Today I received a letter in the mail from my father, a letter addressed to me at my childhood home, his unmistakeable handwriting. My father lives ten miles away in the house I came home to from the hospital when I was born. When my parents divorced, he held onto that house and my mother moved to the farm I am in now—having returned here from NYC with my family because of the Virus. It has remained like this for nearly 50 years: Mom here, Dad there. I was not expecting a letter from my father, but opening the mailbox and seeing it lying there, I was transported to my childhood more directly than anything else has allowed during fifty some days of sheltering in place. I was five when my parents separated. Almost immediately, my father started writing letters to me. I have over one hundred letters and they span some forty years.
When I left New York City for NJ in March, I didn’t bring much, but I did bring the letters, neatly arranged in chronological order in red albums. When I was a child, my mother told me to save the letters. She said that some day they would mean something to me.
1975: My sweet special super Minx, dear Martha:
The letter you wrote to me was the greatest I ever got from anyone. It is full of fun and funny remarks—and I have not forgotten the $13…. Your letter was not only the best letter waiting for me from my four daughters and stepdaughters and stepsons, it was also the only letter from the whole lot. You are my total Minx and I am leaving all my pencils to you.
1980: Just a fast note to say hello on a summer afternoon when I am up in East Pyne and should be writing my present story, which is about bears. Jenny says, “Dad is in one of his writing snits.” What the hell does she think pays for her new glasses? Writing snits. Sixteen books and my kid calls it writing snits. There is no way to win when you are just a Dad.
1981: And speaking of history, there’s the story of your grades. I have computered them and I owe you $4. Here’s how it goes. I am giving 25 bucks for any kind of A, 12 for a B+, 10 for a B, 8 for a B-; and I am taking back 10 for any kind of C, 20 for any kind of D, and 30 for an F. Your grades were B+ from Parnes in the 4th quarter, D in Latin, B+ in English, C- in French , and B- in Horowitz’s course (I am not counting Driver Ed, in which you got a C- and the comment that you lack self discipline”). I am reckoning the money part on the 4th quarter grades because the 4th quarter is what followed the beginning of this new money game. So I owe you $4. Here’s five, with a big tip from Lefty. Your final exam grades were B+ Parnes, F Latin, B English, D- French, B Horowitz. Your final grades for the year were B Parnes, C- Latin, B English, C- French, B- Horowitz. If I were paying you for your final grades I would owe you $8 instead of $4. Tough. On the other hand, if we were doing this according to your final exam grades you would owe me $18, so you can think about that, too.
1982: Your letters are good, and not just because it’s from you to me and naturally I like to get letters from you, but because you write simply, easily, amusingly, and well. Don’t force writing. Just say the things in your mind. What comes out of you and onto paper is sometimes very, very good stuff. I know what I’m saying and I’m not kidding. But don’t let me make you self-conscious, I just want to tell you you’re good. It would help if you would learn how to spell Sisely. It is an Island with a volcano in it and it is written Sicily.
The letters are a time capsule, an almost obsolete form of composed thought. In these wicked days of 2020, I food shop for my stepmother and Dad, so that it is I in mask and gloves and not they. The letter in the mail this morning, it contained a check and a grocery list and some Dad math which always favors me.
Inspired, as always, by Jenny McPhee, my silver lining.