By now you have noticed the cyclical pattern of life. You get a déjà vu shiver and realize you’re engaged in activities you’ve already done. Twenty years ago you created another letters project, albeit one with a different objective. You transcribed all the letters your mother had written to her mother during the first twelve months of your life, and interleaved them with journal entries about your first son. You bound it up nicely and gave it to Mom. Implicit in that gesture was the commonality you shared as fledgling young parents.
Those letters depicted the inextricable bond between a mother and daughter who share many interests, among them a love of books and great writing, and a compulsion to unearth the sprawling story of your family. To that end, you and she have prowled cellars and cemeteries, trespassed, talked to strangers, and leafed through old books. The footsteps you tread have been trodden before, trodden and buried under layers of time. You have found yourselves lost, only to end up in the most serendipitous places. Back at home she types your findings while you spin fantasies based on facts. Together, you and she write letters to the past, to be read by people born in the future.
And who besides you shall record the proof of this special bond? Set it down for the ages, how you and Mom garden till your arms and legs ache, then collapse on a couch and watch football together. Recount your crazy adventures and the evenings reminiscing over glasses of wine. Convey her essence in these letters, for they are you and you are her, and they will live on forever.
Few people take the time to write letters anymore, but without letters, we lose the subtleties of what makes each person unique. Official records don’t preserve your mom’s wisdom and guidance, her unwavering devotion to you and your children. They can’t capture your love, which is cookies and curlers, the poems she wrote, and her talent for picking the best presents ever. There’s no box to rate her generosity with your friends or the hours invested in supporting your dreams. Who else will remember how she roused you on your wedding day with a cool palm on your face, how she flew cross-country to welcome your babies, and later, much later, hugged you in court after you brought an end to your marriage? If you don’t write it down, then a hundred years hence no one will understand your mom, or comprehend the part of your soul she completes.
Now you live very close and have the frequent pleasure of her company. You hang out a while, then head home full of unconditional love. You’re lucky and you know it. You want her to realize how fortunate you feel, but sometimes you don’t say these things clearly enough. It’s not till your mom seems a little alone that you grasp the importance of making bold statements.
Twenty years ago you transcribed her letters because it amazed you how closely her experience of new motherhood mirrored yours. Today, on her seventy-first birthday, you’re almost afraid to look in her eyes, afraid to speak of those occasional hesitant moments. Memories flit away in delicate wisps, but your mom’s palm is still cool. Press it to your cheek. Codify her soul in your words. A letter acts as the perfect device.