Sunday, June 26, 2016


Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

John O'Donohue*

I attended a home going, celebration of life, memorial service, funeral yesterday. It matters not what a final farewell is called - it's still saying goodbye to someone you love. A sea of 300 people, most dressed in white (per family wishes) packed a church built to hold a crowd, but still bulged at the seams. Along with the weeping there was singing, praising, hugging, praying, and remembering.

I watched as the deceased's brother walked stoically in front of the gold draped casket. As the priest, it fell to him to dig deep to find the strength to say the words that would comfort the mourners. Her mother and twin sister needed the help of others to get to their seats. That's when I began to cry. I felt their pain. I felt my own.

I've been in their shoes. I've had to make that long slow walk with wobbly knees. I've endured the heartache. I understand how the loss of a loved one is about as individual a pain as anyone can ever feel, and a communal emotion known to all of us since Adam and Eve buried Abel.

It would seem that people of faith - any faith - would have it easy. We believe our loved one is "in a better place." We trust our loved one is the arms of the Divine. We pray that our loved one rests in peace. Yet no matter how much or how little faith one has, how many prayers are offered,  how many casseroles shared, the mourner's journey is one each of us must make in our own time and own way. I don't think there is a word to describe moving through the gut-wrenching brokenness, to somehow living through endless days and nights, to somehow remembering how to breathe again, to somehow seeing calendar years pass by. Hard doesn't come close.

The Japanese have a tradition/philosophy of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and powdered metals, such as gold or silver. In this way "Kintsugi art" transforms the broken piece into something beautiful. Resurrects it into a new, perhaps stronger, life. Perhaps this is what the mourner's path is all about - resurrection. Not just for the person who died. But for the ones left behind who must learn how to live without that person. If ordinary pieces of Oriental china can be "re-purposed" by making cracks and scars visible, it follows (doesn't it?) that grief can do the same thing for the mourner.  By traveling through grief's desert, those who mourn will, even if they don't think it can possible happen, one day bloom again. Is that why Jesus said "blessed are those who mourn"? Because He knew that their unbearable loss would one day be turned into undeniable strength?

Today I met with a family who lost their son in 2014. We talked about making bears from their son's clothes. Eighteen months after his death, they still held on to the shirts, as if holding on to their son. The thought of cutting up his clothes brought them heartache. My job is to turn their pieces of cloth into tangible, huggable bears.

_ _ _ _ 

Dear people who have lost someone they love,

I've been where you are. 
I've felt the sadness, cried the tears. 
I've had to remind myself to breathe. 
I've carried the thousand pound weight of grief on my shoulders for days, weeks, years. 
I've come out the other side. Shaken yet steadfast. Rent yet resilient. 
I'm no authority on the subject. I'm not saying it will be easy. I'm not saying you won't always miss your beloved, but I promise the day will come when you will:
Stop crying.
Want to see the sun again, or hear the ocean.
Find a reason to smile.
Remember your beloved in life, rather than death.
Forgive your beloved* for leaving.
Hear your beloved's favorite song in a grocery store and not run out leaving a basketful of cookies, chips and ice cream.
Want to know something and ask Google instead of calling your beloved.
Stop wearing your beloved's sweater and hang it in the back of the closet.
Use your mother's china/sterling silver/sewing machine. 
Make your beloved's favorite meal again.
Find yourself wanting to wear a brightly colored dress instead of black yoga pants and ratty T-shirts.
See lovers holding hands, making goo goo eyes at each other and not want to throw up.
Return to the places you and your beloved once frequented.
Gain/lose the grief weight.
Give up your stock in Kleenex, Tums and/or Visine.
Take a walk instead of a Valium.
Try something new.
Paint your walls a sunny shade of yellow.
Buy yourself some flowers.
Go on a date.
Take a trip by yourself,
Let go of what might have been to embrace what is.
Volunteer to help others.
Feel grateful to be alive.

Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all,
Merry ME

*Substitute any name for beloved
*From a beautiful blessing by John O'Donohue. Please read the whole thing here

Thursday, June 16, 2016


"Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body."
Martha Graham

June 16, 2016

Dear Slightly Overweight Girl,

Let's be honest your size and shape are not that of the ordinary ballerina. Ashamedly that's what first caught my eye. In a group of small girls, your body type singled you out. But here's the thing, I found it impossible to take my eyes off you.  Not because of your size - that faded away after the first arabesque. What drew me in was your grace. Your smile. Your obvious love of what you were doing. 

