Not even stopping to remove my coat, I rush into the living room and sink into a chair near the wide picture window. Removing the first letter from its envelope, I start to read hungrily, like a starving pauper. I open the next envelope, then another. I smile. I cry. Once or twice I stop to wipe my eyes. But immediately I start reading again, unable to squelch this impulse to imbibe every drop of what these letters hold. I don't stop reading until I have read every last word.
A few minutes earlier I had arrived home from work and was surprised to discover in my mailbox a manila envelope from Cleveland, from my Aunt Nancy. When I tore it open, out fell approximately twenty yellowed envelopes. A note in Nancy’s neat handwriting was attached on top.
“Martha, your cousin Carol found these when she was helping me clean out my attic. When I first moved to Cleveland, your mother and I used to exchange letters quite often. Jean wrote these between 1949 and ’53. I wonder if you would be interested in them? I put them in order for you. Love, Aunt Nancy.”
When I was six years old, my mother died. It was as if she walked out the door, locking it behind her, taking with her the key. Now, the door locked so long ago appears to have cracked open. My mother has reentered the room.
“Now the fun begins.” starts the first line of the earliest letter, written in 1949, about a week after I turned one year old. It appears to be a thank you letter to Nancy for a birthday gift. The letter goes on to say that I have just awoken from a nap and that Mother probably won’t be able to continue writing. She implies that I am a bit of a handful.
Me! The responsible oldest child and only daughter? It strikes me that these letters not only paint a portrait of my mother but also of me, the little girl who likely spent more time with her mother than anyone else did in the years right before she died. The little girl who has never heard herself described in her mother’s voice. That little girl is the central figure in every letter, at least until her brother is born.
Martha, daughter of Jean