The Letter Connection

book clipartGood Sunday Morning — Story Corner is here!  Hope you like this novel approach. As always, I’d like to hear your ideas. Do you like it? Hate it? Have ideas to improve it? Keep the criticism constructive, so I can write a better story. I’ll thank you all in advance.

 The Letter Connection

2012 Copyright Barbara Celeste McCloskey

If I could have picked my mother, it would have been Marie. She is the sunniest person I ever met. Besides being fun, she inspired me. It wasn’t surprising that I wanted to be just like her when I “grew up.” The difference in our ages bothered her at first, but after she got to know me a little bit, she realized we were the same–just a generation apart. Deep down, I wanted her to adopt me as her ninth child, and she always laughed saying she didn’t need another challenge.

I’m sure her real daughters don’t know how lucky they are. Things within our own world are always taken for granted, but because I’m the outsider looking in, I know how special their mother truly is.

But today, she broke my heart. Even though she tried to break the news gently, I still cried. She told me she and Ray decided to retire permanently in Florida. They had been traveling for the past couple of years, hauling their travel trailer around the country, and she was tired of that life. She said she couldn’t live like a gypsy any longer; she needed a permanent place where she could have friends, join a church, and have a home again. So she’s leaving for some place called Flagler Beach.

She said we’d keep in touch through letters. Really? Letters? How could we really remain close through letters? I’ve had pen pals all my life, but this is different. How could my housewife news be something she’d want to know about? My news was boring. I knew nothing would ever be the same without her laughter in my life.

August, 1985

Dear Marie,

You’ve only been gone a couple of weeks, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone to give you a call. Old habits die hard, I guess. I think it’s also funny, considering you don’t even have a phone yet.

In my head I understand it was time for you to settle down in your retirement, but knowing you’re across the country, instead of across town breaks my heart. As you know, I don’t let go too easily. So forgive me when I tell you that I selfishly miss you.

You’ll never know how much it meant when you said our friendship was dear to you. I too am thankful for the time we’ve shared together. We sure know how to giggle together, don’t we?

Instead of sending this, “woe is me” letter, I should probably tear it up. As you can see, I’m emotional. It’s the first anniversary of Carolyn’s death today. I can’t believe that my friend has been dead for a whole year. As you know, she was as close as a sister, and traveling with her  through the ups and downs of her cancer was quite an experience. It seems Thanks to you, I was able to let her go. I never told you how much your tough love helped me.

Remember that day in the Chinese restaurant when you sternly looked at me and simply said, “Stop it!” when I continued to mourn her. I never knew two words could be so powerful. Maybe it wasn’t the words, but the way you said them. Whatever it was, it helped me to finally let her rest in peace. God took my friend, but then  in His infinite wisdom, he gave me another dear friend to help me crawl out of my self-inflicted misery. And that friend was you.

I know that your move to Florida is a good thing. You won’t have to endure the harsh winters any longer, and you’ll be close to your sister. I’m ashamed I’m so selfish where you are concerned. Blame it on having to let go of two great friends in less than a year. When I invest in friendship, I’m all in. But I will adjust. Just be patient with me.

Love,  “B”

September, 1985

Dear Marie,

This morning I’m sitting with a cup of tea after I put Sarah on the bus for her first day of kindergarten. She was so excited to be able to ride the bus with the “big” kids. Of course, I cried the usual “mom” tears as I watched my baby’s little legs strain to climb the big steps of the yellow bus. I’m feeling a little melancholy. I suppose when you put Teddie on the bus for kindergarten you did the dance of joy. After all, you must be pretty battle hardened after doing it eight times, huh?

Where did the last five years go? And what do I do now? For the past 10 years Sarah and Amy have been my life. Watching them grow and change has been so much fun. Seeing them explore the world opened up my own world. But now they don’t need me as much, so I keep asking myself what will I do next? Carolyn’s death made me realize I have to make the most of my life because I don’t have forever.

I have plenty to do, like vacuuming, washing dishes and laundry, but I’d rather mope. The house is so quiet I want to scream!  Rocky, my faithful puggie boy,  is at my feet feeling my pain the way he always has. He’s such a wonderful dog. I think in his own way, he’s mourning not having the girls around too.

Just knew you’d understand. Hope all is well.

