Old Letters and Laughter

My gratitude today begins in joy. I am grateful for words written and said. I am grateful for poetry and inside jokes. I am cleaning out our family’s photos and organizing them for my grandmother – asking who is in the photos and what letters and cards would she like to keep. Many aged scraps of paper are going into the recycling bin. But there are a precious few that are so sacred we hold on to them.

There’s a pile of prayer cards from the various funerals she has attended all her life. The cards have given us an opportunity to bond and talk about all of the wonderful people she has known in her life. I found one for a priest who even after death brought us shared laughter as he was the best curmudgeon she has ever known. A man who on a beautiful sunny day would only observe, “It’s going to rain.” What a gift to share this laughter with her and get to know a man I will never have the good fortune to meet. There is a belief that after a certain amount of time a person is forgotten and when your name is forgotten here on earth you cease to exist in the afterlife, hopefully doing this exercise has bought some time for some worthy people.

I found a handwritten letter to my great grandmother. In it the author thanks her for her leadership as President of their Women’s Study Club. “I enjoyed working with you.” (Authors emphasis) “You had problems with the same, I know, but always acted like a ‘lady’”, hinting that the need to be less than ladylike would be totally understood by the author, a former President of the group. This filled me with pride and made my grandmother and I laugh out loud because, this is people – the note was written in 1985 and yet, we have all been in that group. We all know exactly what is not being said and it just tickled me to think not only am I proud of my great grandmother for being a leader in her community but for handling difficult situations with grace under pressure. That is a legacy I am proud to carry on. 

We also found letters from my great uncle to his parents, some hilarious, others subdued, but all of them optimistic, and closing with a joke. The best line I founds was, “I finally broke the news to Kathy (his daughter) that we are poor. Her response was: “You sure hide it very well!” He then goes on to belabor his difficulties in selling one of his two residences by saying, “Oh well, what else is new! On my way to debtors prison I can always boast about owning two houses. I think I’ll call the Niagara house, McLeod’s North.”  He’s scared of what is to come but he won’t let his parents see him down and out, he must give them a laugh and a smile so they know he’s ok. He signs the letter, “The Wayward Wanderer.” And again I am struck by how true to life that feels. 

Both the letter’s author and its intended recipients are long gone and yet the words ring with clarity and human honesty and vulnerability. They give you a glimpse into both how the authors thought of themselves and how they thought of their correspondents. On top of being an intimate window into the life and times letters are revealing of character. The words are not just true of that time period or of those people in particular, they are steeped in the camaraderie that is created through trial and the love that sustains and supports us all even through the darkest times. They also show the importance of a well timed joke. 

At this point in our history I’m sure none of us much feel like joking but we still need to laugh and so that is my wish for you this week. That you find some words of comfort, or send some words of support to a friend, who knows if 50 years later someone you don’t even know might read your words and be inspired or laugh because of what you said or how you said it. I wish you laughter my friends, and lots of it.

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