On Old Letters
June 4, 2023 Sunday 3:02 PM
Going through the stuff in my room, I found a letter from my Grandma from I don't know when. It could either be 2013 or 2019, based on the day. 2019 was the year she passed, and in May of that year, she would've been in recovery from her April heart attack. I visited her that August, and I don't believe she was well enough to write in cursive like this, so I am going to say that this letter is probably from 10 years ago. I was 14, and fresh out of the hospital.
"Thursday, May 16
Dear Sweetie Pie,
Today's rainy. Unexpected but very welcome, California doesn't get rain in May. 3 days ago I worked in the backyard and got a lot of stuff cleaned up. Iris flowers have come and gone -- needed cutting. Roses, the same -- still have more trimming to do. But all the new flowers which I planted last summer were in full bloom and really looked beautiful, So I am going to try and do that picture. Last year we cut ALL the wisteria out because it was out of control and that wasn't pretty and gave us no pleasure.
The other thing I am spending time on is writing out what [unreadable] details man in the Birth story about the birth of Jesus. I love doing this, I love the study and I love sharing it.
We were in the mountains last week. Cold, foggy, and rainy but we met with 6 or 7 other old friends. I sat and laughed a lot. Many of our friends have already passed on so we enjoy our time right now --
I truly hope and pray your perspective on life is becoming more realistic. Our world even with the ugliness, wrongs, and hurts is still a beautiful world to be part of. I, we love you very much and I thank you so much for the card and the picture.
There is a colored-pencil drawing at the bottom that I can tell is of their garden in the backyard. She labeled some posts that Grandpa had put up.
I don't remember reading this letter. I probably didn't, because I didn't like reading any of my Grandma's letters as it was. Even now, I could almost hear her voice, and I wanted to laugh even as I bristled when she said she hoped my perspective on life was becoming more "realistic." Despite having worked with troubled children for many years, I wonder how well she could really understand what I was feeling at the time. I still become defensive of it, now that the guilt has worked itself out into almost nothing.
Maybe it's not fair to brush off my Grandma's experiences like this. I know she was a troubled kid, too. But I wonder if that's not exactly why she characterizes her perspective of life as "realistic" as opposed to mine. I think maybe she had no way of understanding where I was coming from, and only had her own memories -- of her pain, and of the pain she saw in the kids she worked with on the ranch -- to draw from.
Did I ever explain it to her? Maybe I did, a few years later in the Adirondacks, just a month before she had a stroke. My perspective of life then, was that it was very painful, and I was very lonely. I wonder about this word, "realistic." Everything hurt all the time. I don't know that my perspective of life changed -- but my priorities did. Is that the same thing?
I just mean, I don't think my philosophy on what life is was the first thing to shift. Rather, my action item became, "Don't cause anymore trouble." And eventually, because of other people and experiences, it became, "Entertain yourself with the little things." Which was more of a perspective shift than the first thing; so that my field of view became primarily occupied by pretty things and people, than it did the head-down survival mode I operated within before that.
"Realistic." I mean, was I wrong to believe that my life would be full of pain? Not really. I still believe that, and irrationally, I stubbornly believe that I can take preventative measures against it, so it is a personal failure when the pain comes anyway. As if I slacked and was underprepared to meet or sidestep a rather common agony.
"Realistic." She seems to imply that taking joy in the little moments, even fully aware they're ephemeral, is what it means to have a "realistic" perspective on life. I have to agree that that is a much better way to live, but I am still snagged on that word, "realistic," and her selection of it...
Everybody misspeaks, or chooses the wrong word just because it's closest at hand. It may have been that, and I'm just worrying it under my thumb just because of the mystery it contains -- likely a simple answer to the question I would never ask to her face even if she was here, because what is the point of bringing up bad memories? I don't need to hear about how my actions made other people feel. I might deserve it as a punishment, but I am very fond of avoiding painful things whether or not it's okay. Sometimes I don't apologize for things, because I know I'll make the same mistake, and for the same reason, the guilt is dull, like I have to ration it out between bad decisions. There's no one who will hold it against me if I don't want to bear that weight, and if there is, then I can accept it as being my fault. I'll still do what it takes to protect myself from pain.
