Letters from an Old Friend

I spent the afternoon sorting through boxes from storage. These documentary snapshots of my life produce a number of different emotional reactions, not all of them easy to process.

boxesThere always seems to be an odd assortment of detritus that accumulates in a household. Letters and cards from friends and relatives get tucked into a file folder. Thank you notes, graduation announcements, wedding invitations, and the like, get stacked up on the desk or pinned to the calendar. Photographs of someone’s kid, an advertisement for an achievement in someone’s life – they’re all important, even if only for a brief moment.

Sometimes the layers grow so thick that only sloughing everything off can make room for new growth. All the old worn and weathered contents are sifted into a pile and shoved inside a bag or a box. It’s only a temporary solution though, because there’s never a right time to sit and sort through it all.

Recently I’ve decided to make time and begun to confront the accumulation.

Today, I found a mish-mash of letters from my grandmother. Letters from old friends and past lovers, a few from people I don’t even recall. That made me sad. At one time those people were special enough to send hand-written communications but in the years between then and now, I’ve lost all memory of their identities. Memorabilia from college and even high school littered the stacks of letters. I even flattened out crumpled ticket stubs from concerts I attended twenty and thirty years ago. Some of this was easy to toss in the rubbish bin – but others weren’t.

Some were set aside carefully to review and relive, moments to treasure all over again.

Mixed in amongst the debris are a selection of postcards and communications from a college-era friend named Ginger. Just looking at the script written on the pages spun me back through time, to a place when we were younger and saw the world with such potential. We lost contact over the years, each of us setting off down different paths. I always thought we’d hook up again, meet up on the campus where our friendship started all those years ago and reminisce. We’d huddle over lattes in the brisk March wind and argue and debate and talk – just like we’d done in seminars and between classes, discussing esoteric journal articles about topics which no one else cared to know.

We never got the chance. ginger

Cancer took Ginger many years before her lifespan should have reached its zenith. I didn’t learn about that loss until many years later, a chance reference in an article I was researching that led me to her obituary. I was stunned by her loss, amazed that I had somehow not known, not felt her passing, not experienced the void left behind by her death.

In my mind, Ginger had gone on to do wonderful things in those intervening years.

I still haven’t been able to sit and read her letters. They’re sitting on my desk, a small pile of memories and dreams, just waiting for me to be brave enough to wade through those years again. Written in blue ink, the words slanting backwards in her southpaw script, already I’m reminded of the turmoil and power and strength that was Ginger’s personality.

I’m belatedly realizing how much she taught me about being who I am.

I wish I could thank her for that – for offering her guidance, lending her strength and sharing her insight. Ginger taught by example and she was often encouraging, fanning the flames when she thought a fire needed to be lit. She wasn’t always fair to others but she was hardest on herself, and if she incited the rest of us to riot, she was right there with us, owning up.

Some lives intersect only briefly but the impact of those connections reverberate for a lifetime, maybe beyond. Someday, I hope to see her again.

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  1. #1 by patriciasands on March 24, 2014 - 11:46 am

    Thanks for this touching reflection, Lesann. One of my concerns about the future is the loss for most people of memories such as these. Handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past and future generations will not have the same opportunities for such meaningful memories. How lovely for Ginger that a part of her remains very much alive in your hands. Savour the memories!

    • #2 by Lesann Berry on March 24, 2014 - 9:00 pm

      I also lament the loss of handwritten letters. There’s so much additional sharing encoded in personal script. Squiggles and dashes, little doodles, they all add so much to the details of personality. The letters I wrote about held memories that emails and typed communications wouldn’t offer. I appreciate the speed of social media and connectivity of email but I miss the lengthy written conversations I shared with friends back before electronics took over most forms of expression. If nothing else, this has convinced me that writing and receiving letters in longhand once or twice a year is like sending and accepting gifts – something I will endeavor to make time to do.

  2. #3 by Tammy on March 26, 2014 - 6:35 am

    Some of my fondest memories are of the letters your dad and I sent each other when I was a teenager. Each letter was unique and special. One was written in invisible ink, another written on the inside of a balloon that had to be blown up in order to read. I responded with one written on a roll of toilet paper; each square numbered and containing a different word. That one had to be unrolled, torn apart and reassembled in order to read it. I don’t have any of them any longer, but I do have the memories which I hope will last forever.

    • #4 by Lesann Berry on March 26, 2014 - 3:42 pm

      Too funny! I remember the one written on balloon. Dad loved (still does) doing that sort of stuff. I remember one year at Christmas he wrote clues on little cards and hid them all over the house. In order to find my gift I had to solve the clues and move forward. It took a long time and for the life of me, I can’t remember the gift, but I sure remember how much fun the journey was. I think you should consider the toilet paper thing as a last will and testament – make the kids work for the treasure!

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