Love, “B”

October, 1985

Dear Marie,

With Sarah in school in the morning, I decided to rev up my doll clothes sewing business for the Christmas season. So far, I’ve signed up for three area craft fairs that tend to be big crowd producers. Hopefully, I’ll make enough money to buy that dishwasher I’ve wanted for the kitchen.

Do you remember Lonna?  She’s the crazy lady who has stood in line for hours and meets people in dark parking lots to buy Cabbage Patch dolls? We’ve been a team since 1983 and have acquired quite a following during the past two years. I think she’s found a doll for every kid in the area, and I think I’ve clothed most of them. But I can see this great enterprise is coming to an end. The dolls are still hard to find, but seem to be more readily available in the stores. It takes the mystique out of the endeavor. So, after this Christmas, I plan to gracefully retire.

Until then, I’ve got the sewing machine humming. My goal is to take at least 100 outfits to each of the shows, so that means I’ll be working about 10 hours a day until the shows start. Sarah is such a sweet helper. She sits with her dollies in my sewing room and makes sure that all of the clothes fit just right. I call her my “quality control” officer. I tell my customer’s that all the clothes have been “kid” proofed – if only they knew how well!

Well, gotta get going. There’s lots of work to do.

Love,  “B”

November, 1985

Dear Marie,

Holy Cow! The first show was so successful – I can hardly believe it .  . .$800! I not only bought the dishwasher, but Santa can be very generous this year! I’m on top of the world!

Thank God for Lonna! I don’t know what I would have done without her. We used her van to haul the tables, props, dolls and clothes to each show. Then she stayed with me all  day to handle the sales.  It wouldn’t have any fun without her and I would have had to schlep everything alone. My “loving” husband, Bill fights me at very turn. He always finds an excuse why he can’t help.

I just don’t understand him. It’s not as if I’m keeping the money for myself. I wallpapered the girls’ rooms and bought them new beds with the money I’ve earned. When I told him I intended to buy a dish washer, he said “Well you can be damn sure I’m not putting it in.” Don’t worry.  I’ll find a way to get it done. Our neighbor is a carpenter and I know he’ll help me.

I still have some special orders from the show to get out before Christmas. I couldn’t possibly disappoint any child on Christmas morning, so “a sewing I will go!”

Hope your holiday plans are coming along.

Love, “B”

January, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were happy. It must seem strange to spend your first Christmas in a warm climate – after living in Wisconsin for most of your life. I know that some of your family was coming down, but still it must be weird to go to the beach on Christmas day.

The girls got a surprise this Christmas. When they came down to open their presents bright and early on Christmas morning (about 5:00 a.m.), there were NO presents under the tree. You should have seen their faces. The only thing they found was a note that said:

 Dear Amy and Sarah,

Santa Claus came down with a terrible flu this Christmas Eve, so I volunteered to help him as much as I could. But I had to do it my way . . .

Love, The Easter Bunny

The girls were stumped. When I told them I thought the Easter Bunny must have hidden their presents, you should have heard the moaning.  This little strategy slowed them down for a while. It took about two hours for them to find everything and then another 30 minutes to open them – I think they were pooped out from the treasure hunt.

At any rate, I got what I wanted – enough time to put the coffee on, put out the cinnamon buns and watch their faces as they opened their Christmas treasures. It was a gas! (I wonder what I’ll do next year???)

The fun in the morning made up for Christmas Eve. Bill worked at the fire station again. For a part-time job, it sure cuts into our holidays together. Worst of all, it was –20 degrees below zero last night, so it was too dangerous to go anywhere.  The girls and I ended up having a pizza party in the living room, while we watched a television Christmas special. They thought it was a big deal to be able to eat their favorite meal in front of the television; I’m glad they couldn’t see how I was feeling inside.

Can’t wait to hear about your family celebrations.

Love,  “B”

 February, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear friend. I hope Ray lavished you with roses and candy and proclaimed his undying love for you. After all the years you’ve been married, I hope he still remembers.

Bill gave me a card on his way out the door at 6 a.m.  How romantic, huh? It wasn’t even a mushy card. It said, “Remembering you on Valentine’s.”  Men! Why do we put up with them?

It sounds like you’re really enjoying your new home. I’m so glad. Sometimes when people make such a drastic change, things don’t go very smoothly. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with you. I love the pictures you sent.

This afternoon, I’m helping with the Valentine’s party at school. I’ve baked a couple of dozen cupcakes for Amy’s room and promised to help with the games. So, gotta go.