"Realistic." Hmm. Okay, well. Actually, maybe that is the right word, even if I take a bit of offense at it. Maybe I was too caught up in the other definition of "realistic," as being true to life. Versus its other usage, as describing something practical. A pragmatic, sustainable worldview, which I lacked that at the time. That's the thing I've complained about for years now, right? That being caught in sadness -- is impractical. Only took me eight years to reach that conclusion. Once I had wrung out all the entertainment from depression, and started to resent the toll it took.
Anyway I'm going to get back to the pile of letters I found in this room.
Another one, this not dated, but probably before 2016.
"Dear Veronica, I am better at getting a [unreadable] off than using the computer. I tried to send this info and the computer rolled over and stopped doing anything -- so Victorian clothes from/made by:
[A woman's contact information]
If Caroline is interested - hurrah - sounds like something that is possible to do now so [unreadable] its Birthday in the summer or fall.
I shoulda thought of this earlier --
I hope that not only is all well but you are happily engaged in life. Are you involved in any community projects or stuff outside of school?
If there is any kind of decorative [unreadable] with the name Veronica on it please send to this address --
Thank you --
Much love to each and everyone in your home (April gets a hug)
:) Sally or Grandma"
A letter from my cousin from I don't know when. I think about forest fires.
Great news, the contained rate has gone up to 45%. All my friends that I can think of have gone back home. More great news, the evac line is almost gone! I miss you, but I am glad to be home again.
your very favorite cousin,
And here, a rather long letter from my Grandma. The bottom of the paper, which feels kind of expensive, there is a note from her that reads "I designed the paper years ago." It has some kind of printed star on it, that might be to what she's referring...
"February 12, 2015
Dear Sweetie Pie
(Each of you are very special Sweetie Pies!)
Thank you for your letter. It really does provide a special pleasure to have a letter with info that is great to be part of remembering you.
Some info on me [unreadable] --
SoE. I leave for Sedona (on Sun) Arizona to spend a week with my sister. We have had no time together for years. We get together when sharing important family events, the last one was a year ago when Pete died. Pete was Susan's husband, 91 years old, spent 20 years as a State Senator for Texas and was held in honor for his legislative work on school programs for pre-kindergarten and special needs. You would have liked him. If you remember Sandi (no you couldn't, you were a baby) when Susan came to visit me in NY. Anyhow, we will spend a week together in a very beautiful place in Arizona just about 90 south of the Grand Canyon.
I'm back --
Just to let you know, I got into the scholarship's art class held in downtown Denver in a very big public office building (because it was supported by the City and County of Denver) on the basis of one (1) picture! Then I was transferred from East High School on Halloween Day down to St. [Scholastier's??] School for Girls. (Talk about feeling lost/ And there was a big dance that night over at the boy's school that night -- I was asked to dance maybe 2x -- mostly I decorated the wall. I was in a daze.)
Somehow thru all our tears and trials, joys and surprises, we learn the value of moderation and balance, being liked and not being liked (I had a horrible roommate). Well, I am sharing things with you I never bothered to tell others and nobody asked.
Passion in pursuit of your dreams is important. Pursuing passions as [unreadable -- "like"?] art where the pursuit breeds anxiety is not rewarding. Even people with passion take time off and back off for awhile for perspective and to test your inner self with reality and honesty.
Thank you for the class drawing in Jan, it's good.
Much love, prayers, and blessings."
Unexpectedly, this one made me cry a little. For selfish reasons. "I am sharing things with you I never bothered to tell others and nobody asked," was a painful sentence to read. It's not sad, necessarily -- and I also don't necessarily feel guilty for never reading these letters, but I do feel regretful.
A birthday card from Stephanie. The envelop says, "Roncamuffin," and the card itself is a bear on its back holding its feet, with its butt exposed to the camera. Inside, the print says, "The key to growing older gracefully is flexibility and wet wipes."
Stephanie's note says, "Happy Birthday my love, I can't believe that you are 17! Love you! Xox - Stephanie"
This one made me feel a little strange. Something like sadness. Or nostalgia. Or regret.
