My mother kept the letters I wrote her all through the 1960s—from college, living on my own, and my early married days—and some years ago she sent them back to me. I only started to reread them in the past few days.
When I told my daughter, she related that her husband, Richard, had a box of letters that his uncle had sent to Richard’s mother during World War II. So for Christmas Day, I proposed that we bring out our caches and read them aloud to each other.
It was a fascinating exercise. Richard’s uncle died during the war, so one of the letters was one his mother had written and was returned to her. It was her plea that her brother intercede with their father about a boyfriend she had that apparently the father didn’t approve of. In an earlier letter her brother had teased her about her boyfriends, who seemed to change with every letter.
My letters included some stories I remembered, but others I had no recollection of. There were letters I wrote to my younger brother detailing our “wild and crazy” life, staying up until 2 a.m., going to parties at 1 a.m., descriptions of “boys” trying to impress us by acting silly. And then there was the slang that hasn’t survived and the slang that has: “kooky,” “nuts,” “skuzzy,” “hysterical.” Here’s what I told my brother about my college: “To be a non-conformist here you have to wear a suit, and a tie, be clean-shaven and neat. The normal costume for upperclassmen is dungarees, dirty sweatshirt, and sandals.”
Each letter prompted memories or stories or speculation. It was fun, and to be continued, since we barely made a dent in my letters, and there are still some of Richard’s relatives we haven’t seen yet.
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