Letters from Mom~

I spent an entire afternoon with my mom today.

That’s quite a feat, considering my mother passed away in 2010, but it’s possible when you save letters.

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An article in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, ‘Letters to Jane’ prompted this visit with Mom. The article was about a Dyersville woman who wrote her daughter Jane hundreds of letters while she attended the Iowa School for the Deaf in the 60’s and 70’s. It got me to thinking about the box of letters I store in my trunk. I kept every letter my mother ever wrote me, but until today, I hadn’t taken the time to look through them.  I’ve read, and re-read, the letters she wrote my grandmother in the 60’s. Since her death, I’ve read her notebooks and the Memory book she filled out for me, but for some reason, I’ve never revisited some 200 letters I had stashed away.

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How appropriate that the first one I pulled out of the (unorganized) box was dated 36 years ago yesterday.

In this letter, Mom informs me that there is a little snow falling, but my Dad doesn’t think it will amount to much. She also tells me that the previous week was the warmest January she could remember and she even hung out laundry and Dad raked leaves. The letter continues for two pages. My brother John had just been laid off work and was waiting for unemployment to kick in. My younger sister Jane had to stay home from school for several days with an earache, and my sister Pat’s children were recovering from the flu. But what I hold most precious from this letter are the words of encouragement regarding my college classes. I began attending the University of Northern Iowa in the fall of 1978, got married in the summer of 1979, and had my first child in March 1980. At the time my mother wrote this letter, David and I were both taking classes and working part-time, but we’d arranged it so that one of us was always with Dan.

“When we think back on it, we realize there must have been a lot of determination on your part to finish school, and you must have had a lot of discouragement too. Putting your stubbornness to good use,” my mother had written, a back-handed compliment (was she calling me stubborn?), but precious words of encouragement, nonetheless. As were these words, before my graduation in December 1985.

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She didn’t make it to the graduation celebration, but there were several more letters that revealed her frustration and disappointment at not being there.

My Dad died the following May, and my mother became a widow at the age of 58, just a year older than I am now. I lived in Cedar Falls at the time so wasn’t privy to much of her grieving, but she shared pieces of it in her subsequent letters. She knew that first Father’s Day would be hard for all of us.

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That first holiday season must have been excruciating for her, and yet she was still thinking of her children. This also wasn’t the only time she expressed a desire to write more letters.

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I hadn’t remembered that Mom had attended a bereavement support group. This was in September, four months after his death.

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Just four months after the death of her husband, and my mother was “helping” others in their grief. Note, too, how she laments the letters she owes others.

Many of the letters left me in tears, made me wish for another chance to talk to Mom, to ask her a question, or comment on something she’d written. There was laughter too, with some of Mom’s descriptions. Occasionally, a note from one of my younger sisters was included in an envelope. Once or twice, my dad wrote something.

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But it was these words that really touched my heart today as I face some decisions in my life.

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Thanks, Mom. I needed that.

 

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Book Review: The Guineveres

Review by Mary Jedlicka Humston

If you’re looking for a book on friendship, consider picking up The Guineveres by Sarah Domet.

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Four teens, all named Guinevere, meet at a Catholic convent, a boarding school where residents aren’t clamoring for admittance. Taking place in a war torn country, the girls discover that convent life is strict, challenging, and full of deprivation.
Vere, Win, Gwen, and Ginny aren’t at the convent by choice. Each has tragic reasons for attending there. Each faces personal struggles. Each finds comfort and solace with the others. However, it’s clear they’d never have become friends if their names hadn’t been Guinevere, for it’s the name that solidifies their unified loyalty. War plays an integral part in this debut novel alongside the medical and nursing home facility the nuns operate besides the school.
The author weaves the Guineveres’ past, present and future into the novel, so the reader comes away knowing the why, what, and where of each of their lives.
Four very different girls become friends under unique, sad circumstances. Readers will find themselves rooting for them, both individually and as a foursome. I found it an absorbing, worthwhile read.