You're being "you" in a field of "others" reminded me of the Hot Dog Princess I saw on FB last week. Invited to her dance class's princess party, this independent thinker, stepped into a room full of  satin and lace clad Elsas and Annas, wearing a hot dog costume. An article in* said "Hot Dog Princess has become a symbol of hope for anyone hiding behind a mask of conformity."

I don't think your purpose for dancing was to stand out. I'm guessing your unadulterated motive was to dance. Your size had nothing to do with it. And that showed in every step you took. 

I wonder if you've already heard the naysayers. You're not thin enough. You have to have long legs. Remember this, they said the same things to Misty Copeland and look where she is now. Maybe being a ballerina is not your lifetime goal. That's ok. What you are developing now is probably more important than jetes and pas de deux's. You've learned discipline, poise, grace. You've stepped onto a stage where blending in is often more important than standing out and discovered the joy that comes from following your heart and being true to yourself. 

I don't know you. I may never see you again. Yet I am so proud of you. May all your dreams come true. May you continue to dance to the music of your own heart. 

Delighted in the beauty of you,

Merry Me

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


24 March 1922

Dear Mother Combs,
(Half-way down page 2)
We have been very happy, too, both of us like to stay at home and play with the baby.
Honestly, without prejudice, I will say that Patricia Combs Aldrich is the sweetest and best baby I ever saw. We both love her almost too much. She is growing fast and is getting smarter every day.
Best of love to all,

June 15, 2016

Dear Mom,
You sure have been on my mind a lot lately. John thinks Maizey has been waking up in the middle of the night because she sees a ghost. We always kidded that it was Mick Shrock up there. Jack and I are pretty sure there are spirits downstairs - usually wandering down the hall. I wish I knew if for sure if you and or Dad were hanging around. And if so, why? Is that what souls do?

Linda and I went up to Georgia in April to go through Aldrich family memorabilia. Perhaps if spirits are real, you went with us. We had such a good time. There was lots of laughing. Lots of story telling. Some crying and missing people who meant so much to us. Lots of speculating about relationships. Perhaps, for me, the best part of the whole trip was the box of letters I brought home. Reading them is like peeking through a window in time, getting a glimpse of the young Grammy and Grampy and Great Grammy and Great Grampy, when their futures were still dreamy. I feel sad that I wasn't able to know them as an adult. My kid's eye view was pretty narrow.

Linda is quite excited about getting all the Aldrich genealogy put into a computer. Lately I've been researching Aunt Letty's first marriage. I have the faintest memory of you wearing a royal blue dress. In a letter to his father, your Dad describes the wedding as quite an affair.

I haven't made too many quilts lately. My creative projects have slowed to a snail's pace. Mostly I make bears from the clothes of people who have died. I call them memory bears. Linda made each of the sisters one from Dad's well worn Haband shirts.  I made quilts for all of us from your shirts. I found the cutting wasn't so hard, but the sewing together was. Not the sewing per se, but the act of making something new from something old. I didn't want to let go of the old. I wanted you sitting on the stool watching TV than cutting up your clothes. That said, having the quilt to curl up under is very comforting.

That's the way the bears are. In making them, I've found that I can almost feel the person, I wonder if part of the soul resides in something so mundane as a shirt that's been washed and worn a million times. Recently a woman asked me to make 5 bears for her from her mother's clothes. It's only been a few months since her mother passed away. I could feel her raw emotions in her words. I always ask about the person because I want to tap into that spirit thing if it's there. I've actually done it. When this lady told me her mother was a quilter and she was going to learn to quilt so she could finish the projects her mom had started, I told her about how you would sneak up behind me in the dining room when I was sewing away on a quilt. Or how you'd stand over me when I was on the floor arranging squares. Aphasia took your voice, but not your eye for beauty or creativity. I'm not sure I ever told you how much I loved those times together. Remember the summer you taught me how to sew? What a gift you gave me without even realizing it. You probably didn't give it a second thought. That's what mother's did back then. Do you remember ironing on hot summer afternoons? It looked like a chore to me. I've found ironing can be very zen like. Maybe that's something else you knew that would take years for me to learn.

