It all began a day in October; Father
pointing to a box for me to bring home –
I have many mementos of my Fathers
but this one was different, it was his
life, and my mothers. Their names
scribbled on the box –
“For stamps,” my Father told me.
Could not resist opening the lid – right
in front of me hundreds of letters crammed
like a can of sardines – some neatly kept
with red ribbons, others inside red satin
hearts, and more separated by date, time –
as I read clearly posted envelopes, matching
dates on the inside.
Father kept pointing to stamps –
inside I laughed, cried, and was curious as
my fingers wanted to open up each letter,
knowing it wasn’t right. To visualize the
day he wrote to Mother, telling her he
waited at a phone booth while he spoke to
one of her ten brother’s – then your call
It was my Father’s handwriting, so perfect,
rounded letters, and Mother – well she grew
up in a small town where schools taught
cursive – not round letters.
Oh – I finally laughed, cried, laughed louder,
needed to share this love I witnessed
before me – I take it back, Mother knew
how to draw a perfect X and O – scattered
across a page, around sides, on the back, top
Right now I see Mother sitting in front of an
oval mirror, outlining her lip’s perfectly with
red lipstick, then kissed the paper – her
dressing table, where a bottle of Chanel
in a old green flowered bottle placed near her
hair brush – she swore by no other brush – it
had to come from the Fuller Brush Man.
As a child I went searching in the attic, all
the girls talked about love letters, and in the
sixth grade I was gathering my own – but never
could find theirs, never knew they wrote to one
another, two or three times in a single day.
Oh, Mother never told me she lived with my
grandmother, and Father’s youngest brother while
he attended basic training – she never told me she
would leave by bus to travel to a city near the border
of Vermont, her home town of “Middle.” Stay one
night with one of her sisters, visit her family, turn
around and make it back to Schenectady, changing
connections in Saratoga Springs, back to grandmother’s
I know if she traveled in August, she went straight to
the Race Track to place a bet on four and four – her
favorite number. There was no way Mother could
pass Saratoga without stopping.
Those talks when her Irish temper flared, telling Father
she had to move back home – Father told her do what
she felt was best, but he wanted her in his home, when
he arrived on leave. “Just don’t take off without a note,
hiding some place where no one knew where you were.
He asked in one letter, “Leave a message, call the lady
next door, tell someone where you went.” I am sure
mother did leave in the middle of a day or night.
Those small quarrels were the days when no one
mailed a letter, not until Monday. She had to return
to work, help out around my grandmother’s house,
as if she were taking my father’s place at the kitchen
It was mother who mentioned in one letter, “I
began class tonight, I am learning how to speak
Italian.” She went on writing about friends
of grandmother who sat around her kitchen
table, staring at her, pinching her face, rubbing
her arm – but she had no idea what they talked
about and she had to know.
Father sent five dollars each pay check to my
mother, he told her to save up for a winter
coat. Father never had a new winter coat, only
what the Navy provided – he lived on hand me
downs, since his father died.
I crossed my legs, and continued reading,
wondering – how long mother would listen to
anyone – telling her what to do?
I continued laughing.
Until the last letter I read one night, before
closing the box – a box two feet high and
three feet wide.
History in a box – not stored in some vault
or to be opened one hundred years from the
date cemented on the corner of some prehistoric
building – or between glass in a museum. These
were real thoughts, voices, words touched
everyone during the war. Save money father
told her over and over again, but mother
continued to sneak away – a train ride with a
sister or friend, meeting father on a weekend
Father drew pictures at the bottom of his
letters; a house surrounded by land, a dog,
children on swings, everyone appeared to be
smiling – Father – never did stop drawing –
only when Grandmother suffered the loss of
their Papa, Father was ten. She removed tubes
from their radio – told her son’s to mourn
their Papa’s passing by being silent.
As Mother, he never stopped – drawing, won
a free college education – my Grandmother
called it – turned it down – to work, help pay
their mortgage, and bring up two younger brothers.
I am holding onto another letter, carefully
opening it – not to tear the stamp – or ruin those
X’s and O’s, thinking, these words are mine
until I pass them down to my own daughters.
Each letter replaced – back into its’ envelope
carefully not to fold it differently, or tear apart
fragile paper – aged, yellow – paper – with red lips
like they were placed there yesterday.
“I believed I knew all their was.” mother wrote
after using a neighbors phone to call father, and
he complained if she was late. He sat waiting near
a phone booth on base, grass grinding between his
teeth – talking to one of her brother’s stationed there
– not living in the same barracks, but sharing talk
over cheap beer in the dance hall.
Father warned my mother at the close of each letter,
“The line at the telephone booth grew longer after
eight.” I could hear my father’s gentle voice.
Life, in the forties; war – fear – and loving
a man so far away, and living with a new family –
it had to be tough.
Gosh, now I know she’s mad, he told her she could
not go to Oklahoma with him, he would be stationed
there for several months. I bet mother was surprised,
although pleased he remained in the states. But, I
know mother, there was no keeping her away
from my father, too many miles between them.
Mother, packed her bags like a fly on sugar
made plans to rent off base, retrieved another
job, and she met him in Oklahoma.
A smile covered my face, as I read more – phone
calls from a neighbors home, sneaking out when my
Grandmother knelt at her bedside praying – Mother
playing cards in the back room with my Father’s
A smile covered my face, no onecould see me as
I read, no one heard the giggles or my laughing –
mother wanted to squeeze father, she wanted to
kiss him leaving her lips of red at the end of each
letter. T stared at her lip’s, knowing how many years
past since she went away forever – now in front of me
her lips and small lines remained her blue print.
I repositioned myself on my bed, as I read
another sentence of my mother’s heart –
“One day we might have a little girl who
would want to read these letters, wouldn’t
that be nice, Frank?”