Monday, April 23, 2018

Newspaper Clippings Sent on a Monday, with a Letter

Usually, my grandmother's letters to my mother arrived every Tuesday, from Evansville, Indiana to Casey, Illinois in terms of address. For me, they appeared from the memories of my grandmother's house to the mailbox across the road--the bumpy road that hurt bare feet and took bearing.  

The first many years of my childhood, our address was RR3 (Rural Route), but then 9-1-1 was invented and made its way onto the television and then to our rural town. When it arrived, it turned all the country roads into numbers. I remember my mother complaining. Or huffing. Because, save lives, sure, but change our mailing address? 

It must have been a subject at coffee. She was not the only mutterer.

And this is how anyone entering Casey now would have no idea where Hickory Lane was, or where Dupont Road is, where my sister lived in a trailer when I was little. Or any other country road that was a rural route for the mail-person but a name for the people who lived on that rural route called it.

My mother must have worried that at least one of her mother's letters would not forward to this strange new address with its many numbers. 230th street, my mother said as though streets were not called such things. Maybe there was a first avenue, or a second, but one does not count into the hundreds for a street. 

I think she didn't find the street number melodious. 
My guess is that she grew up on Linwood Street in Evansville, and that is what street names are supposed to be like. 

Also, my mother has a habit of numerology and coincidence, and I don't think she had any birthdays on the 230th day of the year--that she knew, and probably she didn't know any of her former friends' social security numbers where it might be more likely that a 230 would appear at one point in her life so that she could connect it to her current life.

Numbers as a kind of inscrutable fact that, once harnessed to each other through time, provide my mother with a hint of control about who she was and has become. Fishing line thrown out over a pond, hooking one part of herself and reeling to where she stands, toes in the mud.

Who will know the roads? my mother wanted to know. 
The EMTs are from here, too, my mother pointed out.
This was years before my father lay in bed, after the cancer pushed him down, and my mother stood at the window calling 9-1-1 and the EMTs were, in fact, confused as to how to find our road. And it was snowing. 

What if they don't come? my mother may not have said, but her whole body said it as she stood at the picture window, willing the road to carry the ambulance to her, to him.

Every Tuesday, my grandmother sent a letter that contained information about her life that my mother found comforting, and I did not. My grandmother reported on what dinners she had made for my grandfather and herself. She talked of the weather. Of the chat she had with so-and-so neighbor. Of church. Of plans for the following week that would be reported on in the next letter. What birds had she seen in her backyard? How many robins? After my grandmother died, we found a stack of index cards, and on every card was the date and the weather. 

Besides my grandmother's small, perfect cursive, I most remember the enclosures in her letters. A swatch of fabric from a blanket or ornament or sweater she was making. Stickers for me. Sometimes a church bulletin. Newspaper clippings with words my mother knew from childhood--people's names, place names, street names. These letters were their own kind of fishing line, connecting Mom to her past, to her childhood, to keep alive--perhaps--the city where she placed her home, her memories, her envisioning of a future, regardless of what that future had become.

Pictures were more rarely enclosed. My mother's parents were not picture-takers. I don't remember either of them ever taking a picture of me, or taking out a camera, or asking me to stand on the porch or in front of the holly tree, or anywhere that pictures would typically be taken. And where the few black-and-white pictures of my mother's childhood are taken. I don't know who took them. 

Photography was a kind of luxury. it was also a way of thinking about self and others. Of moments. Certainly, my grandparents took pictures at one time because there were photoalbums kept in the entryway bookcases by the front door. I don't know where the albums are now because they scattered after my grandfather died, when my grandmother sold the house and had to sort among what was more or less valuable, and then when my grandmother died, and her children arrived to do their own sorting. I'm sure someone has them. It is likely that they'll return to my life later, the way the flowers you have names for bloom up wherever you are, if you don't wander beyond the climate.

I flew back to the Midwest, to Casey, to Rural Route 3 earlier in April and I saw my childhood from this new vantage point of mother, of lesbian, of more time passed between now and past griefs, of daughter of an older mother. I bicycled past the absences I could bear. The cabin where my piano teacher taught me how to play. The place where my sister's trailer once was. The stone quarry and its red trucks moving like violence among the cornfields that continue to reach as far as the sky, which is forever.

Part of the visit, beyond my son meeting his entire family and seeing this place where his mother grew up and hearing her talk like her own mother talked about Evansville, was to read from my newest book at the library where I grew up. It was a wonderful experience. I am grateful to feel so held.

Here is the newspaper clipping my mother would clip and send to my grandmother, if time functioned differently. From The Casey-Westfield Reporter


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Whole World at Once at the Casey Township Library, A Reading

You're invited.

April 7, 2018
1 PM (CST)
Casey Township Library
307 E. Main
Casey, Illinois

Free and open to the public

The Whole World at Once will not be available for purchase at the event, but I will sign your copy if you bring it. You can purchase the book from these online stores (click to be taken to the book's page):