A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I knew how hospitals take care of a body after the person has died. With unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks, I admitted I didn't. I remember everything about the day you left us. Oh how I wish we'd known what was happening. I wish someone had told us so you could have died peacefully right here at home. I wish that we hadn't talked Dad into leaving the hospital. With good intentions we tried to spare him a long death vigil. I wish I'd known then how sacred this period of time can be. I wish I'd known then how touchingly beautiful the act of washing a person's body after death can be. I wish I'd known then to sit quietly with you, that your heart had stopped beating but your maybe your spirit continued to hover in the room. And, in answer to my friend's question, I wish I'd known then how a hospital cares for a body.  I am so sorry I left you. Yeh, I thought it was important to get home to dad. And probably I needed to runaway as fast as I could to the place I've always gone when I needed my mom most, under the covers. Oprah says "when you know better you do better." I knew better and did better when Daddy passed away.

Memories keep you close, still it's hard to be a girl without her mom.
Missing you,
Merry ME

Thursday, June 9, 2016


At 14 the girl had gone from being called "toothpick" to being whistled at in a two piece bathing suit. It was the mid-sixty's so the suit, while showing off some boob and curves, would be called modest by today's standards. The girl kind of liked the attention. At 14 the girl knew a little bit about making out, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. All three were usually done on a double date  (if you can call boys driving one car and girls driving another, parking next to each other, then pairing up,  a date) at the drive-in movie.  At 14 the girl knew the basics of sex, but had never seen or experienced an erect penis or ejaculate. She had never heard of oral sex, anal sex, kinky sex. To say she was naive would be an understatement. To say her naivety mixed with her blossoming sexuality was a dangerous combination was a certainty. At 14 the girl walked a tight rope between being a "good girl" and following other girls who pushed the limits of "good" to frightening conclusions. The girl made straight A's. She also lied to her parents about where she was going and how she was getting there. She lied about who she would be with. Once out the door, the girl never gave her lies a second thought.

Hitchhiking one night, for no other reason than to see if she and her friend could catch a ride (to nowhere?) a policeman stopped. "Do we look like the kind of girls who would run away from home?" they asked the cop who was seriously considering calling their parents. Holy crap! How would she have explained that? Or the time they spent the weekend at the beach when their parents thought they were at church camp? The stuff parents' nightmares are made of.

One Saturday night, the pair planned to go to a dance at the beach. They assured their parents they had rides both ways and would be home by midnight. The perfect plan. Once on the dance floor they shimmied and gyrated.  As the evening wore on the girl realized a) the clock was ticking closer to midnight b) no Prince Charming had presented himself to drive the girls the 10 miles back home and c) this was beginning to feel like a problem. Good girls, especially good girls who tell lies, often worry about getting caught. Eventually an older guy presented himself. He had a car and didn't mind giving the girls a lift. They jumped in and didn't blink an eye when the guy stopped at a 711 to pick up some beer. The extra guys that hopped in the car did give them pause.

The ride, as you might expect, turned scary before the first bottle of beer was opened. One girl sat in the front seat sandwiched between two ... let's call them what they were ... men. The other squooshed between three. The men hooted and hollered, the girls remained silent. We've got to stop at a party said the driver, pulling off the main road between the beach and Jacksonville onto a barely visible dirt path through the woods. The nightmare began. Where the car stopped could be the scene from any scary movie where you scream at the screen, "don't go in there." Staying in the car wasn't an option. There were other people there, both men and women, none of them teenagers. And liquor. Maybe drugs, tho' they weren't a big deal back then. Crying to go home got one girl slapped to the ground. The other can't remember much more than the final ride home. 2 girls 5 guys. 2 heads forced down on one huge penis after another. The taste of ejaculate. Choking. Spitting. Swallowing. Crying. The girl can't remember how long it took to get home. Long enough for any semblance of naiveté to be gone.  The girls were let out of the car down the street where from where they promised to spend the night. They snuck into a downstairs porch. Somehow they fell asleep. The next morning, the girls opened their eyes and looked at each other. They laughed. They never spoke of that night again.

At 14 the girl learned what it means to be violated. Because she had lied, she felt she had no recourse. She could not tell her parents. Besides what could she have said. No names were shared, only semen and beer drinking, story-telling innocence. Fifty years later the girl still wonders if what happened to her that night was rape? She still carries a bit of shame for "bringing it on herself.

_ _ _ _

June 9

Dear Mr. Turner,
There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said and splashed across the Internet. Still I'd like to add my two cents to the growing hue and cry.

It's been said that you are not a rapist. You may be a star athlete and a great student. You are also, by the very definition of the word, a rapist.