I love you, Happy Valentine’s Day!  — “B”

April 1, 1986

Dear Marie,

So sorry to hear that you’ve been sick. I hope this letter brightens your day.

Things have been relatively quiet for the past few months. The doll clothes sales dwindled down to nearly nothing. Valentine’s sales were good, and Easter sales were decent, but since then, I may as well fold up my tent and sell my sewing machine.

I went to the doctor the other day for my yearly check-up and learned that I will soon be a mom again. It turns out the rabbit died — just in time for me to be completely free. I don’t know how this could have happened. Bill isn’t home enough for, well, you know. Maybe it’s another immaculate conception?

I can just hear you snickering right now. Nonetheless, it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around being pregnant again. After being in bed for the last four months of Sarah’s pregnancy, I’m not too keen on doing it again.

Well, it’s time for a nap. The first trimester is so tiring.

So I’ll leave you with that bit of news and just say, “April Fools!”

(Had you going there, didn’t I?)

Ha, ha — “B”

 May 1, 1986

Dear Marie,

Sometimes I can’t believe what a snot you can be — teasing me about the weather like that. Rubbing it in that you are in shorts, while you know I’m still wearing jeans and a sweatshirt on the warm days!  Enjoy it, my friend, because soon you’ll be melting. and I’ll be the one talking about beautiful summer nights.

We celebrated Sarah’s 6th birthday last week. I took all of her little friends to a Chuck E. Cheese Pizza joint in Milwaukee on what she said was her “real birthday.” Over the weekend, I had cake and ice cream from my parents, Bill’s mother and Sarah’s God parents. Sarah’s favorite gift was a little “big wheel” she got for her Cabbage Patch doll, Nancy. I thought by now she would have outgrown her love for that doll, but Nancy still makes most trips to the grocery store, and of course, is always available for snuggling at bedtime.

I’m glad to hear that Ray is finally working on the studio/workshop—or was that workshop/studio? I think you’d better sit that man down and redraw the plans. It seems like you got gypped out of  floor space.  Remember he’s a man, an older man who has gotten his way most of his life. I think at the end of the day, it will be Ray’s workshop, not Marie’s art studio.

Only one more month of “freedom” before school is out. Now that I’ve gotten used to my half days of no children, I am not looking forward to up my free time. I’m off to my Jazzercise class!

Did I once say this stay-at-home Mom stuff was a drag? It always astounds me how many times I end up eating my own words.

Love, “B”

 June, 1986

Dear Marie,

School’s out, and we’re off on a great adventure. Lonna, the girls, and I are going to Cleveland, Georgia. We’ve been planning this trip for the past few months and we’re all excited. Lonna and I thought it would a grand tribute to end out involvement with the Cabbage Patch dolls by making a pilgrimage to where it all began.  Xavier Roberts – the inventor of the dolls — put his whole small town to work with his creation. I can’t wait to see the girls’ eyes when the cabbage patch gives birth to a new baby, and they get a chance to give the doll a name.

Other than that, it’s the usual. Hope the weather isn’t too hot for you.

Love,  “B”

June, 1986

Dear Marie,

Well, we’re back from a great trip! Do you know this was my first road trip out of the state? Georgia and Tennessee are such beautiful states.

Babyland General Hospital was as cute as I imagined. The handmade dolls were posed in different scenes in several rooms of a very large old house. But the main attraction was the “Cabbage Patch” where the babies were “born.”

I’ll never forget the look of surprise on the girl’s faces when a “nurse” said over the paging system, “Doctor, doctor. The Cabbage Patch is about ready to deliver.”

A man in surgical scrubs ran into the delivery room and slowly peeled back the “leaves” of the cabbage. There were several little doll heads sticking out of green fabric “cabbage leaves,” and one was ready to emerge as a full-fledged baby. The doctor did an “Easy-Out-Of-Me” and the next thing you know, he was holding up a new doll by its feet. He asked the crowd, “Who will name this baby?”

Amy piped up, “I will! I will! Her name will be Amy Kelley.” She was so thrilled when the doctor spanked the dolls bottom and said, “We name you Amy Kelley!”

We went away from the place with four new dolls . . . at $200 each — not a bad day’s work for the cabbage patch, huh? But it was worth the money to see Sarah take the oath of motherhood. She stood so erect and held her right hand straight up in the air and solemnly repeated the oath. I’ll never forget it.