What a “good mail day” looks like to one of the Marys

A couple of my children might tell you they are scarred for life because their mother actually used to sing this song when she spotted the mailman at the end of the driveway.

I nearly sang it today when I arrived home from work and saw these things in my mail:

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The boxes of vintage stationery were purchased on eBay. The textbook is for a course I am taking toward grief counseling certification. And what mail day would be complete without a letter, from the other Mary of course.

While I didn’t immediately sit down and write a letter, I did begin reading the textbook, getting to page 55 before I looked up and realized it had gotten dark outside. Yes, I love learning, and am fascinated by anything related to grief or psychology, and this textbook includes both.

It doesn’t take a lot to make either Mary happy, but a good mail day truly makes me want to sing!

 

A few of my favorite things

I begin every day in my office, even those mornings I need to rush to get to my workplace. I sit in my recliner, my book lamp on, a cup of coffee sitting on the end table where I keep my Bible, a devotional and writing materials.

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I can look in one direction and see my beautiful oak bookshelves filled with a few of my favorite things. Next to it, the St. Michael the Archangel wood carving I inherited from the man who bought it from my mother more than forty years ago. It sits on my grandmother’s trunk that is covered by a quilt my mother handmade for me.

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Each day, I gather strength from the visual reminder of God’s promise in Psalm 91:9-16
“For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.”

In the other direction, on the wall near my desk, are decorative and inspirational wall plaques, reminding me to dream and explore.

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I’m never sure if it’s the surroundings, the gift of silence, or the coffee that jump-starts my day. It might be the combination of all three. But it is in this space, this haven, that I do my deepest thinking and my best writing.
For the majority of my adult life, my purchases were mostly utilitarian, and nearly always second-hand. Raising a large family meant operating on a tight budget. It wasn’t until I began conducting workshops that I needed to invest in some nicer clothing for myself. It was around that same time I developed a penchant for jewelry. Not high-priced diamonds or expensive gold, mind you, but dangly earrings and long chains with meaningful pendants and charms or steam-punk style; keys, gears, feathers, butterflies. I still enjoy that style of jewelry and since Christmas, thanks to my daughter Katie, I now have a way to display it.

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After my husband died, the purchases of “stuff” got out of control. Still not of the fur, diamond and gold variety, but everywhere I went I was picking up books, stationery, jewelry, inspirational wall plaques, and clothing; anything to fill the gaping hole in my heart. Of course, it didn’t work. Nothing would fill that gaping wound.
The binge-buying was financially unhealthy, but my urge to surround myself with beauty and inspirational messages was not. Many of those items from that period of buying still bring me joy; the jewelry, the stationery, a butterfly pillow, and those inspirational plaques and pictures on my walls.
Author Alexandra Stoddard is convinced our surroundings can nourish us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
“The home is the center of your soul; it’s a total reflection of your inner life. If you have a dreary home, it means you are dark inside,” she wrote.
Possessions aren’t all bad. Our desire to surround ourselves with beautiful things is natural. God decorated our skies with stars and rainbows, peppered our hills with budding flowers, and filled our pastures with bright green blades of grass. An artsy plaque with an inspirational message on our wall or the soft glow of a lamp in the corner of the room can be soothing to the soul. My home office is full of such things, and my favorites are hand-made; my mother’s wood carvings, my daughters’ paintings and drawings, the painted brick books one daughter made, or wooden letters that spell out the word “WRITE” that another daughter crafted with the cover designs of my books. My book lamp, a handmade quilt on a trunk, and solid oak bookcases filled with books; these things make me feel as though I am surrounded by warmth and beauty.

A recent acquisition that is bound to become one of my favorite things; Martha Stewart Pen-pal bed sheets from Macys.  I bought them as a Christmas gift to myself, when they were 60% off.  I’m not sure I would have invested in pen-pal sheets when I shared a Queen bed with my husband, but if the other Mary is interested, there are flamingo sheets available as well.

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What about you? What are a few of your favorite things?