So what if you were drinking and made a bad decision? People under the influence of alcohol make dumb, stupid, bad decisions all the time. Some end up embarrassed or with a headache. Some plow into other cars and kill innocent people. They go to jail for their actions.

Should your victim have been so drunk she couldn't understand what you had in mind? Probably not. That in no way, however, relieves you of culpability. FYI if a woman is too drunk to say yes, she's saying no. Please DO NOT ever use the word victim for you and her in the same sentence.

This notoriety might cause you to think your life is over. You're right. That's what happens when people make bad decisions. I dare say your drunken actions bad decisions have changed the lives of your victim, her family, the men who saved her, your family, the judge, Stanford University and women all over the world. I'd like to think the life of your defense attorney had been changed also, but, even if he was doing his job, I put him in the slum bag category so I don't care too much about him. Here's what I'm wondering, Mr. Turner, what do you say when you look at your mother? Do you have a sister? a female cousin? and aunt? How do you face them knowing that you've violated another woman in the most despicable of ways?

Time is going to pass. This news story will fade away. Years will go by. Perhaps you'll find a woman to love. Maybe she'll marry you in spite of your poor decision making abilities. Maybe you'll be a father someday. Maybe a little girl will call you Daddy. Maybe she'll look to you for protection. Here's what I really want to know, Mr. Turner. What if someone does to your daughter what you've done to your victim? I daresay you'll be calling for more than 6 months prison time. Is that when you'll  apologize for your part in making a culture of rape okay for a certain elite set of men?

Shame on you, Mr. Turner. Shame on your father. Shame on your lawyer. Shame on Judge Persky.
Each of you may one day be able to put all this notoriety behind you. Rest assured, no matter what transpires in her life from this day forward, she will never forget.
Merry ME

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


June 4, 1921
Southern Hotel
Baltimore, MD.

Dearest, dearest family --

How I wish you could have been here yesterday to see me married to the dearest man in the world! I thought of you all a thousand times and it was the only thing which marred an otherwise perfect day.

The service was read more impressively than I ever heard it before and we both realized very well just what we were doing but neither of us - I know I didn't - had a qualm. I was never more serene and calm and happy in my life!!

Love, hugs and kisses to you all, Gertrude

_ _ _ _

June 8

Dear couple that got engaged yesterday in Memorial Park,

I watched from the other end of the sidewalk as one of you got down on his knee and asked a question while the other threw her arms around you in an answer that could only have been yes. Then your friend walked up, asked for a re-enactment so she could take pictures. I hope your lives together will always be filled with that same kind of happiness.

I don't know what kind of wedding you'll have - a big fancy affair, or a small ceremony at City Hall. Even if you write your own vows, the essence of the promises you make to each other will be the same as lovers have been making for ages. To love and honor each other in good times and bad, sickness and health, for richer or poorer, til death do you part. But here's the thing, what most people won't tell you. It's easy to make those vows, not so easy to keep them. Marriage is hard work.

Most of us are pretty happy during the good times. What about the times that are good for one of you, but not so good for the other. A job promotion, perhaps, that means pack up everything and move across the country. Nothing says good times like finding out you're pregnant, but I promise you will find that trying to calm a newborn baby, when you are sleep deprived will test your abilities to see straight let alone the light at the end of the tunnel (when said child graduates from college.) There will be times when you think the only good times will be the "golden years." Don't forget about stiff joints and menopause. Those are the times that a foundation of good communication and a sense of humor will get your through.

When you pledge to stay together during sickness and health, you won't be thinking about cancer, or car accidents, or Alzheimer's disease. You probably can't even picture one you having to feed the other or wipe the other's bottom. Another scenario is when there is sickness in the extended family. Caring for grandchildren or an elderly parent comes with its own set of woes. This is when that promise you made to each other is going to be a two-sided sword. It both deepens your commitment to each other and rips at its foundation.

According to, "Everyone has financial issues concerning bills, debts, spending and budgets. How a couple deals with those issues can make or break a relationship." I'd like to think winning the lottery would take away this marriage worry, but honestly, what are the chances. You can't win if you don't play. You can go broke if you play too much. Marriage is a balancing act. Give a little - get a little. Rub my back - I'll rub yours.

