While cleaning out my parent’s summer place a few weeks back, I stumbled upon a letter. The old cabin has been in our family for nearly a century so as you might imagine, the memories run deep…and the treasures are many.
The letter was hidden inside an old chest full of heavy woolen blankets and black and white photos of relatives who have long since passed away. The outside of the envelope held instructions…”To Sophie, Open Upon My Death.” Since my grandmother Sophie passed away some thirty years ago at the ripe old age of 89, I assumed I was not the first to set eyes on its content. Still, there it was hidden from sight among some old Army blankets that my grandmother had toiled over, hoping to send to soldiers overseas. Then the war ended, and those patchwork quilts found refuge in an old dusty trunk.
Initially I felt at odds about opening something so obviously personal. Throughout the day I would pull the letter out from it’s hiding place and slowly trace the cursive lines with my index finger, eventually stuffing it back between the quilt flaps, convincing myself that it was not meant for my eyes. Finally, when I could no longer stand the suspense, I lifted the seal and sat down to read.
January 21, 1947
My dearest Sophie,
Believe me, this is not my first option for renewing our acquaintance. By the time you read this letter, the attorney will have completed his fiduciary duty and informed you of my assets, or lack thereof as you have discovered. Except for my temperamental cat Helen, and my leather travel case full of journals, I have accumulated only knowledge. Although it may seem rather sad to be without worldly possessions, I assure you I am rich among corpses. My only regret in life is that I have not had the good fortune of watching you grow up. But, after the unfortunate incident with your father, God rest his soul, my wish to be reacquainted with you seemed as insurmountable as the disease that dines on my flesh.
The last opportunity I had to speak with your father was on my fiftieth birthday. On the eve of the party, a friend (I use the term loosely) had fifty black balloons delivered to the house, sending the entire party into fits of laughter. Dreadful experience, really. I can still see the young boy nearly airlifted from the helium as he released them from the confines of the delivery truck. He made his way through the hordes of well-wishers, who made sure to slap him on the back in a congratulatory fashion as if the youngster had invented practical jokes. The boy tied the balloons to the back of the kitchen chair and exited through the screen door.
The party was in full swing. There were cocktail glasses sloshing about, ice cubes clinking merrily in empty glasses all too quickly refilled, and the continuous shrieks of alcoholics at play. Balloons swaying with the rhythm of the party seemed so symbolic of the choices one could make on that momentous occasion.
Without the slightest hesitation, I untied them from the chair and held the strings tight, maneuvering them out into the moonlit night past the clothesline, and then released them into the sky. I watched them pass by the silhouette of poplar trees and up into the atmosphere until they were no longer in sight. What a glorious moment that was. I felt like I could fly myself!
In a state of euphoric bliss, I returned to the festivities. Having spent many years with the same crowd, I was quite confident that no one would notice my sudden departure, having no real need for a guest of honor. I grabbed my purse and drove into the night, never giving a thought to my level of sanity or the roaring follies that I left behind. It was the last time I was to see your father, my only son. And you, my sweet granddaughter, were just a young girl, curled up at the top of the stairs in pretty peach pajamas watching. The years have passed and I can only imagine what my family has told you about my apparent reckless behavior. I am quite certain that you have been warned that I am a nutcase. So, as my body is laid to rest, it is now I who must come in search of you, dearest Sophie.
As I lay in bed, I ask the kind nurse to write this letter. I want you to know that at this stage of my life there is nothing left to conquer. Every emotion has been savored and few pleasures have I turned down. My heart has waltzed with passion, my mind remains lost in dreams of visionaries, my body has marveled at the creation of children, and my eyes have wept at their passing. Although I am wiser, my weary soul cannot bear another spoonful of life’s truth.
Regardless of the unfortunate circumstance that manifested between your father and myself, I felt it a shame to be buried with my discoveries capsulated amidst the red velvet lining of my resting place. My search for meaning to this life has filled me with great joy and priceless lessons. I’ve traveled around the globe picking up clues like I was on a well-organized scavenger hunt. It seemed as if someone or something was guiding me all the way. Every well placed intimation released an explosion of new awareness. I wrote it down…each and every clue to the puzzle is in my cherished journals.
There is no replacement for the forty years that has escaped us, but through my writings you will know me. And so, sweet Sophie, my gift to you lies in my journals, tucked within the pages of my memoir. At your leisure, please read them. Hopefully they will intrigue you enough to go on your own journey.
Your loving grandmother,
The house is set to be sold on Friday. Money and keys will change hands and the new owner will take possession. I have scoured every corner of that emptied haunt for those journals, but they are gone…much like those who know the true story. I love that house. Our family lives in those walls…and chances are the journals do too.