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BY ADRIENNE PIEROTH
I received this letter towards the end of my freshman year in college. I was away from my hometown of Denver, Colorado, attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. It had been a year of adjustments for me — some good, some challenging — like most 18 year-olds spending their first long period of time away from home. My mother had always been the center of my life, the touchstone I would return to over and over again for comfort, love, a hug, a laugh, or a cup of tea and a much-needed chat. My mother was British and had me late in life the at 39 years old.
Perhaps it was her older, wiser years that made her such a solid and grounded figure in my life. If you asked me what defined the word “home” for me, I would say without hesitation, my Mum. While being away from the comforting home and life she had created for me was difficult at first — her care packages and letters she sent each week made all the difference. Most of the letters were about daily stuff — what was happening at home, with my Dad, or how the cats were doing. But towards the end of the year, this letter arrived. I knew it was special from the minute I opened it. I had no way of knowing that less than five years later, I would be sharing the words in this letter as part of the eulogy I gave at her funeral.
Throughout my high school years my mother battled a rare form of cancer. During those years, I lost track of the number of surgeries, and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments. But all the while, I never once remember her complaining, or asking “why me?” Perhaps the fact that my mother grew up in England during World War II, where nights spent in bomb shelters, rations and stories of sacrifice and bravery defined her youth. All I knew was that my mother had incredible strength, optimism, and not for one minute did she ever believe she wouldn’t survive her battle with cancer.
When I first read it, the part of the letter that struck me most was that she was proud of me. My mother always told me she loved me and how proud she was of me, but it was something different to see it in words, written on a page, in her beautiful handwriting — handwriting, by the way, I couldn’t read until I was nearly ten. My mother had been a secretary and knew shorthand, so her writing was a combination of cursive and shorthand in a style all it’s own.
Years later, at her funeral, it was her last words that spoke to me most, and the ones I shared with family and friends gathered to say goodbye. They were:
...we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, and we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned this. Some people live a whole lifetime, Adrienne, and they never learn to love the rain.
If I learned to love the rain, I learned from my mother’s example. Looking back, I wonder which of her grey days she was remembering as she wrote those words. The day I read those words as part of her eulogy was the greyest day of my life to date, even 26 years later, but the brightness of her love and the memories of my time with her outshine the rain. Whenever I want to remember this, I need only to open the envelope that contains my mother’s beautiful words of love and support to be reminded.
April 29th, 1985
My Dear Adrienne,
I am looking forward so much to having you home for the summer. To hear the front door open & to hear you say, “Hi it’s me.” Your dad & I have missed your very much since you went off to college but we know this is the first stage of our daughter’s independence. We love you very much & we are so very proud of you. We know you have worked long & hard in all of your classes & it’s been a struggle, so many times wanting to go out & have fun, or go to a party, but knowing that you have homework to do and that the studies come first.
You have always been able to appreciate the small things in life, Adrienne – a diamond ring – a new 28oz – a trip around the world! So just kidding, I really mean the small & important things in life. When we talked on the phone last week I remember your comment on the weather. It was raining & you said when you were passing a couple of students they were complaining about the rain; how wet & miserable it was. You told me you were smiling inside because it brought back memories of England back to you & the air smelt so sweet & fresh.
Life is a little like that – we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, & we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned that. Some people live a whole lifetime Adrienne & they never learn to love the rain.
From your ever loving,
BY MELISSA DUNDAS-PAINE
Our mom was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1989. It was a highly emotional time for our family, as Papa (our Dad's Dad) had just passed in a tragic car crash. Our Mom had surgery and underwent treatment shortly after the diagnosis, but being so close to our Papa, I can only imagine she immediately felt faced with her own mortality. I remember her saying that Papa visited her in a dream and told her it wasn't her time to go yet. She decided sometime between then and her death five years later that she needed to write down the story of how she met our dad, Papa's son, as well as when and why they decided to have children.
But we didn't know this back then. Our dad gave us this handwritten story after her passing. She had also taken the time to type it out, but as you can imagine, the handwritten account tugs so much more at our heartstrings. There is just something special about seeing our mother's penmanship. It evokes so many sweet memories.
She passed while we were all young, before any of us had started dating. But to have this account written by her of how she met our father and how she felt upon becoming pregnant with each of us and about the days we were born is just priceless. These are her thoughts and feelings written for us by her hand. What she must have been thinking as she penned this is just unfathomable. I'm sure she hoped we would be older and that the journal would have been full of more stories, but tragically, it sits less than a quarter full of her handwriting, as her life was cut short at the age of thirty-nine.
This diary, or mini memoir, is a treasure to my sisters and myself, and is worth so much more than the paper it is written on.
