Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Letter

Today's post is a piece I wrote in response to this week's Write on Edge writing prompt.  It's a funny thing about these prompts: I read them every week and either something clicks for me, or it doesn't.  This week's prompt, to write a piece in 500 words or less about a handwritten letter, immediately caused me to think of my mother-in-law and the events shortly before her death last March.  Thanks for reading, feel free to leave any comments at the end of the post.



Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After five days in the hospital, the doctors advised us we needed to transition her to a rehab facility.  We knew the move to the one-room pseudo-hospital setting would be permanent.  I traveled across town to the apartment she called home for all of three months and began the tedious process of sorting through her remaining possessions.


During the past ten years she had moved at least five times, casting off various items she deemed unnecessary or outdated as she gradually condensed her collection of belongings. Now her household consisted only of those items most important to her: her bedroom furniture, a leather sofa, coffee table, small dining set, two televisions, a nominal amount of kitchen necessities, and three closets full of Chico’s clothes.  This was her version of minimalism. 
    
I filled two boxes with her dishes, utensils, and pots and pans, not knowing where to take them after I sealed them shut.  After packing away the kitchen equipment I cleaned the leftover food from the fridge.  I knew she could never eat all the food she bought, but I was unwilling to deny her the joy of getting out and shopping for herself.  Her days revolved around doctor visits and trips to Wal-Mart.

I looked around the three-room apartment, unsure of where to go next.  Finally I decided to venture back to her bedroom and sort through her clothes to determine just exactly what she would need at the long-term care facility and what we should donate to charity.  After two hours of sorting through clothing that smelled faintly of her Tuberose perfume, I turned to her dresser and its contents.  Within the six drawers she had stored her most prized possessions: pictures from her favorite house in St. Louis, business ledgers outlining transactions from thirty years ago, jewelry originally intended for the safe but mistakenly placed in a zip-lock bag.  I found pictures of my children and of my niece and nephews tucked away with her collection of gloves from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  As I carefully sorted through unused stationery, I discovered a few pieces of correspondence.  I found the wedding invitation I sent her and my father-in-law twenty-one years ago and a flyer from the last home that she owned.  As I pulled out a small white box filled with mismatched pieces of costume jewelry, a yellowed piece of lined notebook paper, folded into fourths, caught my eye.  I opened it up and read the long, scrawling script of a twelve year-old girl written forty years ago.  “Mom, I love you.  Let’s never fight again.”  As I read the handwritten letter, tears welled up in my eyes, threatening to spill onto the aged paper.  I carefully refolded the peace offering and returned it to its hiding place, where it waited for discovery by its author.

24 comments:

  1. Very nice story --lots of details that tell much about the woman who had lived in the apartment. It reminded me of going through my mother's things after she died at age 96. I found many love letters from my father that were written 70 years earlier ---it was both touching and surprising to learn he had been such a romantic.

    Stop by to read my (fictional) story about a handwritten letter:
    http://proartz.blogspot.com/2012/07/expecting-worst-fiction.html

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    1. I'm so glad this story reminded you of your own similar experience - that is exactly what I was aiming for!
      I truly enjoyed your piece - well done!

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  2. What a nice sentimental story. I especially liked this line --- I carefully refolded the peace offering and returned it to its hiding place, where it waited for discovery by its author. Great job!

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    1. Thank you very much. It just seemed the right way to close the story. :-)

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  3. It WAS very sentimental! And a little sad. Her apartment spoke volumes about her character. Lots of nice touches in there. Enjoyable read.

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  4. I would have been delighted to find letters, when I went through Mom's things. I felt the sentimentality of going through mom's things and smelled the perfume.

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    1. It was nice to get a different glimpse into her life. Also, I thought it was very telling to find the things she had kept throughout the years. Thank you!

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  5. Oh! I love that she kept the letter and that it was softly replaced to be found by the one who wrote it :) I sometimes wonder about the things I will keep as we move into our older years.

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    1. I agree. What will we cherish over the years?

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  6. I have always loved running across an old handwritten letter. They seem so personal, filled with emotion, deep thought. Your post brought back a lot of fond memories.

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  7. oh this tugged at my heart so much.

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    1. Ahhh, Christina, the best kind of compliment to receive! Thank you :)

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  8. I could not imagine having to go through someone's belongings like that, deciding what should stay, what should go. That you know she had weeded out most of it and only had the most precious makes the discovery of the letter so much sweeter

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    1. It was definitely a very surreal experience.

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  9. Great story. It's something we had to do for my grandmother a few years ago, and very upsetting.

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    1. It was very sad yet I felt such a sense responsibility in trying to preserve the most important things. It was tough.

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  10. Nicely done, balancing the finality of things to come with the acceptance of the moment. Well captured!

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  11. Well done. Elegant, simple and very powerful!

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