I’m so happy I had this time with the girls. The whole week was a joy. We saw a part of the country that none of us (except for Lonna) had seen. We picked softball-size magnolias that had a scent of fine perfume. We walked through an old cemetery in Gainesville and found grave stones of a Confederate General named Longstreet. We toured an old southern mansion, which looked like something out of “Gone with the Wind.” In Gatlinburg, we took an “Old Time” photo. In a small Swiss-looking town called Helen, George, Sarah participated in a turtle race in the town’s square.

My favorite part was our sojourn through Smokey Mountain Park. We meandered down a curvy road beside a small stream with beautiful natural scenes surrounding us. We traveled to the top of the lookout, got out and looked around. As I gazed into the haze of the mountains, I got a feeling of how inconsequential we humans really are. The weather was perfect for the entire trip — highs in the 80s every day.

It was a wonderful way to conclude my love affair with the Cabbage Patch dolls . . . the very first doll I ever loved. My own Eddie doll sits proudly on my dresser in his pleated pants and suede jacket that I made him as a reminder of three wonderful years.

On the trip back, Lonna and I talked a lot after the kids fell asleep. . . that was my job to keep her awake until we got to Kentucky. She asked me what I was going to do now that we’re wrapping up the doll business. I confessed I was considering going to college. When I asked her what she thought, she said, “Cheryl’s in college now, you know.” I guess she thought I was too old because her daughter is there.

But I’ve always wanted a college diploma. After high school, the only options open to me were to be a teacher or a nurse. My mother said girls not studying to be a teacher or a nurse were on campus for a “MRS” degree. I didn’t want to be either of those professions. Heck, I faint when I see blood and some days teaching two kids is enough for me – much less a whole room full of them, day-in and day-out, for years and years!So my only option was to find a secretarial job. Mom said I needed skills to “Fall back on.”

But now, even my secretarial skills are so dated that I’d have to go to school to update them anyhow.

Am I crazy to want to do this?  I’ll be 35 next month, you know and maybe I really am too old. After all, high school is almost 20 years in my rear view mirror.

Well, I’m off to supervise a neighborhood swimming party at my neighbor’s pool. I’m bringing my whistle with me, so I should be OK.

How did you ever raise eight kids and maintain your sanity?

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Happy Birthday, my friend. It seems so strange not to spend our birthdays together this year. Oh I know, you and Ray will be camping nearby in August, but it just isn’t the same.

Thanks for the support about the college thing. After I got your letter, I made an appointment to go see a college counselor. I’ll have to take a couple of tests and get my high school transcript. I hope they’ll consider me.

I’ll tell you about it when I see you in August.

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Yes, it’s me again.  I couldn’t wait until August.

I met with the college counselor last week. My appointment was late in the day, but I left a couple of hours early. I was afraid that I’d get lost and be late. I’m so dumb some times. The woman I spoke with gave me good directions, and I found the office right away. So, I spent the extra hour waiting in the school coffee shop. Because it’s summer, there weren’t too many people around. I tried to imagine it would be like at the height of the semester.

I took the interest test, and it revealed that I could be successful at just about anything. I was hoping to get some direction on “what I want to be when I grow up” because I’m as confused now as I was when I was in high school.

I’d still love to sing professionally – but at my age, I think that dream has passed me by. Or I’d love to write books. I’ve always loved to write, but you know that better than anyone . . . after some of my longer letters. Anyhow, the counselor said my high school transcript was superior, and I should be readily accepted as a student.

I decided to go part-time at first to see if I can handle it. I’m wondering if I still remember how to study, keep up with the course work, and of course face a test. Will I remember everything that I need to remember?

Well, gotta go. I’ll look forward to seeing you next month!

Love,  “B”

 July, 1986

Dear Marie,

Yes, me again. I’m so glad you’re always there. I think writing to you sometimes is my salvation. If not salvation, for sure therapy.

I actually did it – I registered for college!  Registration was pretty strange. I stood in line with kids who could biologically be my children. I felt old and wondered if I was doing the right thing after all.  I’m taking an English 101 class and an Anthropology class. Six credits. That’s all.

When I got home, I called my mother and told her what I did. And you know what she said?  She said, “Well, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard! Why in the world are you going to do that now?” She went on and on about how I had it made with a husband who provided so well for me. I had my own car. A house in the country and two lovely children. As usual, I got a lump in my throat and couldn’t say anything to her. Sometimes I wish I could just tell her to go to hell.

