Dear Mom

I am one of those people who has saved almost every letter anyone has ever written to me.

During this age of texts, emails, and social media, we are able to write instantly to people we care for. I cherish words from any medium when they come from the heart. Sometimes a simple text can stop me in my tracks with an intake of stunned breath. Words in any form can be an intimate sharing of the heart, a singularly focused extension of love.

But nothing is quite like a handwritten letter. They are ghosts telling of places and events and feelings that once were. The ink sings, the paper smells of history filled with joy and turmoil and everyday living, the words paint a picture that can lead to an understanding of how the present has been wrapped and unwrapped.

The last few days I have been sorting through a giant tub filled with letters. Letters from my children, ex-boyfriends, friends, husband, grandmother. History.

But most of the letters in this particular green plastic tub are from my mother. She was a letter writer.

And my grandmother was a keeper like me.

I don’t like to think of myself as a hoarder. Like on the show about hoarders where there is not a single space on which to eat or sleep. My house doesn’t have cockroaches or mice and its relatively orderly. I simply feel its important to keep tangible pieces of history.

Thanks to my grandmother, I inherited all the letters she kept. It’s very interesting to read letters a younger you wrote.  My mother also wrote to my grandmother diligently. Here is one from 1955. My mom was living with HER grandmother (we called her Tiny Grandma) in Pasco for the summer. She was ten at the time:

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I only have a couple letters from my grandmother to my mother. Grandma was also a letter writer but my mother was a purger. When things got difficult she would throw or give EVERYTHING away, sometimes even her furniture and clothes, thinking she could start fresh without any reminders of the past. One letter my grandmother wrote to my mother is dated December 14, 1994. The only reason I have this one is because my mother sent it back unopened, marked “return to sender”. Those two fought a lot, sometimes going years without speaking to each other: women who dug their heels in painfully deep.

My own heels have been dug in the last few months. It seems that year six of my mother not being here, bugging me in first person, has brought some anger. It’s “mad at my dead mom” year: the year I finally stop reaching for the phone to call her and tell her stuff. Mainly because I’m not speaking to her.

This is why I got the letters out. To see if I could drum up some feelings other than anger. Well, also because I have been working on a book about her, though it’s turning out to be a fictional work of nonfiction. Which I think is okay. My mother would appreciate her biography being filled with creative and elaborate exaggeration. Any lunatic would.

For two days, all I did was stick my face in her old purse inhaling her smoky smell, peeking every now and then at the menacing piles of letters that I had not had the courage to read since she left.

Her life was filled with a lot of drama, especially her last few years. Some of the details are told in the thirty one letters she sent me from the Newport, Washington jail during the second half of her 60 day stint. She wasn’t speaking to me during the “time” she did in January 2007, after which she was released on good behavior. But when she had to go back to finish her 60 for “bad” behavior in August 2007 she wrote me every day, vivid letters full of nattering details about what it’s like to be “on the inside”.

You all are probably thinking: yikes! Why are you telling about this? This is not a very good tribute to your mom! And here it is Mother’s Day. Rude daughter!

But here’s the thing about my mother: she loved everyone she met.

Everyone.

She tells in her letters from jail about the people she met, the guards and the prisoners, what they did, why they did it, what kind of people they were and how she felt compelled to help them. She would use the money from her ‘incarceration account” to buy these women candy and new underwear. She would talk to them. Tell them they were beautiful and important. In some of the letters to my grandma, she tells of keeping in contact with some of the women after she was released.

The reality is, when my mother put her love on you, you were changed. And she managed to do this for other people even during the lowest periods of her life.

In a silver mirrored box I discovered fifteen letters that my mother wrote to my dad’s mom from 1967 to 1970. I am unsure how I ended up with them, but they (at least in my mind) smell like my grandma Joycelynn, a faint perfume captured and contained by the box. She died when I was five from breast cancer but I have vivid memories of a gorgeous woman who called me Goldilocks. My mom was a new stay at home mom. She was wicked smart and struggling with boredom. She says so a few times in the letters. There are details: “thanks for sending me back my pants”; I love the Reader’s Digest you sent me! Golly, maybe I should be a doctor now I am so smart from all this reading”; “Got a perm, my hair is really curly and only an inch long. Your son is asleep so that proves how exciting I look”.

But here is something that stands out:

She told of her stepfather coming over for dinner and how I cried when he left. She did not dig him. Not at all. “I cried when he came into the room, not when he left. But Heather is so outgoing…she figures everyone loves her. Nice way to be.”

I was two then. I have almost no recollection of her stepfather.

But up until I was a teenager, I really did assume that everyone loved me. My mother put her love on me like no other person ever has and made me believe everyone loved me too. Who could not? Me who was loved so truly, so genuinely by the most beautiful woman I ever knew?

My letter writing mom gave me a whole lot to be angry at her for. What mom doesn’t? Lord knows my kids have probably kept a pretty big mental list of all my really crappy moments thus far. But my mom also gave me a great gift of understanding what it means to love unconditionally, which I have discovered from her letters doesn’t just mean loving others no matter how imperfect THEY are but also continuing to imperfectly love others in your OWN darkest and most imperfect moments. And as I unfold these letters from the past in this present moment, I am able to see what perfect love this is.

