A large brown envelope arrived recently in snail mail from Ashtabula, Ohio. It contained copies of letters I wrote to a young woman named Mary when we were 14. We met in the northeastern Ohio township, and decided to keep in touch when my summer vacation ended.
I found her on Facebook, and we got in touch after four decades. When she realized I’d become a writer, she mentioned my letters in a box in her attic. Would I like copies? What could I have possible said in those letters to a relative stranger 300 miles away? And why would she save them into this millennium?
“They’re about what you’d expect a 14 year old to write about,” she said.
Would I like to meet myself at 14? Not that I could go back and talk some sense into my head, but what I think about those times now and what I was actually saying at the time, well, they’re mountains apart.
I’m sure I was a bad writer. I wrote those letters before I decided to become a writer. Mary does get credit for encouraging me to write about anything and everything. At 5 cents to mail, I guess I wrote a dozen letters.
What were my interests in 1968? I was too young to worry about the draft. I’d just learned to ice skate and dabbled in hockey. I had a fish tank of dubious quality. My fish, when they weren’t eating each other, got white spots and died. Or their tails rotted off. Is that what I wrote about? Was that how I thought I’d impress this future drum majorette?
Mary was friends with Natalie, who lived next door to my best friend, Pete. I only ever met and talked with Mary when she was visiting in Natalie’s yard. A home-made swing hung from a long thick rope tied off at the top of a thick branch of a strong old tree. Sometimes, when no one was around I’d swing on that tree. Other times, the girls might let me push them a time or two.
I take comfort that I was not writing poetry then. It would have been awful, I’m sure. I hate to look at my handwriting in those old letters. My mom called my penmanship chicken scratch. Why couldn’t I write neat and nice like my older sister who put up with me visiting her in Ashtabula my teen summers?
“But, Ma, she writes like a girl!”
It was my sister who got married, and left Jersey for Ashtabula. Her letters home were something we all looked forward to reading. Mother answered those letters. I never wrote to my sister. Why would I? She was old and married! But I think I got the bug from her to write to someone – Mary. And later, others. As these ancient missives resurface I wonder if letter writing as a lost art form should stay lost.
So, what do I do with this envelope of long-lost and forgotten musings? Shall I open it and greet my teenage self? Discover how I chronicled my wonder years?
Or shall I leave it sealed and keep safe whatever memories of those times that still swirl and swell in my grey matter? Sealed forever or open, here’s to Mary, Rhonda and others, too. I’ll always remember you in ink stains and sparkling synapses.