Mom's letters to me began arriving in 1977, that Fall I entered UNC-Chapel Hill and, with the exception of college summers when I was home, letters kept arriving until they morphed into emails.
Do you have a letter collection? I do, although I rarely add to it now.
My mother-in-law, who passed away a year ago at the age of 78, was the last of my circle who refused to embrace email. She held fast to stationary and stamps, punctuated by the occasional phone call. There were moments when I wondered why, but when we went back to Illinois for the memorial, I found myself taking a picture of the desk in her den, its drawers organized with stationary choices. I could imagine her sitting there, writing me. Even now, that makes me smile.
The stationary. The pen. The choice of stamp. The return address. It all adds to a letter's message.
Words in context have more meaning. At least to me.
It's the same reason that when I journal I don't just put a date at the top of the page. I add the time and the place, too. Like the first summer we moved to Northern California and we seemed to live at the neighborhood pool. Flip through those entries and you'll find headers that might read: "Friday, July 17. 11:58 a.m. Sitting in a lounge chair at the shallow end of Rancho. Again."
Mom's earliest letters to me are on various types of stationary, yellow pad papers and other bits of paper she had handy as she reached for her pen. But in 1979, after she took the job at the League of Women Voters, the letters arrived on official stationary.
Mom writes the way she tells stories -- full of details. Letters blend news from home with reactions to what I'd written to her. Some continue conversations we'd had on the telephone or something she'd heard I'd said to Dad when she wasn't home to talk.
Those early letters also chronicle her burgeoning career as artist and lobbyist, and then her work at the League and the creation of the Business Council for ERA
All of which leads to odd juxtapositions. A letter might jump from a meeting at the White House to the neutering of my bother's cat, randomly named Rover.
Looking at those letters now, they serve as a kind of window into my own life -- which is fun and weird, all at once.
Last week, though, something new surfaced. Mom found this shot of her office at the League of Women Voters:
Mom wrote me early in the morning because she did what I did when I worked summers in D.C. -- she commuted in with Dad.
Dad always left home by 6:30 a.m. to make it to his office (which was then near the Phillips Gallery) for his 7 a.m. patient. That put Mom at her desk way before the start of the normal business day.
I think those letters to me served to warm Mom up for a full day's effort.
What I know for sure is this: Mom wrote me those letters at that desk, on that Selectric typewriter, as she sat in that chair, waiting for the work day to begin and that phone to start ringing.
It's like I just hit "refresh" and my letter collection came up with a new illustration.
About today's guest blogger:Robin S. Fox is a certified social media and inbound marketing coach who lives in Northern California. And... she's Ellouise's daughter.