Washington, DC, November 8, 2011 — Let’s re-define the love letter.
In love or not, think about this: You and I have a past full of love letters and we could write one today.
Here’s a list of mine:
1. Girl Scout camp: I wrote letters, homesick and lost, held weeping at night by a kind Scandinavian counselor. My letters never made it home because the camp in its distorted wisdom kept them: Censorship, of a strange sort. Instead I received letters from my mother, asking me why I hadn’t written.
Both the lost and the received were love letters.
2. My mother: She wrote me a handwritten letter after I published an essay about her that appeared on a newspaper’s op-ed page in 1987: It ends with my memory of her mahogany table and how I used to sit beneath it while she set the table and scurried back and forth to tend a holiday meal: “the hem of her house dress swishing by me; flowers on cotton in a whirl of activity.”
Her letter asked me to read the piece as her eulogy at her funeral. She wrote, “I worry that my request may seem morbid, but it is my fond hope that you will do this for me.”
She re-defined the love letter.
3. Childhood friend: In January of this year, I received a letter from a childhood friend I’ve not seen in more than 50 years. She lived across the street from me on Grantley Road in Baltimore.
Here’s her love letter that came via e-mail:
“I typed in your name to search for you out there in cyberspace somewhere. Incredibly, you were there, not only your photo, but your entire website, your video interview, and all the various discussions about your books. The most amazing thing to me is that your face is still so familiar to me. I could easily see the young girl in you that I so clearly remembered.”
D.H. Lawrence described the effect of memory triggered in his poem “Piano” that recalls his mother’s tinkling keys: The glamour/ Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast/ Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
My friend’s letter floods my mind.
We played Canasta endlessly in her bedroom, pretended we were secretaries in an office in my basement with an old phone my father had on his desk, held a summer camp when we were 12 for five- and six-year olds in my backyard. We played hide-and-seek in twilight on the narrow street between our row houses. We waited for Jimmy’s bell, the Good Humor man’s ice-cream alert that rang from his summer-white truck.
We each watched our mothers buy fish on Thursdays from the back of Hymie’s truck in the narrow back alleys behind our row houses. His call echoed through our mothers’ kitchen windows from behind his truck where he threw up the door, the clank of metal sliding on metal, the sound of the oval cradle-like scales banging on the chain hung from the inside roof.
I received my friend’s letter on the eve of the anniversary of my mother’s death as I was lighting the Yahrzeit candle to celebrate her life.
My mother was a light in my life.
My childhood friend brings her back to me. We are both 65 and will meet again this Thanksgiving.
The writer John Berger says, To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in this life to feeling immortal.
Write a parent or guardian who did well, even though human and flawed. Write a teacher who taught you how to teach yourself. Write a nurse who held your hand, succored you when ill and helped bring you through. Write your mailman or mailwoman who may bring you a letter you might receive from someone who reads this column and writes.
The movie Sex and the City comes to its close when Carrie and Mr. Big exchange vows with Beethoven’s words, the close of a love letter:
The love letter is not only meant for the one you vow your life to, it is meant for the ones who have given love.
Make someone feel immortal: Re-define the love letter.
You can hear and read D.H. Lawrence’s love letter to his mother in the YouTube video below.
Mary L. Tabor is the author of the memoir: ((Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story and The Woman Who Never Cooked. She says, “I ferret out the detail, love the footnote, am never bored and believe it all leads to story. Best advice I ever got? ‘Only connect …’ E.M. Forster” Find out more at http://maryltabor.com
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