Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thank-you notes

I’ve been looking through some letters from 25 years ago that I filed under “keepers.” They are thank-you notes, from Rebecca, my step-mother and Mary Ann, the mother of a college friend. And one from Atsuko, in her twenties, about to become my daughter-in-law.

The older women have an elegant command of the language. Japanese Atsuko, struggling with the skewed logic of the English language, had just made the bittersweet decision to leave her homeland to follow an American into the great unknown.

“It is so hard to either write down or call you what and how I think and feel now, in English, to you. But when I received your letter with present, I was so much happy that I knew you welcomed me into your family. So, I’m in the midst of happiness greatly that it scares me a lot. . . By our mutual understanding I believed that Kurt is my better half (Isn’t it funny you can’t say best half?) and on that moment I did feel I was going to marry into the James family. But quite honestly, this makes me really nervous. . .

Rebecca thanked me for birthday daisies, “my favorite spring blossoms. . . they lasted for days and I loved them.”  Failing eyesight keeps her from driving these days. “Friends say ‘Call if you need a ride,’ but I choose to call a cab even though it’s expensive. I sound sorry for myself, but I’m not. I can walk, and my ailments are just boring…My contemporaries are much worse off. . . I am ashamed to complain.”

Mary Ann’s note brought memories of my own mother, born on the same day in the same year. Mary Ann and my mother only knew each other through their daughters but discovered they had much in common. Late marriages, daughters born in the same month and year followed by two sons, about the same intervals apart—trivial perhaps, but they developed a special caring for each other, like long-distance soulmates.

“Never a January passes,” Mary Ann wrote, “That I do not think of your mother, always with the wish that she could have been alive all these years to see your family develop and go out in the world. She would appreciate the rapport you have with your children—enough guidance—never too much—comradeship even when you are all going different ways. I’m always waiting to see what you are going to do next and I know it won’t be dull.”

Why these comments about a few thank you notes that arrived the same day so long ago? Perhaps because the holiday season is upon us and it is nostalgia time. Perhaps because I can see a parallel between my mother’s journey away from her homeland and the one Atsuko is about to embark on. Maybe it is in praise of the hand-written word. Phone calls, texts, emails, instagrams, Facebook—all fine, but they are hard to save, re-read, savor and save for your grandkids.

A postage stamp is still a bargain.

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