Unexpected Gifts

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Letter July 28, 1972. Dad to Grandma.

So I’ve been spending most of my nanowrimo words on journaling rather than actually crafting a story. Which is OK with me, because I’m really doing it for the second year in a row in an attempt to recreate a writing habit that I once had. And I’ve started out much stronger this year because I’m doing the bulk of the writing in the mornings – before the day gets hijacked. I’m not naturally a morning person, but this seems to be the only way I can keep focused long enough. When I do the blogging at night, like tonight, I tend to stay up too late.

This week I’ve been exploring an unexpected gift that I was given this past summer. My Dad and I were in the parking lot at the Weird Al concert. He’d brought some old letters along in the car that had been stuffed in a mailer and sent to him by his sister. He often ambushes me in the car with clippings or printouts or advice of one sort or the other. (And conservative right wing talk shows. Don’t worry, I’ve gotten him back in the past by programming all his car radio presets to liberal whacko stations.) So he hands me the letters and tells me that I should take a look at them first. They were letters from he and my mom (and an occasional kid) – first to my Dad’s parents – and then just to his Mom after his Dad passed away. I imagine that my aunt saved some of them from my Grandma’s things after she died. (My Grandma was an avid letter writer – I probably have hundreds of her letters squirreled away somewhere.) I looked at a few of them that first day, but then put them in a “to be gone through” pile where they sat until just the other day when I decided they might be interesting to explore for journaling.

Here’s where I got to play history detective. Out of 18 or so letters, only 3 are in envelopes. Those have “to” and “from” addresses and postmarks. Most of the other letters say things like “Fri. Eve, July 28” and give no indication of the year. So then I had to piece together the probable year from the content and location (my Dad transferred around a lot in the Forest Service when I was little). But I also quickly discovered that I could Google the day of the week and date and figure out the year that way. In fact, I found the most useful site to be Wikipedia, where I could just locate the entire year, then see if July 28 was on a Friday that year.

The letters span the years 67-77, but most are from the time period 1971-1973 when I was a toddler in Minnesota and then Idaho. I was hoping more of them would have been from my Mom, since she’s been dead nearly 20 years and can’t tell these stories anymore, but it seems that Dad was the letter writer, or maybe those were the ones saved because they were from the son. Regardless, I’ve been given this unexpected little glimpse into my early childhood and my family at the time. I’ll be exploring this more, but some of my initial impressions about my baby self:

I talked a lot – “She can turn over both ways and talks a blue streak – but we can’t understand a word.” “Barbie is getting to talk more & more each day. She can say about anything if she wants something bad enough.” “She is quite a little talker. She talks all the time now & is trying to learn her colors & ABC’s.” At what point did I turn into the painfully shy little girl that I remember?

I was an animal lover and, apparently, abuser – “…the other one [kitten] is gray and its name is Smokey (Barbara calls it Mokey, it’s her kitty).” “Barbie sure loves Smokey our kitty, but most of time holds her by the neck & we are trying to teach Barbie how to be more gentle.” “Barbie carries the pup & especially the kitten around all day long. She hardly ever plays with her dolls anymore she has 2 live babies to play with now.” I remember Smokey! But I don’t remember strangling the poor thing. And why does my one brother call me Barbara when everybody else called me Barbie?

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