I guess my mother and I will never be on the same page. What does she expect me to do with the rest of my life? Sit home and watch soap operas? Or at the very worst, go back to secretarial work? But then, she’s always blasted working moms, too. I can’t win with that woman! I should have kept my mouth shut and not shared what I was planning to do. When will I learn, I’ll never get the support from her that I want?

But I wanted you to know that I didn’t chicken out. I guess I need you to be proud of me.

Love,  “B”

 September, 1986

Dear Marie,

It was so wonderful seeing you again. Even though it had been over a year since we’d been together, we just seemed to pick up where we left off. Amy and Sarah enjoyed coming out to your camp ground, too. They loved the “Up and Down the River” card game you taught us, and said they said they were lucky to have you for their third grandma.

Well, the big day finally arrived on Tuesday. Sarah packed her backpack for first grade, and I packed mine to go off to college. I don’t know who was more scared. After the registration indoctrination of last month, I decided to go buy a couple of pair of jeans and some t-shirts to camouflage my age. That seems to be the standard uniform of the student population – heck, it’s the standard uniform of the faculty.

As I walked down the hallway to my Anthropology class, I saw one woman who never made it out of the sixties. She had waist-long gray hair, and she wore a thick headband to hold back the mop, no make-up and wire-rimmed glasses. Her denim skirts were down to her booted ankles, and she had on one of those crocheted vests that were so popular back then. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw her. For a moment, I wondered whether I was really in 1986. Turns out she’s an English prof.

The class expectations don’t seem unreasonable. I think the English class will be the easier of the two. Writing and reading – the two things I love to do most. Anthropology, I haven’t got a clue. But then, that’s why I’m in college isn’t it? To learn new things and be exposed as I never have before.

It will be an interesting 16 weeks.

Love,  “B”

October, 1986

University Library

Dear Marie,

I’m writing this letter in the school library to get more comfortable with the place. I’ve always been afraid of libraries – probably because the closest thing to a library I’m familiar with is the Bookmobile. I don’t like feeling intimidated by a building. Worst yet, I hate feeling stupid, so I’ll ease myself into the place by visiting with my friend.

I’ve been worried about you with the bad weather hitting Florida lately. Have your neighbors helped you to learn the ropes when hunkering down for hurricane? I keep trying to imagine what those huge storms must be like. We get bad weather — rain, thunder, lightning, even tornados sometimes, but the storms pass quickly. I can’t imagine that kind of fury going on for days! Promise me you’ll be careful.

Time is flying by. Who’d think that two little classes would be so time consuming?  Of course, I’m probably more “anal” (I heard a psych major say that word the other day. I’m guessing that it’s a polite way to say “tight ass.”) Listen to me! I sound like a “real” student!

I’m making a friend in my English class. Her name is Donna, and like you, she’s not sure if she wants to be my friend. What is it about me anyhow? She feels if she chats in the coffee shop, she’ll be a delinquent student or something. She puts so much pressure on herself! Once she relaxes, she’ll come around – just like you did! As you know, I’m persistent.

I turned in my first theme in English class this week. It was pretty good – but then, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything except letters.

And who would have thought I’d dig anthropology . . . sorry, pun alert. I really like Professor Shipek. She’s about 60 years old – did her PhD when her two sons went off to college! I guess I feel a kinship with her because she was a “non-traditional” student too.

“Non-traditional” – isn’t that rich? A politically correct way of saying “older than 20.”

Anyhow, Professor Shipek gave us our semester assignment today. We have to find out something about our family we didn’t know about before. I’ve decided to look into my Italian grandfather because we know so little about his immigrant experience. I think this will not only be a fun project, but it might help my Dad learn about his father, too.

Love,  “B”

October 12, 1986

Dear Marie,

I’m crushed. I got a C- on my first theme. In high school I was always GREAT at English – especially writing.  How could my paper be that bad?

I was so ashamed after I saw the grade, I hid my paper and like a little kid and headed to the bathroom for a good cry.

And of course, today was the day Donna said she’d like to meet after class. I told her I couldn’t. I suppose she got an “A” on the thing and wanted to show off. She’s very bright.

After I pulled myself together, got some lunch and went to my afternoon Anthropology class, Professor Shipek mentioned that the naturalization papers for the people in this area are in the archives of the library. I made an appointment with the librarian right after class to see if I can find Grandpa’s information. Wouldn’t it be cool if I found some deeply hidden family secret? It might make up for getting a C-.

