Letters to My Mother and Father
I am snipping the Sunday crossword from THE IDAHO STATESMAN to go along with a letter that I would send to my mother. I had always written letters to my parents, because I think that is where home was, whether it was Ohio or California. Now I am mailing letters only to my mother. But back at the beginning of my college years, I connected with both my mother and father through letters.
So in the 1960s, away at UCLA, I wrote longhand. Then in graduate school in the l970s in Wisconsin, with my own new Hermes portable typewriter, I typed letters to my mother and father in Cleveland, shifting keys and locking them in place and myself too. I typed letters that were basically news: telling my parents about my papers for classes, about our prolific gardens attached to married student housing at the University of Wisconsin, about the battery freezing when the temperature hit -30.
The “a” key on the typewriter began to stick about l984, and I joined the computer world. My sporadic letters became a weekly, one single-spaced sheet that I’d send with the crossword puzzle. Sometimes I studied the crossword puzzle before I sent it. I could hear my mother’ voice as she sat, working it at her kitchen table with the white tablecloth, as if I were right next to her: “You were the English major. Who was a main character in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, or what was the French word for flower
?” I sometimes filled those words that I knew ahead of time in ink.
Writing longhand became an arduous practice reserved for addressing envelopes. I became a university professor, with a college teaching schedule never the same. Yet, I tried to keep a structured time frame for my creative writing. I would write letters to my parents over the weekends or at six on Monday mornings, clearing my head for other kinds of writing. Those letters became my jumping off point, maybe even my mantra for creating poems, stories, the beginnings of novels.
After my father died, I continued writing letters to my mother-- writing about my family, job, friends. And one time, I wrote about what wasn’t happening to my characters in a short story that I was working on. So angry that these characters in my story wouldn’t tell me what they wanted or needed, I imaginatively placed them all on a raft out in the middle of a lake. I wrote to my mother that the raft was sinking with them on it.
“What a terrible thing to do to your characters,” my mother said in a phone conversation. She called once in a while. She rarely wrote back.
My letters were limited monologues, I think now, with time in between for me to revise my creative works while letters flew to California. I continued writing a letter a week. When my computer had graphics, I placed small pictures on my mother’s letters - a rose (my father’s favorite flower), a golfer playing golf (she played golf into her eighties), a snowman (Remember, Mom, when I tried to build a Statue of Liberty out of snow in the backyard, and the snow melted before I finished the length of her robe).
On the computer, I learned not to just copy but also to paste in more pictures of a particular graphic. Now across a page, a whole row of the same horses galloped, or cheetahs hunted uncharacteristically together, running with identical strides. Wolves howled together in a long line. And then there was the one frantic cartoon of a cyclist, obviously me, a mountain biker here in the west, racing towards some imaginary finish line, writing more, publishing more.
And so, along with a particular letter and a crossword puzzle, I thought about sending my mother a short story, with characters and plot intact from my computer. I stared at the story. I needed a hard copy. I hit the print button. Presto, a story ready to go. A one page letter, a crossword puzzle, a short story. Sent off. An audience for my story. No longer sinking on a raft, my characters were flying home.