The handwriting on the envelope was as familiar as my own. The curve of the letters, the neat-but-sloppy rushed penmanship–I know it like the back of my own aging hand. It was the same handwriting that I found printed on the napkins inside my lunchbox during elementary school. I love you! the writing on the napkin read.
It was the same handwriting that greeted me when I opened the tiny box that held my mail during college. Rah-Rah Christen, letters were often addressed–the name given to me by my little sister before she could say my actual name. It was the handwriting that graced the outside of countless Hallmark cards found in our mailboxes after I traded the name “Christen” for “Kellogg”. There was nothing really special about her handwriting. In a sea of letters, no one would pick it out to be exceptional. No one but me, that is. I would pick it out because it was her handwriting. It was my Mom’s.
I wasn’t intending to look through the letters that day. I carried a box of old photos across the state from my Dads house to our house. I was tasked with ‘figuring out what to do with all these photos’. I’ll look through these things when I have more time, I thought to myself, as I opened a cabinet in my office to shove the box of photos inside. As I placed the box of photos on a shelf I noticed the letters inside a bag. When I reached into the bag, I saw it. I saw her handwriting. There was no going back.
Instead of shoving the cards inside the cabinet, I sat down on the floor and opened the treasure I didn’t know I had. One by one, I opened envelope after envelope with my Mom’s handwriting, letters addressed to her Mom.
The letters varied in many ways. Some were greeting cards while others were written on stationary. Some were written in the 70s, others in the 80s, and others in the 90s and into the 2000s. Her handwriting changed, some were written in cursive while others in print. Some were wordy and others were short and sweet.
In one letter dated January 31st, 1972. . .
When I get paid for working I’m gonna send you some money to buy me some knee socks. A brown and navy pair. This is gonna be hard to believe but they have not one pair of brown or navy socks in Wilmington. It’s amazing.
I smile at the knee socks and cringe at the fact that my Mom wrote out the word “gonna”.
In the same letter:
How much money is dad putting in for me this month?
(Ahh, college kids.)
My hair is still trying hard to grow. I like it, but it’s a hassle to take care of. I want it to grow faster.
She goes on to talk about her college classes–statistics (which she hated) and philosophy (which she tolerated.)
I closed this letter and smiled at the 8 cent stamp of 1972. I marveled at the fact that I wasn’t even a thought yet. That my dad, her boyfriend, was a frat boy and they were going to a dance that week.
In another letter, dated March 5th, 1980:
Summer is is saying “Thank you Mommy” and “Hi Mommy.” She can only say it with mommy, though. Damon and she were playing (or so I thought) this a.m. when I went to check on them, they had taken every last piece of clothing out of Summer’s drawers and thrown it on the floor. I could have shot them.
I laughed as I read the reality of my Mom wanting to shoot me and my brother. And I cried, because she’s not here to talk to when I want to shoot my own kids. (Because you can only say something like “I could have shot them” to your Mom and not be judged.)
I sat on my office floor for more than an hour pouring over her letters. Tears streaming down my face as I felt a mixture of sadness that she is no longer here and gratitude for the gift of these letters.
She held the paper I’m holding now, I thought to myself.
I looked closely at her name signed at the end of each letter.
There she is. Here she is. I’m holding her words. In these letters, I hear her voice again. A voice that has faded in the years since she died. I hear her laughter in the hilarious greeting cards she chose for her Mom. I hear her sense of humor as she predicted an oncoming belly button infection during college.
When my Mom sent her Mom a Mother’s Day card in 1969, she could not have known the joy it would bring me in 2021.
Life is a strange sort of miracle, isn’t it?
It’s been a few weeks since I poured over my Mom’s letters. The letters still sit on my desk and I look at them every day. I think about them while I run and I remember them as I’m making dinner.
I will keep writing, I make a quiet promise to myself. It’s worth writing. It’s important to write.
Maybe it’s my wiring. Maybe it’s the fact that I lost my Mom when I was fairly young. I can’t exactly pinpoint why, but I have a constant awareness that all of this will end one day. I know the circle of life. The best situation will leave our kids without us here.
I am aware that there are no ‘things’ that matter once we are gone. BUT, I do believe our voices matter. Our stories matter. Our words matter.
They won’t find me in an instagram post.
They won’t find me in a tik-tok video. (The world breaths a sigh of relief, I know.)
They won’t find me in a tweet or an instagram story.
They won’t find me in a text. Even email lacks something.
So few things last forever. So few things we can control.
But something I can do? I can take pen to paper. I can pop a card in the mail when they are buried in books or parenthood. I can write down our stories. I can buy a stamp. I can show them today that my Mom’s letters matter so they will one day understand that my letters matter and their letters matter.
The world is changing, I know. But some things are worth holding onto.
Pen to paper. That’s a tradition worth carrying forward.