Sarah volunteered me to bake cupcakes for her Halloween party. You should have seen her sweet little face when I said I could do it. “Thanks, Mom – you’re the best cupcake maker in the world.”

Maybe a C- theme writer, but an A+ Mom –right? If this college thing doesn’t work out, I know I’ll always be a good Mom.

At least I’ll be good at something — Boy, that C- stings.

Well, not much more to tell. I promise I’ll be a little cheerier in my next letter.

Love,  “B”

November, 1986

Dear Marie,

Well, two weeks later, and I’m still confused about the dumb English Class. I turned in another paper and got a C+ on this one. I guess that’s progress, but I really put a lot of work in on this one. I just don’t know what this instructor wants.  There must be some kind of magic formula that she’s looking for.

Come to find out, Donna’s having the same problems. Her papers were graded a little higher, but not that much better than mine. And she’s “way more” anal than I am!  So, we’ve decided that we must really be rusty or this instructor isn’t telling us what we need to know.

We started asking other students about what they’re learning in the 101 English classes in the hopes we’ll come up with an answer to this mystery. The reason this is so perplexing is we’re worried about a damn competency test that we have to pass in order to get our grade for the 101 English class. Get this! Because we’re both on an 1969 college catalog, we really don’t need to pass the competency test to graduate.  But we can’t get a passing grade in the 101 class, if we fail the competency. (Do I sound like I’m chasing my tail here?)  If we don’t pass now, we’ll have to take the class over again and repeat the competency exam. If this isn’t stupidity at its best, I don’t know what is. Around campus they call it “academia”  logic.

I’m beginning to think that college is the only place on earth that you pay big bucks to have someone drive you crazy!

Love, “B”

November 25, 1986

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Dear Marie,

You’d better sit down with a cup of coffee because this isn’t a letter, it’s a saga.

Our Thanksgiving was the usual. Mom and Dad had the family over for dinner. Even Rocky was invited! My Dad and I continued our tradition of carving the turkey together–something we’ve done since I was about ten years old.  The best part for both of us is snitching juicy turkey piece off the cutting board. Dad says it the carver’s right to get the first taste. And you know what? That first taste is always the best.

Through the years everybody has laid claim to their favorite part of the turkey. Mom’s is the tail. Mark’s is the gizzard and heart. Chris opts for a wing and I like the thigh. Dad gets stuck with the white meat, but since his heart attach, it’s the only part he’s supposed to eat anyway. The girls enjoyed the day too — and as usual, Bill found a way not to be there. He volunteered for duty at the fire station, so he wouldn’t have to be with my parents. I’m growing very tired of making excuses for him, so I just told my parents Bill didn’t want to come.

You never mentioned your plans for Thanksgiving this year. Did you go to the church with your friends like last year? I think that’s such a nice tradition. People without close-by family members being able to share dinner together is a great way to spend a holiday. That’s what I’d want to do if I was far from my family. Bill would choose differently, though. He’d be happier staying alone, eating a baloney sandwich than have to sit next to a stranger at a dinner table.

How did we ever get together? Must have been the hormones, huh?

Oh, well. Let’s go on.

You asked about the essay problem. Well, we cracked the code. My new friend Donna came across a handout from another professor that outlined a formula for a five-paragraph essay. An introductory paragraph that introduces the subject and three supporting points and a concluding paragraph. Simple! We confronted our instructor and asked why she didn’t give us this information. She said, “I thought I’d be insulting your intelligence by giving you such simple information. You should have gotten this in high school.”

I looked her in the eye and said, “Do I look like an 18 year old? Do you realize how long ago high school was for me?” She apologized, and I got an A on my next two themes, passed the competency with flying colors, and am confident that I can keep going — I’m really not too stupid after all, no matter what Bill says.

The Anthropology project is just about completed. I’ve so enjoyed digging up things about my grandfather. I found his American Naturalization papers in the University Archives! The papers recorded the name of the ship and his home town — Bovino, Italy which is in the southern province of Apulia. At the time he applied for US citizenship, he had four children, and lived on Mead Street in Racine.

It turns my dad’s oldest brother is really a year older than he thinks he is — looks like he had a head start before Grandma and Grandpa got married. Now there’s a family secret!

