Letters to the Past

Day 31
Nawal wrote a wonderful post earlier this month: Dear Baba. It includes letters to some people who have died. On this 31st day of #SOL21, I chose to write this post. Thank you for the long list of ideas I still have–gifts from the writing mentors in this Slice of Life Story Challenge community.

Letters to My People

Dear Aunt Thelma,
Thank you for teaching me how to crochet and sew. Thank you for teaching me to laugh at life and myself–that was my favorite lesson from you. You were so patient with all of us. Remember when I stayed with you for a week during the summer after my freshman year of high school. You made me some new clothes to start school. The See’s Candy you always had in your house wasn’t good for you or us, but it sure was fun coming to your house and eating it! I still crochet a little, but I miss you and Lynne, who I could ask any question and get firsthand help. Now, my oldest, Maria, is the ultimate knitter, quilter, sewist (I think she may call herself that instead of a seamstress–it is the 21st century, you know). You would be proud of her. I can go to her for help now.

Dear Grandpa H.,
Thank you for taking me fishing. Remember when I caught that two-pound carp in Lake Mead? You made me feel like a fishing star. You stopped the boat and let us swim whenever we asked. I think of your gentle ways as I grow older.

Dear Grandma H.,
You were the sweet Mama, Grandma, Nana for so many. Thank you for always making your home so accessible to all of us and our friends and whoever needed a place to visit. Your quiet confidence in God inspired me to give of my money, time, and talents to others as an offering to God. Though I would say, you inspired me to become a more discerning critic of organizations who claim to be doing God’s work. Your support for Jim and Tammy Faye, with their questionable values, was an example for me. (After you died, he spent time in prison for fraud of his gullible supporters.) I am glad you didn’t get to see our 46-1 president. I’m afraid you might have been a supporter because he quickly snatched up the dispensationalists to add to his nebulous base. I am glad your legacy of gentleness, love, quiet confidence, and joy live on more than your political and religious beliefs. For her middle name, we gave Katie your name. She never got to meet you, but she carries memories of our time in the desert with her. The next generation grew up going to your house with a new grandma, my mom. Katie and Thomas  became engaged in Joshua Tree and we had their wedding there, in the place you called home. They are even talking about naming a daughter with a variation on your name.

Dear Grandma R.,
I know now that you had a lot of heartbreak and it made you broken, too. I can’t begin to imagine giving birth to seven children and only having three grow up to become adults, and you even outlived one of the adults, my dad. Polio and other diseases ran rampant through your family. Even those who did make it to adulthood came with mismatched limbs and other issues that showed they survived polio. If you were living today, I don’t know if you would believe that some people consider themselves anti-vaxers. I wonder if they would think the same if they walked in your shoes, and can see what disease takes away. Two things I remember about you–your index finger that was half cut off in a factory accident and the Reed’s butterscotch candies you always had on the coffee table. Some things I still try to forget.

Dear Scotty,
You were my first nephew. You were born in August, but should have waited until September. You were born to my oldest sister, who contracted German measles from the little boy she babysat. We didn’t know much about Rubella then, but it is another good thing to be vaccinated against. I’m sure you would agree. You were perfect/not perfect. Partially deaf, partially blind, bad heart and more organ damage than the doctors thought you would ever survive. You never did have that open heart surgery they talked about giving you when you got strong enough. Did you never get strong enough? But you were a fighter and spunky! Remember how we celebrated our August birthdays together with the family. Homemade German Chocolate Cake–We would sit next to each other, and I would eat the cake and you would eat the frosting, which I didn’t like back then, but I do now. I think of you every time I have a chance to eat it. You died the month before we celebrated your 21st birthday together.

Dear Dad,
You left when I was seven. Lots of children were still filling the bursting-at-the-seams home. Your smoking, alcoholism and family history of heart disease were a fatal combination for the young 43-year-old. In spite of your sickness, though, I want to say thank you for working hard to take care of us. You were always worried we would look poor, so you tried to make us eat a lot. (I didn’t like that and often went to bed early because I wouldn’t clean my plate.) I was too young to know about all the issues you and our family faced, but it seems to me like you drove that Department of Water and Power truck to work every day–foreman of a work crew. When you came home the neighborhood kids got to drain the ice water cooler you had in that little door on the truck, filling up the paper cone cups like we were royalty. In those moments, I was proud you were my dad.

On a lighter note. A zappai about today’s breakfast.

I removed the hearts
Like birds nibbling from each peach
Choice watermelon

10 thoughts on “Letters to the Past

  1. Denise, there is such pain and such peace in your letters! I love the way you tell the stories and share a lot about those who have been so loved by you! I am sorry for all of your losses but also grateful for those who have shaped you to be the loving and giving person you are! Thank you for inspiring us this morning and every day this month!

    1. Thank you so much, Kim. What joy I had really remembering them today. A few tears shed over some I hadn’t thought of in a long time, and I had more empathy for them today after all the years.

  2. Oh Denise, I couldn’t love this more. Each letter carries so much emotion and honesty, and yes – solace. I think there is catharsis in writing to people we love. It means we carry them with us still, and that is true immortality, isn’t it?
    I also love that you ended on a lighter note with that fun poem and beautiful Bahraini watermelon!
    THANK YOU for the shout out to my Dear Baba post. It turns out my cousin Hala’s kids go to your school. They are Ali, Eliana (my daughter’s name, too) and Thalia Dailami. Do you know them!??!?!
    I am SO grateful to have connected during this challenge. I hope you will connect with my uncle and keep in touch!!!

    1. OK, Nawal, how fun! I had Ali in English class when he was in both Kindergarten and Grade 5! What a gem he is! Hala is too! And his sweet sisters–I know them but didn’t get the joy of teaching them yet. Thank you for reading my letters, and for inspiring them with your letters to your loved ones. Yes, the locally-grown watermelon is perfect! And such a bargain now. Thank you! I will keep in touch.

  3. Denise, I feel I know you so much better after reading these heartfelt tributes to those in your life who have passed. The grandma H post takes me to those Jim and Tammy Faye days. It is a bit of a backhanded thank you. Scotty’s letter is heartbreaking. No, Scotty never grew strong enough. Your loss is visceral. All the letters offer such unique insight and made me think about how we live our lives and later realize how others may have crossed our paths when we see familiar places in their writing. It’s the individual collective. Love the poem and that watermelon looks divine.

    1. Thank you, Glenda. I actually felt I got to know myself better writing the letters today. My grandma had a troubling theology, but I realized today that so many amazing characteristics make me mostly forget that part of her! I like what you said about crossing paths and the individual collective. We are a collection, aren’t we?

  4. Denise, what a rich, caring, deeply reflective final post of this month! I really feel as if I have met your loved ones. You have woven so many sweet and sadly tender thoughts into each of these letters. My eyes watered as I read! How did this writing process make you feel? I must look up Nawal’s original post – I think I might try this inspiration as well. I have really enjoyed connecting with you this month!

    1. Thank you, Maureen, it has been great connecting with you this month, and I look forward to tomorrow too! It was a powerful writing process of thinking and making connections from my past with my present and future. One of the things I did was write to people who have been gone for more than 30 years–all people my children didn’t get to meet. While I wrote, I was thinking I wish I could introduce them to my daughters. The deaths of my sister, brother, and mother are still more raw, so I think that would be a different experience. What would I write to them?

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