Dear Mom,

I love you too! Thank you for showing me how to give and receive love even when it’s dark. I will call you later!

Love Heather

Love and Coffee Go Together

It’s almost dark outside on this dreary, drippy fall Monday and I am drinking my second latte of the day. Plus, if you must know, I drank most of the coffee pot coffee this morning. I am hoping this last (over) dose of caffeine will kick start me so I can feel clear enough to finish the work I get paid for and still be nice to my children at what I like to call the “mom just wants to go to bed and leave you all to your own devices” hour. Screw the housework. It can wait. But until the caffeine hits, I thought I would talk to my blog while I am in a fog, and see what happens.

It’s hard for me to post something on my blog site every day. I probably shouldn’t have even attempted the ‘Every Day in November’ deal. This will be my 14th post in 24 days. That’s a 58.3%. Dillin: does this count as a “Healthy F”?

The problem is that I am moody and my moods effect how I see (and tell of) myself and the world and when I don’t see the world or me as nifty or peculiar or wicked fun I would rather not talk to you all about it. I think it’s rude to write negatively. Why spread dark clouds?

Unless you happen to be a SMART writer who can write negative things beautifully. I don’t know how to do that. When I am in a bad mood I use even more swear words than usual and call things dumb a lot. Like a four year old. (Not the swear words, the saying things are dumb.) (Unless your four year olds are like mine were: little stinker parrots.)

But do any of you find it interesting how one day you can look in the mirror and want to blow kisses at your awesomeness and you actually DO because it just FEELS right to blow kisses at yourself. If you have never done this, I highly recommend that you do. But don’t actually kiss the mirror. That would be weird. Plus you would have to clean the slobber off the mirror. Which is a pain. And if your mirror is like mine you could actually get a taste of someone else’s toothpaste spit-splash. And that could possibly wreck the awesomeness mood.

But then sometimes the very next day, with NO changes to your physical appearance, it’s hard to refrain from gagging at the sight of yourself BUT because you hate throwing up, you sigh heavily instead and turn off the lights while you brush your teeth? I mean it could be that the day before you wore black and black is your “make you look hot” color and on this day you wore yellow which makes you look like you have jaundice. It could be that. But more than likely it is simply your mood that has you scowling at your beautiful self. This is REALLY when you should be blowing the kisses but it is just too hard to lift your hand to your mouth when you are in a bad mood. Plus it’s dark in the bathroom.

This morning I was in a great mood but then pretty much used up all my energy singing a slightly altered sound track from The Sound of Music to the little boys as they left for school: “So long, farewell, it’s time for you to go! Adieu, adieu to you and you and you.” It’s best to NOT kiss them on the foreheads when you are singing with your mouth open. It messes their cool spiked up boy bangs. So you know. In case you were going to try it. Slow things down and kiss them between each ‘you’.  They like that better. And you also don’t get firm hold gel in your mouth.

But when I was downtown today for work, even though I was kind of sapped from all that singing, I was still in love with all ‘my downtown people’ and had to hold back from blowing kisses at them. Because this is generally frowned upon downtown. Come to find out people sometimes take it wrong and think you are a weirdo. It’s different when you blow kisses at yourself in the privacy of your own bathroom. No one usually sees that.

But you know the people I’m talking about: the high; the homeless; the mentally off kilter; the really thin lady with orange dreadlocks, a giant back pack and guitar, who still walks really fast despite her load; even the guy in the suit talking on his phone who runs into a parking meter. All the downtrodden people who keep on keeping no matter what. I was relieved that despite being tired today I was not in such a negative mood that I could not see each of them shine with their own unique grace through the heavy baggage most of them carry. And I’m not talking about back packs or guitars.

So many of them are smiling.

Except the suit. He was NOT happy. (I’m so sorry dude: after I cringed at your full on bonk, I giggled. That was rude. I really, really hope that was the only bad thing that happened to you today. )

And we know why the high people are smiling. Whatever. I’m in love with them too, though with full awareness that the crash will come too soon in all its agony.

But most of these people just plug along in their day, so many of them with incredible beauty despite the layers upon layers of dirty, not warm enough clothes and boots with holes in them.

Most of them for sure don’t get to have TWO lattes in one day, let alone one and as this last hit of caffeine clears my head I am thinking: wouldn’t it be cool to have a golf cart equipped with snow tires and a coffee pot, where I could take an hour each day and just drive around handing out coffee. I would have real cream too, and sugar. How cool would that be?

Okay. Clearly I need to be cut off from this addictive drink. But still. I could be the kiss blowing coffee fairy. You can’t be a weirdo when you are handing out free coffee. It’s impossible. That would make a difference. In my mood. And I’d have this cool golf cart.

Plus I am dying to ask the dreadlock lady to play guitar for me. She might slow down and do that if she had a cup of coffee. I bet she rocks.