Grandpa sailed from Naples at age 17. That really blew my mind. I can’t imagine Amy or Sarah coming to me in a few years and saying, “Mom, I’m going to go to the moon next week. I’ll probably never see you again, but I have to do this for my future.” What courage our ancestors had! As I turned over one stone after stone, I become so proud of my grandfather.

Part of the assignment was to talk to all my older relatives, and get them to recount family stories. One that particularly impressed me was when Grandpa got fired from J. I. Case Company during the depression.

Grandpa was a well-loved foreman, supervising over 300 men in the tractor foundry. At that time, there were no worker protection laws, and it was common to assign dangerous tasks to men; after all, there was just another dumb immigrant to take his place if something bad happened. Well, Grandpa never asked anybody to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and when he refused to assign a dangerous task to one of his men, my Grandfather’s boss fired him.

The Union was just getting started at Case, and when the workers heard what happened to Grandpa, they ALL walked off their jobs. Dad said he was just a little guy then, but he remembered people coming to the house with baked goods, garden vegetables and any money they could spare to keep Grandpa and his eight kids going. The workers said they were going to stay off their jobs until the company gave Grandpa his job back.

About two weeks went by before the strike was over. The company reinstated my Grandfather with no punishment, and the men went back to work. Considering the bad times the country was going through, I think this story is something everybody in the family should know. So, I’ve given copies of my report to all my aunts and uncles to share with all my cousins. I hope they’re as proud of their roots as I am.

You know, Marie, I was only seven years old when Grandpa died. I remember he was a loving, kind old man. I remember sitting on his lap as he rocked me in his favorite chair. He told my Dad I was his favorite grandchild. Now I feel a true kinship with him, and the best part of the project was sharing it with Dad.

The one mistake Grandpa made was not telling his kids about the “old country.” Once he became an American citizen, he left Italy in his past. He never talked about his life there. My Dad didn’t know anything about his Italian background. Heck, Grandpa’s obituary was completely wrong because none of the kids knew the truth about where he came from.  I guess Grandpa was too busy working 16 hours a day to think it was important.

If my college education would have to cease right now, this experience was worth it. When I told Professor Shipek that. she took my hand and said, ““Barbara, your first project was outstanding, and I want you do whatever it takes to keep going.” Think about anthropology as a major. You’re a natural.

Right then and there, I vowed to get my degree.

Love, “B”

January 15, 1987

Dear Marie,

I don’t know where the time has gone. Here it is the middle of January already and I haven’t written. I hope you’re missing me as much as I am you.

Thanks for the invitation to come and see you. If I can swing it, it will be just me and the girls. Maybe during Easter break.

I had a pleasant Christmas. The girls were so cute in the church Christmas pageant. Amy was an angel, and Sarah was one of the little lambs in the manger. Amy’s halo kept falling off to the side, and throughout the whole pageant, she tried nonchalantly right the thing. Sarah hammed it up as usual. She crawled over to baby Jesus in the manger and breathed heavily on him. When I asked her afterward what she was doing, she said that she had learned in church school it was cold in the cave where Jesus was born, and she was very warm in her costume, so she wanted to share some of her warmth with baby Jesus. What a character!

My grades came right before Christmas. “A” in Anthropology and “B+” in English. Not a bad start, for an old fart, huh?

I also received word that I passed the competency in English and I am exempt from the Math competency. Yeah! I don’t know if I could keep going if I had to take math.

Next semester I’ve signed up for 12 credits. Since Professor Shipek’s comment, I’ve dedicated myself to get my BA. Of course,  Bill hates the idea. In fact, he refuses to pay the tuition, so somewhere I’ve got to come up with the $800 to pay for the next semester.

As if an answer to a prayer, I found a paid on-campus secretarial job in the student government organization. I’ve calculated that I’ll have just enough to cover next semester’s books and tuition if I work about 15 hours per week at $4.00/hr.

So, I’m on my quest. No one or any thing can discourage me from graduating in four years. I’ll bet you lunch, I’ll do it with honors, too. Away from my parents and Bill, I’ve found a strength I never knew I had.  Best of all, I found “Barbara” again—not somebody’s daughter, wife or mother – just “Barbara.”  It’s a wonderful discovery.

By the time I graduate, I’m sure there will be lots of changes, but I know I’m strong enough and smart enough to deal with anything. Thanks for always hanging in there with me. Your support has changed my life.

Love forever,


6 thoughts on “The Letter Connection

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