Among the things I received from my late mother’s estate was a box of letters I wrote her.
A lot of my letters were from the period 1976 until 1979 when I was stationed in a mechanized infantry division in Mainz, Germany.
I read them last night. The topics were pretty mundane.
12 Nov 78
APO New York 09185
Just a short note to let you know that I completed French Commando School without serious injury and in good spirits. In case you didn’t get my last letter I arrive in Moline 20 Dec 78 at about 8:30 p.m. on Ozark flight #873 from Chicago. I hope to be going to France again in the time before I return to Davenport. I will visit Normandy Beach and a number of the famous cathedrals. Til then keep the faith, drop me a line to let me know how things are going on the home front.
I wrote her as much as she wrote me. I kept all of her letters and someday I’ll be ready to read those too.
As I followed the vein of letters over the last 24 hours I found a series written by my maternal grandmother while I was in Europe. They were mostly responses to mine, although what I wrote her did not survive. She was very good about writing me, and explained her health issues in great detail. She wrote often about my cousin Linda who was stationed in Spain at the same time I was in Germany. While Grandma was being treated for a heart attack her physician had a heart attack so she had to get a new doctor, she wrote. I like to think her writing letters to me helped her understand her condition. I know writing has that effect on me.
There was a flurry of letters from friends during the investigation to secure me a top secret clearance. I warned people the feds were coming and most of them wrote back after their interview. I got the clearance, although the information I was able to access was pretty dull. Just because it’s top secret doesn’t mean it’s that interesting. I remember their letters more than the secret stuff.
We are out of the age of many hand-written letters. With “forever stamps” I don’t even know how much posting a first class letter costs. Email is quicker, cheaper, and we get to save a copy if we choose.
Phone calls are also inexpensive. In Germany I did not have a telephone until my appointment as battalion adjutant. More people had to reach me after hours. If the balloon went up (meaning the Soviets crossed the border), we would be rounded up from the compound where Americans lived by knocking on doors.
How to use this archival material is an open question. I’m still trying to figure out what I have, what warrants writing about, and what fits in a 100,000-word autobiography. Some of the memories have me returning letters to the box to save for another time.
Whatever the outcome of this autobiography, the writing of it will be the thing. Part of the journey of life. A way to escape from the pressing society around me that doesn’t know when to relent.