just because I missed him. I still write him twice a week. He can’t write back to me, because his 94-year-old hands shake far too much to allow him to hold a pen. My mailbox has bills and catalogs now, not letters. It’s not my turn, you see.
I write to him of the mundane, everyday things that we might share face-to-face if I were there or he were here. I tell him about the kids’ latest escapades, the weather, all of the colorful bits and pieces I can think of. It’s a one-way conversation…but then again, it isn’t. Mom says he always grins from ear to ear reading my letters, and that is response enough for me.
It occurred to me the other day that someday (hopefully far, far into the future), the letter I send will be the last one. I won’t know, as that letter flows from the pen in my hand, that those will be the last lines I will weave for him — to him — on paper because he will be in the Summerlands before the next.
One of my letters will be the last letter he ever reads. It will be sacred later, the last letter, and it will be warm and full of life and so much love, like always.
I wonder who will write mine.
(I hope s/he is a rambly grandchild or great-grandchild who has a gift for storytelling and a huge soft spot for their faded ginger Mimi.)