Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Thoughts on Turning 60

I turned 60 on March 24th. My older sister insisted that we mark the occasion with a mini family reunion. She flew in to Seattle from Detroit and my niece (her daughter) hosted a birthday party for me, complete with a decades theme. There were party favors and foods from the 1950's, 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990's and 2000's. We had Necco Wafers and Pez, we had ratatouie and carrot cake, and we had poems. My niece asked everyone who came to write a poem for me - and they did! Seeing myself through the eyes of my sister, my husband, my two sons, my great-nieces and daughters-in-law was truly memorable and very moving.

My sister also gave me a wonderful gift: letters written to my cousin Harry when he was in basic training in 1952. These letters were mostly from my mother and father, and were simply telling Harry about their activities day to day, my father's work and volunteer work, me and my sister. Unremarkable, right? Except that my mother died 6 months after writing these letters. She was already sick. She referred to her "rheumatism" saying her hands were making it hard to write. Only she didn't have rheumatism. She had Scleroderma, but didn't know it yet. The diagnosis would not be given until 3 months after these letters were written.

I have very few actual memories of my mother. She died when I was three and a half. These letters give her back to me. She was a loving mother to me and my sister, a loving wife to my father and a loving aunt to my cousin. She told cousin Harry about the funny things I did, when I was sick, when my sister needed new clothes for school, an opera she attended with my father. She became a real person through these letters, not just a tragic figure who died so young and left me alone.

I am so grateful for these letters. I have read them again and again. I was loved and cared for by my mother, and even though she left so long ago, I carry her in my heart always.