Monday, May 16, 2016

Quirks and Vagaries of Life and Family

Quirks and Vagaries of Life and Family
            When I was a child growing up in Indiana, I  loved Christmas for one reason. The mailman delivered the annual box of clothes sent by Aunt Ann, practically new hand-me-downs from cousin Nancie, a year older.

            Back then my grandma made most of our clothes. Back then, home sewn dresses were not “cool”. I lived for Nancie’s clothes. Attitudes are vastly different today. There is a world of difference between “homemade” and “Hand Crafted”.

            Each year Grandma sent me off to school with three new dresses, made in the same style her own girls wore during the Great Gray Depression. Nancie’s clothes saved me from the shame of being on par with the girl who only wore two dresses all year. Girls notice those things.

            Consequently, though I didn’t know Nancie, she was one of my favorite cousins. After all, I wore her next to my heart.

            Shortly before Christmas, Miss Naomi, our second-grade teacher, in a timely manner, taught us to write “thank you” letters, and “friendly” letters. I was hooked on writing.

Aunts Ann and Lucille lived in Port Angeles, Washington, Aunt Joanne in Indianapolis. Aunts Lucille and Joanne had no children. They sent me puzzles or games, books, soft woolen scarves and mittens.  

            After Christmas, I dutifully wrote and mailed “thank you” letters to all my aunts. Each responded. I wrote back, thus setting in motion years inked missives of connection. When my dad uprooted us and plunked us down in the middle of Montana, I added a roster of Indiana cousins and classmates to my voluminous letter writing.

            By the time I was in sixth grade, I had grown taller than cousin Nancie and the generous boxes of clothing no longer made the postal trek across the mountains. I continued writing letters to my Port Angeles aunts. I’ve no idea why, but Nancie and I never corresponded. Sometime in my late twenties, early thirties, my life took a tumble, and I abandoned letters to family and friends in favor of midnight scrawls of maudlin poetry which I had sense enough to keep to myself and destroy later. 

            Years later, I moved to Washington State. Aunt Lucille had died and I had lost touch with Aunt Ann. When Aunt Joanne flew in to Seattle, she and I drove to Mount Vernon where Aunt Ann now lived. We spent a delightful afternoon getting re-acquainted. One topic of conversation, of great importance to me, was our letters.  

            At Aunt Ann’s funeral, I finally met my cousin Nancie. Because of our early vague but distinctly real connections, I felt like I’d found a friend I had lost years ago. Since then, we meet at every opportunity. We even drove cross-country on a road trip to visit remaining Indiana family.

            Three years ago Nancie introduced me to Lani. In turn, Lani introduced me to Etzatlan, a farm/ranch village near Guadalajara. I, in turn, introduced Kathy and Richard, long-time Canadian friends, to Nancie and Pat, Lani and Ariel.

            In a quirk of life that has us still pinching ourselves, within a short three weeks, Nancie and Pat, Kathy and Richard and singular-unit-I, each bought homes in Etzatlan. Now we’re neighbors.

            Miss Naomi taught me well. She said, when writing, to act as if I’m sitting across the table from you, having tea. I don’t know that those were her exact words but that is how I took them to heart.

Dear Aunt Ann,

See what has happened in my life, all because I wrote a “thank you” letter when I was seven.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

March 3, 2016

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