Chris & I got engaged on June 10th, 1975. He was so romantic. We went parking by the lake, he asked me if I would be his wife and then slid the ring on my finger. (What a love). One time, maybe a year before this, we were at a hockey game (Flyers). Chris asked me “why do you want to marry me?” I said, “because I want you in my life forever.” He said, “well if I marry you it will be forever.
I remember the night Chris said to me, “I’d like to start to try having a baby, what about you?” I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. It was in March. It took 3 months it seemed like forever. Chris enjoyed the pregnancy so much. We would lay on the couch at night and wait for the baby to kick. All my babies were very lazy, maybe 10-15 kicks a day.
By Carly Butler
It was while moving my grandfather into a retirement home that we stumbled upon 110 love letters written from my grandmother to my grandfather just after WWII. They were dated January to July of 1946, and they were tucked away in the back of a cupboard next to a slew of VHS tapes of recorded British sitcoms. My Grama had been gone for over 10 years at this point. She died when I was 13.
When we first found the letters, they were simply a precious family memento — an heirloom that we’d keep in a drawer the few years that followed their discovery. It wasn’t until 2012 that I found myself in front of the RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California, the ship that my Grama sailed on in 1946 towards her new life, that an idea started to form. I would move to England from January to July of 2013 to retrace my Grama's steps. I would knock on the door of the house she wrote the letters from, I would visit the places she visited and I would write home to my love, just as she did.
The journey of retracing my Grama’s letters 67 years later changed my life. It has led me to this exact moment, drafting up my first entry for this column on Handwritten. If someone were to have told me that a bundle of love letters would change the course of my life, bring incredible people into my path, be the foundation of a love that I have with the perfect man for me, and create a connection to my Grama, someone who left this world almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have believed it.
What I've come to realize is that my gratitude for having these letters is far beyond the grand gesture or epic journey. The most meaningful part of having found my Grama’s letters is that they give me a window into a life-story of an incredible woman who walked before me. Her handwritten words allow me to get to know her as a 26 year-old women embarking on a major life decision, leaving behind everything she knew, putting her faith in love and living life the way it’s meant to be lived. Her words bring me strength when I feel weak, courage when I feel scared, belief when I am in doubt, and chutzpah to live the life of my dream, seventy years later.
Her first letter, shared below for the first time, is dated January 17, 1946, just over seventy years ago today.
January 17, 1946
I haven't written before because I knew it wouldn't be any use as the letter would get there before you. Darling, I miss you terribly, much more than I ever did before, now I am only living for the day when I get my papers to sail. Right until I got your telegram Tuesday morning, I thought and lived in the hope that you would walk in once more for a few stolen hours, but after I got the telegram I knew you had gone. Thanks for sending it, darling, it was sweet of you, if I hadn't of got it I might still be thinking you would come.
I hope you had a good sailing darling and it wasn't too rough (or does that make you laugh) anyway the main important thing is that you got there safely. P.G. Everything back here is very much the same, I started work back again today at Samuel’s, I couldn't stay at home doing nothing any longer the time just seem to drag.
I wrote and asked for the address of the Canadian wives club and I've got it now, they meet every first Monday in the month and the next meeting is on Feb 4th so I'm going to go and learn some more about Canada and Canadian cooking (Ha! Ha! That's not funny).
It's a funny thing darling but you know all the time you were here we never heard our song once, well both last night and the night before I heard someone singing it on the AFN, they must know just how I feel. Every time I go in our room, I nearly start crying and it's worse when I go to bed, the moon is still shining on our bed just like it was that last night you were here.
On Tuesday night I went to the Odeon and saw "Love Letters" it was a lovely film and reminded me so much of how letters brought us together. I'm going to Oxford on Saturday for the weekend to take Vera back her things, anyway it will make a change for me, I'm going to take my camera and take some snaps to send to you. That reminds me I bought a smashing photo album the other day and I've put in all my snaps but there is still a lot of room, so I'm ready for all the snaps you are going to send me. Now all I want is a scrapbook.
One of the women in the shop today asked me what I would like for a wedding present so I guess we are still collecting 'em. While I am writing this Dixie is walking all over the room, so you can just imagine. mmmm. I have an answer Danny's letter yet but I will soon, I have written to everybody else. Well darling I guess that's about all for now except that I love you and I won't feel like a whole person again until we are together for good. P.G.
Half of me is with you, well cheerio darling, God Bless You and All the Luck in the world to you, Au revoir. All my love forever your ever loving wife,
I love you – in x’s
P.S. Give my love to the family. Love Rene.
