It was a dark and stormy night. It may sound frightening, but the scene wasn’t something you’d see in a horror film. Instead it was just me in my pajamas sitting in a hotel breakfast nook with a cup of hot tea. I sat at a small round table with a large stack of letters. My family members were all asleep down the hall and the hotel lobby was quiet with just the occasional guest trickling in the front door. I could see lightning flashes out the nearby window but I didn’t hear the thunder, or much of anything for that matter. I was focused. I was reading letters from my mother.
The stack of letters may seem ordinary to someone else, but to me they are an absolute treasure. Reading words written by my mother are a gift because she died suddenly over twenty-three years ago when I was just six days shy of my eleventh birthday. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak or listen to my mother in over two decades and yet now I could read her words.
My grandmother, my late mother’s mother, recently moved into a small apartment from her large eight-room farm house. During the packing and sorting that moving entails, boxes of letters were found. My mother and her two sisters had written home to their parents over the years (often once a week!) and my grandmother had kept the letters. Now I was holding a stack of these very letters that were written by my mother to her mother, some over thirty years ago.
My tired eyes scanned the worn pages back and forth as I gently unfolded each precious letter and looked closely at the postmark on the envelope. The letters in my stack started in 1976 when the postage stamp cost just thirteen cents. There was also a handwritten date on the front of each envelope that was put their by my grandmother to signify what day she mailed her reply to each letter.
And though I was tired from a long drive and a busy day of visiting with family and touring my grandmother’s new apartment, I could not stop reading. I had been given an amazing gift. An opportunity to read my mother’s own words about events that occurred before I was born. And as interesting as all of those details were, the best part was when I got to 1977-1978 and was able to read about her pregnancy with me and the first year of my life.
Since her passing I’ve grown up and become a mother myself. I’ve often wished I could talk to her about her pregnancies and what I was like as a baby. I’ve talked to my Dad about it some, but he’s a guy… and no offense, but guys just don’t remember or think about pregnancy and babies the same as a mother does. But now I could read my mother’s words.
I smiled as I read her accounts of morning sickness in the early stages of her pregnancy with me. She wrote to her own mother about her new personal record of vomiting seven times in one day. Who would have thought reading about someone throwing up could bring such pleasure! I laughed as I read that my parents thought I was going to be a boy based on my heart rate at a doctor’s appointment. They even had a boy name picked out for me, Douglas Ray. It was never used!
I related when I read about the weeks after my birth when she wrote to her mother about her own tiredness and difficulty getting her tummy to look flat again. I chuckled at her cute sense of humor as she suggested that maybe the caramel sundae she just ate may be to blame for her lack of lost pounds.
It was wonderful reading those letters from my mother. The details in them about everyday life were so simple. They were just normal updates from a daughter to her mother. Now they were being read by a daughter who has yearned to know more about life from her mother. I can’t think of a better gift.
As I finished my cup of tea and did my best to stay awake late into the night I was continually touched. I was touched by my mother’s love for her husband, my Dad, and I enjoyed reading about their young relationship and her support of his growing ministry. I was moved to read about her anticipation of adding me to their family and overjoyed at her description of loving being a mother. My throat got tight and eyes stung a bit when I read statements like, “Christy can melt the hardest of hearts.” Wow. She never could have known when she wrote those words just how much they would mean to her baby girl over three decades later.
When I finally gave in to my sleepiness and went to bed I was exhausted yet recharged. I was encouraged to remember to write things down for my own children, whether I’m around when they are grown or not. It’s a gift to be able to read about your parent’s life when they were in a life stage similar to your own. And when memories fail, these written details succeed in telling the story.
My grandmother believes there are more of my mother’s letters to be found as she continues to sort through boxes. I can’t wait to read them! There were several years missing in the big stack of letters I had read. Five years, including the year my brother was born, were gone. There are also some missing from the year right before her death. Grandma is wondering if maybe we’ll find them someday. In the meantime I was able to bring a few of my favorite letters home with me so that I can read them again…and again and again.
Some letters were handwritten and others were typed on a typewriter. All of them rang with my mother’s voice and her sweet, funny and wise personality shone through the pages. They are a gift. They are letters from my mother.