In the beginning when feel good chemicals are swirling around in your brain and you can't imagine a life without that special someone next to you, the give and take is pretty equal. It's after a few years have passed, when life settles down to ho-hum, when the TV replaces pillow talk, when the person sitting next to you on the bus smells like your lover did when you were dating, when the way the baby throws a tantrum in Walmart, when a couple of beers makes you stupid instead of enlightened, when sex, not dirty socks, was 50 shades of gray, and taking the garbage out becomes an argument instead of a no-brainer that the promises you made begin to wear a little thin.

So now that I've painted a picture that makes you want to forget all about marriage, here's the good news. Being partnered to another who knows you inside and out and loves you anyway is the greatest thing on earth. Having someone to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on makes life 100 times more manageable. Knowing you've got someone to share your failures with makes sharing your successes that much better. Being able to say, I just can't do it, would you mind, with the assurance that the answer will be yes makes it more likely that you'll do the same in return.

If I may be so bold as to suggest a thing or two, I would say ... Learn how to listen with your heart, not just your ears. Talk things out. Hold hands. Dance. Laugh. Don't go to sleep without saying, I love you. Mean it. Remember you are half of a whole, but be wholly you. Lean on each other. Share ideas. Agree to disagree. Apologize. Clean out the sink after you brush your teeth. Fill up the gas tank when it's near empty. Send a valentine in June. Put a date night on your calendar. Take care of your health. Tell the truth. Remember when. Plan for the future. Be friends.

When my grandmother wrote the letter above to her mother ninety-five years ago, she was, like you, young and in love. She married the man of her dreams and lived with him until her death. I can tell you with great certainty that my grandparent's marriage made climbing Mt. Everest look like a Sunday afternoon stroll. I wish I'd known the girl who's hopes and dreams were just beginning. I don't know where things went wrong for them. I do know there was too much alcohol and not enough respect. Too many harsh words and not enough "I'm sorrys." Too much separation and too little communication. Back in their day, marriage was a bit more patriarchal. I think my grandmother was way to smart to be satisfied as "the little woman."

As you prepare for a life together may you be blessed with strength, courage, compassion, and unending yet ever-growing love,

Merry ME


Monday, June 6, 2016


June 6

Dear Mean People,

We're all in this together. Why do you have to be mean?

I try not to judge. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I try steer clear of things that aren't any of my business. But some things are my business, because some things are every body's business. Like the results of mean people being mean.

I like to imagine what the world might be like if there weren't people killing people, or hurting children, or beating up their wives, or fighting wars over imaginary lines in the dirt, or kicking dogs, or having road rage, or yelling at checkout people who sometimes get backed up and have to go slow, or laughing at people who look/act/think different, or hating people because their skin is a different color, or telling people who have to pee that they are in the wrong bathroom, or telling lies, or honking their horn at slow drivers,  or shooting animals, or walking by a homeless person without looking, or drinking too much then driving a car, or stealing, or not telling people their water has been poisoned, or making cows and pigs and chickens live in pens too small for them, or breaking promises to veterans so they think suicide is their best solution, or caring more about getting elected than working for the common good, or ignoring global warming, or throwing garbage in the ocean?

What if people said "hello, how are you" more and "fuck you" less? What if people asked, "can I help" more and ignored less? What if people waved hello more and gave the finger less? What if fields of wildflowers covered more space and asphalt parking lots less? What if people danced more and drove less, sang more and shouted less? What if people slept more and stressed less? What if people prayed more and whined less?

What if people put down their phones and asked "how was your day"? What if children didn't go to school hungry or cold?  What if hugs were used for currency instead of dollar bills? What if politicians traded workable solutions for all instead of barbs.  What if we got to know our neighbor before we went to their funeral? What if we all got as excited for our fellow man's successes as two young Indian spelling bee champions? What if we all said a prayer for healing when we see an ambulance go whizzing by? What if policemen didn't need guns? What if handshakes replaced bullets? What if blessings replaced curses?What if we all sang like South African firefighters before tackling a really hard job?

What if I said I love you more? What if I listened better? What if I said I'm sorry more?  What if I said yes more. What if I said I like it when you smile, sing, rinse out the sink, empty the trash instead of being mad when it doesn't happen? What if I said we more than I? What if I remember the good times and forgive the rest? What if I stop pointing a finger at mean people and start being nice myself?

What if?
Merry ME

Saturday, June 4, 2016


June 4,

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."