An old envelope that my childhood best friend Lily sent me while I was in the hospital in middle school. I used it afterward to store a bunch of mementos from the other patients and stuff.
In it, there's a Conan O' Brian paper dollar bill that I think we earned when we participated or followed the rules or something. On the back, a girl named Cassidy wrote her name, a date, and the word "community." No idea what that means or who that was. I tried so hard to forget everything that a lot of my memories really have gone away. Or maybe that's just the natural pruning of a decade.
Next is a folded up letter from my sister. I won't read it. The only part I caught was "I know what it feels like to want to die," and that is enough. I guess this kind of letter is still enough to make me feel a bit sick, haha.
Next, a piece of paper I wrote on after I was discharged the first time, April 13, 2013 at 3 AM. It's about how I relate to Holden Caulfield -- I had just finished reading Catcher in the Rye in the hospital. I don't really want to read this either, but this time, because it is cringe lol.
A note that says the following:
"1. have a conversation w/ someone new
2. get a full meal
3. skip a meal
4. wear your hair up.
5. Have a social night - no excuses.
6. Don't watch Netflix!"
A piece of paper torn from the packet they give you at the end of your stay for other patients to sign. It says,
So I'm like the first person to sign your packet, so I feel really special :) you were a really good roomate and your really funny and nice. I'll miss you! Add me on facebook - [name redacted] or text me [number redacted]. - <3 Sarah (AKA: the best person in the entire universe ;))
Pretty sure that was the girl who stole my jeans, lol....
Then there is an excuse note so I didn't have to swim in school, where my dad did actually sign but it's clear I was practicing to copy it lol.
A piece of paper where someone from the hospital wrote me a playlist. It looks really bad, I'm gonna throw it away lmao. I will probably throw away a few of these things, actually. What purpose do they serve? Nostalgia? That's kinda sick.
There's a note about a song I wanted ppl to remember after I died I think. On the back, in different pen but def my handwriting, it says, "Look up: Einstein the day the atomic bomb was dropped." Why????!!!
Next is a collection of letters exchanged between me and Lily during my hospital stay. Can't read those right now. Should I throw them away? I'll keep them for now, I guess. Maybe in another 5 years I'll be able to read them.
A graduation card from my uncle. Goin str8 to the trash -- it reads as nothing but an echo of a manifesto. Not that he's a bad person or that I particularly dislike him, but it just feels like impersonal trash in my hands haha.
All these letters reminding me how insular my parents and I are; we don't write simple thank you letters like this. I think none of us see the point, even though I know there must be value in these tiny gestures.
A birthday card from my grandparents that I remember came with a cardboard box full of knick knacks on my 18th birthday. Handwriting looks like my grandpa's, which makes sense for 2017.
"a Most Happy Birthday to you
we g-foks who love special moments -- like [my birth date] -- have had a little fun consulting the Magis who picked 8 items in this box:
- A blue agate gemstone with embedded screw to (now) legally savor wines or - to signal displeasure. [I guess he didn't remember that the drinking age changed in the 80s]
- a Heart-shaped complex stone (promised last summer). Let it Be a Talisman of your solid resilient pure Core. Have it at-the-ready in its holdster - for life moments when you stand up and say "I am..."
- Music will stay remembered. Here's a medallion of my favorite group - which ne'r be forgot [I don't remember what this medallion was or where it went]
- One of my 'B' monogramed hankys. You were 'B' for Boo once long ago, then a busy 'B' (Bee) and now Swift (trans-)[My last name. Idk what the trans part means lol]
- Gunk to think by. A mg[crossed out] magical glow, familiar to chemists and Bio-folks (like your dad)
- a Picture of great and grandness - loves of my life - part of me, part of you [I've lost the photo, and I'm not sure what it was.]
- Keep and label books which demand, help you grow, and call for hi-lights. [These I remember and I used a few of them to label my books]
- Who is this wise man for the ages, for our country, and for Science? think 'penny' [No idea what this was]
Thinking the world of you,
AKA GP and GMA
And that is all for the letters for now. About half of these are being trashed, maybe more. Memories are sometimes overrated.