The morning after I held my infant Goddaughter over the baptismal font—making promises to help guide her in her faith journey—I went directly to the paper goods shop and bought a purple leather-bound journal. I got straight to work once I completed the fancy inscription on the inside cover.
I intended to chronicle for her the stories of our family—my uncle, her loving Grandpa—my dad, and the galvanizing force that held the family together, Grandmom. I wanted to keep the tradition of journaling alive for the next generation. I received my first journal, an orange Holly Hobby affair, as a gift from my mother in third grade. From there, my love of writing took flight.
I planned to give the same gift to my Goddaughter. I would fill the pages with antidotes, memories—a stern warning against our family’s inherited flabby upper arms—and about faith. My faith, specifically. I imagined presenting the finished journal to her on her sixteenth birthday. Or her wedding day? Then I worried she might not want to read the stories of a middle-aged woman when she turned sixteen. Heck, she may not even care to read words written on paper with ink!
When I was sixteen, we moved from our ancestral town of Lansdowne—a stone’s throw west of Philadelphia—to the rural enclave of Alpharetta, Georgia. I was in shock. Everything happened so fast. Dad’s announcement—”we’re moving…..in three months!”—the packing, the farewells, the tear-filled exodus. I remember the long thirteen-hour drive in the back of the minivan. I sat next to our family pet, Hobbes The Bunny, ensconced in a tiny travel crate—as miserable as me.
It was the worst day of my young life, and I thought my life was over. Upon arrival, we settled into an extended-stay hotel and dropped Hobbes The Bunny off at the realtor’s house. She promised to rabbit-sit for the week while we waited to inhabit our 90% completed home. We watched for the moving truck to arrive. “Hey, there’s Joe & Bob!” We treated them like old friends. Apart from the realtor, they were the only folks we knew south of the Mason-Dixon line. Loneliness surrounded us.
Then, a few days later—miraculously, incredibly, beautifully—we stopped at the house to discover the mailbox was full. Letters had arrived from our friends and family back home. As if part of a coordinated community effort, there were letters for each of us. I salivated over the coveted words. There were letters from my boyfriend, my best friend, band teacher, neighbor, a friend from church, the mother of our erstwhile Brazilian exchange student, and…Grandmom.
We pored over those letters, hungry for every familiar detail of home. Some made us laugh—some made our eyes tear up. We folded them and tucked them away, safe with our treasured belongings. I stored my letters in my box of journals for safekeeping. The sentiment was evident across the board—we were loved, we were missed, and we were remembered.
As the weeks went by, we waited eagerly for the mail. The postman became a friend—his truck, a beacon of hope on our lonely road. My favorite band from the present day, Arcade Fire, has a song that captures that feeling. In “We Used to Wait,” songwriters Regine Chassagne and Win Butler express the emotion with the following lyrics:
It seems strange;
How we used to wait for letters to arrive;
But what’s stranger still;
Is how something so small can keep you alive.
It’s true—those letters kept me alive. Thirty years later, while I was visiting mom, she came down from her office with a manila folder tucked under her arm. “I’ve started clearing out old files,” she explained. “Come, take a look.” She laid them out on the table.
There they were—the lifelines we so needed all those years ago. Grandmom’s handwriting! I hadn’t seen or thought of it in years, but I recognized it immediately just the same. The words they chose, the stories they told, and the details they included. The letters were as poignant today as they were when I was sixteen. Mom and I read through every precious one, and the authors came to life before us— their voices, laughter, and smiles. They were loved, they were missed, and they were remembered.
I pray my Goddaughter will enjoy the feel of the little purple leather-bound journal in her hands. Will she take the time to read the words and listen to the stories of our family—our past? I’m unsure if there will be boxes of written letters in her attic to sort through when she grows up, but I hope so. Does anyone wait for the mail anymore?