June 4
Dear Mohammad Ali,

I never knew you. I've never been a fan of watching people beat each other up. But today, when I heard the news that you'd passed away, I felt an unexpected sadness. There is a hole in the world, where greatness once reigned. The "rumble" you inspired with hard work and a sense of humor has been silenced. You were a champion in and out of the boxing ring. You were a hero, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Who will fill your shoes?

I'm trying to imagine what heaven must be like today. Are you showing the angels a few of your dance moves? Are you reciting poetry to St. Peter. Are you showing your pretty face to the One who created it? Are you sitting next to Prince resting in the glow of perfect peace?

Thank you for sharing your life with us.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I wonder if Eve could write letters in Paradise! 
But, poor Eve, she had no one to write to - 
no one to whom to tell what Eden was, 
no beloved child to whom her love traveled through any or all space. 
Poor Eve! 
Catharine M. Sedgwick

June 2,

Dearest Daughter,

I read the news this morning of a shooting at UCLA. It always makes me sad to hear about a shooting (or anything bad happening at a school). It's hard to imagine being a parent that sends her child to school only to find out that something horrific happened at that supposedly safe place. Actually that would be true of most any situation, but it seems especially awful for parents and school children. Today's news brought back memories of your time at UCLA.

In my mind's eye I can still see us on our first drive to UCLA back in 1989. How could I forget that parade of people dressed in black holding pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini and shouting words that sounded menacing even though I had no comprehension of the language? The idea of leaving you, my  beloved first child, in that place caused me to tremble. I wanted to turn the car around and drive back to San Diego. Did I say that? How many times did I ask you if you were sure this is where you wanted to be. A hundred? I think you were so busy taking it all in, you never heard me.

I realize now that I was more afraid for me than for you. You had the benefit of youth on your side. You still wore that cloak of teenage immortality about you. College life was nothing more than a new door to open. Another adventure. UCLA a place to learn not just English and History, but how and who to trust, how to manage your time, how to stretch a dollar, how much beer you could drink in one evening. It was a place to test not just your mind but your wings.  To see how far and how high you could fly while you still had a semblance of parental boundaries. My mind knew that. Yet, my heart knew that in a short four years, those same wings would take you to places farther away from me. 

I had some fears left over from the day your blue canvas tennis shoes climbed up those big school bus steps taking you to Kindergarten. Would you make friends? Would you miss me? What if you skinned your knees or someone was mean to you? Still, I never had any doubt that you would succeed. You had already proved that you could tackle most any problem and come out on top. That's not just mom-talk. Your grades, your trophies, your friendships echoed my pride. Your successes came from hard work. You had a few falls, but some of our best lessons come from our failures. I'd learned how to stand on the side lines and cheer you on. That doesn't mean I didn't bite my nails and pace the floor in the wee hours of the morning. Do you know I'm still your biggest cheerleader?

Before touring the campus, we sat on a bench waiting for Aunt Linda. I had tears in my eyes, sweat under my arms. You had what can only be called a look of exhilaration on your face. I wanted to cry. Like a racer in the starting blocks, you were ready for the gun to sound so you could run. I was hoping Linda would back me up. That UCLA was too big and scary a place for my girl. I can laugh now to remember she wore the same anticipatory look in her eyes as you. She'd sent two daughters to college. She knew everything would be ok.  As in most of my life's scary times, her calm demeanor helped settle my  nerves. It helped to know she would be close to rescue if needed.  Not surprisingly, my fears were unfounded. You can be thankful that you inherited your courageous and confident genes from your father, your ability to dance from me!

So many years have passed since you were in college. Why do I write this now?Mainly I want to acknowledge the woman you've become. Not just beautiful, but strong and wise and funny and trustworthy and brave and maybe a little wild and wacky.  Have I ever said how proud I am of you? 

I love you more than lying in a hammock on a summer day,
Merry ME (aka Mom)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THe Art of Letter Writing

June 1. The start of another month. Already one half of the year is gone. I really don't like that time seems to move so fast. I remember when my former husband used to go on deployment with the Navy. Long periods of time.  3 months, 6 months. This was before email, social media, and Facetime. I could usually expect a drunken phone call from some exotic port of call to tell me how much fun he was having. As you might guess, I was never real excited to get those calls. It was good to hear his voice and to have the kids talk him. It just wasn't the best way of communicating. If something bad happened, the only way to get word to him was via the Red Cross. These messages were reserved for "real" emergencies, not the icemaker flooding the kitchen floor, or how to remove the bar of soap the toddler crammed into the flusing part of the toilet. I'd like to say something like "young people today don't know how good they have it." But I won't for two reasons. First, it sounds like something an old person would say. And second, my husband was gone for long stretches of time, but never in a war zone.