Anais Nin wasn't supposed to be writing letters in 1975. She had been recently diagnosed with cancer. But she received a letter from a young woman wandering Japan, she felt compelled to respond. Thirty years later, it surfaces for the first time in public. In this new year, may you reach out to those who have influenced your thinking. Perhaps you, too, will receive words in return.Read More
BY LIVIA MENEGHIN
A few years ago, I heard about a Brooklyn thrift store opportunity that I couldn't pass up: $25 for a large shopping bag of goodies. "If you can fit it, you can buy it!" said handwritten signs alongside the walls of the dilapidated building. When I saw their piles of books, I knew the clothing sections of the store would have to wait. My hands quickly skimmed across countless novels until finally halting on a book by Thomas A. Harris, called I'm OK—You're OK. I was taking a psychology class at the time, and interested in how mental health affected relationships, so I happily placed it in my bag. On the train home, I opened up the cover and found a note.
On New Year's Eve in 1973, a mother gave this book to her daughter (Sue). But why did Sue’s mother have the book? We know she read it, but what made her give it to Sue? Did she now hope it could provide answers for her daughter in the New Year?
I thought back to the times I’ve been gifted books. Just this past summer, a close friend gave me her childhood copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for my birthday. It was incredibly worn, probably providing her with years of adventure and happiness. Holding that book in my hands, with its broken spine and her favorite lines highlighted, made me feel like we were reading together. A book as a gift is so much more than something to read. Chosen with care and thoughtfulness, a book is an outstretched hand, welcoming another into a new world of new ideas.
On the train ride home, I flipped through the tattered pages when I came across a lump. Sitting between pages 138 and 139 was an unsealed letter from Mrs. Mary Lehman from Monmouth, Illinois to Mrs. Ruth Robertson from Marion, Kansas, dated three years after the inscription (September 16, 1976). I wondered now about the four women. Did they all know each other? Did Sue gift it after reading? Mrs. Lehman's handwriting reminded me of my grandmother's—very elegant and careful. I could hear a humorous attitude with the first line, "Guess its about time I answered your letter." I felt like I knew them—had been given access into their personalities, their voices. This letter was not much different from the ones I write with my friends. We share daily news, things that seem unimportant, but it can mean wonders to someone far away when we ask if they are OK.
This leaves me wondering: what if I put a letter of my own into the book and donated it to a used bookstore, to keep the chain going? Whether intentionally placed or not, I picked up extra inspiration that day in Brooklyn, a mystery of sorts. I walked away with more than just a book, but possibilities for more stories. There's something incredibly human about imagining these women, especially through the same book they all shared. It makes the world feel smaller, more meaningful, even without actually knowing them or being in the same physical space. By continuing the chain, I can add to the story.
The letter is transcribed below.
Sept 16, '76
Guess its about time I answer your letter, now that the Fall Festival is over with, it lasted 4 days. The senior citizens all went out there for breakfast one morning, we ate at the Lutheran tent, then went out that evening with Gene and Janice as Dan was working at one tent, the little boys were in the chicken scramble, Cory who is six, he caught a chicken and got a silver Dollar, but Tye was too slow, he didn’t get any, then the kids were in the Pet Parade on Sat. morning. Cory got first prize in his class, with a unusual [ ] got 2 silver dollars for that, so he thought he did real well, I won a 20 lb bag of detergent at one of the stands, so I will be clean for a while, been having nice weather, had a rain last wed night, has been cool ever since, had the furnace on a couple times, so makes one think that winter is just around the corner, we had a nice visit with Mary + Marvin, they were here for 3 days, seemed happy, hope everything turns out all right for them, they were on their way home. Ralph were here one evening, they had a letter from Lillian, they wanted me to read, sure too bad about Dick, hope he will soon be better.
Jacks are getting ready to pick seed corn, they hope to start next week, some of the fellows have all ready started. Just talked to Phyllis she was making pepper relish, she always makes a lot and gives most of it away, as her men don’t like it, she brought me some nice tomatoes yesterday and dozen eggs, her pullets are laying already.
I cleaned my garage yesterday, so today I am not doing much, made some bread pudding this morning, going to have goulash for dinner, have some hamburgers to use. Our Book Club went out for breakfast at the Restaurant yesterday morning.
Hope you are feeling OK. Are you taking the Divine flu shot that the gov is giving. I will if they ever get the serum in here or else I will take my regular shot that I have always taken.
Gene just called, said to tell you “Hello”
Livia Meneghin is a poet, non-fiction writer, and recent graduate from Franklin & Marshall College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. She was a contributing writer and photographer for F&M’s College Reporter, and earned the William Uhler Hensel Senior Prize in Research Writing for her essay, “Priest, Clerk, and Pitiable King: The Portrayal of Richard II in Recent Production History.” Her work is published in literary journals Dispatch and Plume. After a month-long poetry workshop in Greece, she is working on her first full-length collection and applying to MFA programs. You can follow her writing here: liviameneghin.wordpress.com.