Letters From MY Former Self

Reading letters I wrote in the 1970’s gives me perspective on my former self

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I have a very good friend that I have known since I was a toddler. We live in different states and have not seen one another for years. But we keep in touch through Facebook postings. She is also an avid reader of my blog. Recently, she was rummaging through her basement and discovered several letters that I wrote to her from my freshman and sophomore years in college. When asked if I wanted her to mail them to me, I eagerly agreed and waited for the mail to arrive.
I quickly opened the package containing letters and photographs from my past. This was a glimpse into my former self, so kindly saved for me by my friend Nancy from 1978 and ’79. At that time I was attending Douglass College, Rutgers University in New Jersey. I had been a sheltered, naive girl and was absolutely unprepared for college social life.
I wrote about college life and basically what life was like for a college coed in the seventies. There was plenty of discussion of drinking, boys, parties and my busy schedule.
Several of the letters were typed. I had been so excited that my parents had bought me an electric typewriter for my birthday. This was decades before IPads and Smart phones.
In some of the letters I sound boy crazy. In others I discuss my plan to spend the summer down the Jersey shore. I was excited that my friends and I were lucky enough to get jobs as a chamber maids. That job did not last long. I soon found much more enjoyable jobs operating the kiddie boat ride at Mariner’s Landing Amusement Park and selling almond butter crunch at Mallin’s Candy Store.
I wrote of my plan to save money to go skydiving. Little did I know my skydiving would wait about thirty years and I would be joined by my youngest son, Tim.
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In the final letter I read, I mention spending time with a guy named Greg. We talked all night about our desire to go skydiving. His friend Tim told me “Greg likes you.” I hoped he did. That guy Greg and I celebrated thirty five years of marriage last week. I guess he really did like me.
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My Mother’s Last Gift

 

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Lately I have seen a lot of women my age shopping with their mothers.  Now I am just assuming they are mothers and daughters, gingerly walking up and down the shopping isles.  I look at these women with sweet nostalgic memories and a twinge of envy.  My mom was a shopper in the finest sense of the word.  She would drive far and wide to seek out bargains.  Together we always had fun shopping and maybe that’s why I am envious of these women, gently guiding their own frail mothers.

Daughters have complicated relationships with their mothers.  My mother was not perfect, but I never felt anything but love from her.  She was a child of The Great Depression and lost her own mother at an early age.  She helped raise her younger siblings when her mother passed away leaving behind eight young children.  I am sure growing up in poverty, without a mother made her the person I knew.  Her memories of her own mother were always sweet stories of her cat Dorothy, placing cardboard in their shoes to cover the holes in the soles, eating sugar and lard sandwiches and always sharing what little you had with someone who had even less.

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My mom as a young girl.

My mom’s name was Grace and she talked to everyone.  She would start a conversation with the stranger sitting next to her on a plane and soon would be exchanging phone numbers. Grace’s three children all grew up knowing that mom was proud of them and loved them unconditionally.  

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Grace, meeting her granddaughter, Kathleen Grace.

The last five years of my mother’s life were undoubtedly the most difficult.  She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease .  Not very long after the diagnosis my father, her husband and love of her life passed away.  Grace, the independent working mother, the shopper, the lady that took dusting her home to a new level, the traveler, the conversationalist would soon be robbed of what she valued most, her independence.  

Grace lived with the diagnosis of ALS the way she lived her entire life, with grace.  Very quickly after her diagnosis she lost the ability to walk, sit up independently, she had difficulty swallowing, and soon only had the use of only one hand.

No one tells you when you are diagnosed with an awful disease like ALS how lonely it can be.  Friends you have your entire life often abandon you because your disease makes them “uncomfortable.”  At first, there were many tears when told of her fate, but eventually my mom would say, “well, you’ve got to die of something.”  After my dad’s death she moved in with my sister’s family.  Mom became friends with her caregivers, they enjoyed concerts together she eventually lent money to her new friend to purchase her first home.
Mom continued to travel to my home in Arizona.  There she discovered caregivers with connections to Native American crafts.  One day I came home from work to discover several craftsman selling her jewelry and other crafts in my living room!  Mom also loved gambling and with her one good hand could still operate  a slot machine at the casinos.

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Here we are dressed alike, heading out to the casinos.

When you know your mother is going to die you don’t hesitate to tell them how much you love them.  I thanked her for being a great mother and grandmother.  I thanked her for my great childhood.

At the very end of her life my sister called to tell me it was time to come and say goodbye to mom.  I quickly flew out to the East Coast with my three children.  When I saw her it was apparent that the end was very near, mom could no longer eat and she had lost the ability to speak. In her final moments Grace motioned her grandchildren closer and with her dying breath she mouthed the words “I love you.”  She then blew a kiss, closed her eyes and was gone.  Grace’s final gift was to tell us she loved us and to die in peace.