Recently, my sister, uncle, cousin and I spent 3 days going through boxes of family photos and memorabilia. We pawed through photo albums of stern-looking people none of us could identify. We combed through scrapbooks from the time my uncle and sister were children. We unpacked military medals, old menus, a nativity scene made of shells that my grandmother made in the 1940's. We touched history. We told stories. We laughed and we cried.

One of the best finds I brought home with me. A shoebox full of letters, between my great grandmother and my great grandfather when they were separated for many months in 1911. None of us knows the reason she was in LA. We think she was helping to care for her father. The letters, back and forth, are written on heavy paper with a fountain pen. Some are smeared and hard to read. They are love letters in every sense of the word.

There were also letters from my grandmother to her mother from 1920-21. Grammy went to Washington DC to work for a senator. She also went to be close to my grandfather who was in his last year at the Naval Academy. Her letters are full of what you might imagine a young woman, away from home for the first time, would write her mother about. Clothes, shoes, dances, work, summer heat, roommates. She even hinted a few times that things with Clarence were not always hunky dory. A foreshadowing, perhaps, of what turned out to be a long, but tough marriage. My favorite letters told of Grammy and Grampy's late afternoon wedding shortly after he graduated - how the room was decorated with daisies, how the Senator gave her away, how excited they were to start their life together. And the one announcing my mother's birth in an army field hospital in Germany. At the time, my grandfather was in Italy, so except for another wife who was traveling in Europe, my grandmother was alone. Thinking back on it, she must have been as scared as she was excited.

Another bunch of letters were from my great-uncle to his mom about life at the Naval Academy. Times have probably changed a lot over the years, but I suspect plebe summer is as difficult to survive now as it was in 1921. As it turned out, my uncle got sick and had to leave the Navy. He spent a lot of his life as an invalid.

The final pack of letters was from my grandfather to his father. Again, we don't have the whole story, but know that the two were somewhat estranged. The letters were informative, but not warm. In this envelope of letters, there are three dated in the 1800's. We think they are to my grandfather's father when he was just a boy.

I spent three afternoons reading one letter after another. Even though I was sitting in my chair in my house, I felt like I was transported in time and place to LA, Vermont, DC and Europe. I loved not only the words, but the feel of the paper and the cursive writing. At times the letters were folded like origami. I had to flip the paper back and forth and over but the stories never lost their appeal.

I couldn't help but mourn the lost art of letter writing. I love letters. I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to texting a quick question or emailing a short note. Technology has made it easier to communicate with loved ones far away. It's also made it harder to stay in touch. Touch being the operative word here. You can save an email, but you can't hold it and feel close to the sender. You can't stick it under your pillow. You can't cry on it or hold it next to your heart. You can't tear it to shreds in a fit of rage. You can't save the words for generations to come.

Last year I sent my daughter a postcard everyday for the month of her birth. Post cards are like text messages with a pretty picture and fancy stamp (don't get me started on stamps!). Even though the writing is usually brief and compact, it means the sender took the time to pick out the card, write the message and post it. It means the receiver has the fun of opening up the mailbox to a little piece of wherever the sender had been. I have to give it to my former husband, who may have not been so great with phone conversations, but never lacked in the postcard department. I'm sad to say there came a time when I'd moved them so many times, I finally thought why bother and threw them out.

I know .... shame on me. I not only tossed a box of cards, but I tossed a part of our family history. I tossed the opportunity for my children's children's children to discover a hidden treasure in a stinky old cedar chest. To know about the places a distant grandfather visited. To lace together bits and pieces of family stories.

The Japanese art of de-cluttering has become popular lately. I'm pretty good at getting rid of things when I'm in the mood. While it feels good in the moment, I often regret it. That's why I'm holding on to my mother's silver tea set and my grandmother's sterling flatware (that she described to her mom in one of those letters) and old photo albums filled with people no one knows anymore. My children have no need or desire for them.  So they sit under lock and key, the metal tarnishing. How can a place serving of silverware or china tell a story? Is history in the eye of the beholder? Is a letter only worth the paper it's written on? I wonder?

I'm going to challenge myself to write a letter a day for the next month. What about you?
Merry ME