Beyond the white closet door, hidden behind a green silk robe and covered with boxes of sandals and high heels is an old moving box. It has moved alongside other boxes to Philadelphia, Brazil, California, Florida and finally to Oregon.
The top flaps of the box are drawn together carefully, as one would tuck a hand within the fold of a lover’s familiar hand.
“Letters” is written in curving script along the side of the box in black ink. The handwriting is my mother’s. I have never seen this box before. Sitting on the closet floor on top of a pile of nightgowns sorted for donation, I pull the top flaps apart.
The aged papers and cards in the box have the early smell that correspondence gets when it has long rested back to back, secret to secret. Similar as lovers who have shared a bed for many years, crest of hip to hip, a hand on a curve of waist, breath matching breath.
What I find is a roadmap, in cards and letters, of my parents’ relationship as written by my father. Here is the first birthday card, the first Valentine’s card, the impossibly small card lined by a spray of flowers once tucked between the stems of a bunch of carnations.
It is easy to picture that young man looking through a stack of cards in a Philadelphia drugstore, deciding which one would make his girlfriend laugh. Easy to picture him sitting on a train, looking out the window and conjuring just the right words to write.
With each of the forty-eight years of my father’s handwritten notes to my mother his words grow more tender, funnier, always more passionate. It seems as if he always wanted her to be sure and surer of his affection.
Under the hundred or so cards is another stack of papers.
These are emails sent from me to my mom during the first year of my cross-country move to New York. All of the smallest details of my own love story with Manhattan are spread out before me.
It is a gift my mother has saved for me. It is a reminder to live with love and curiosity. To keep affection and appreciation alive.
Shortly before my mother passed, she sent me home with a note for the big kids. Her handwriting and spelling is changed but her spirit is clear, true, lasting.
I tuck the flaps of the box and stack the shoeboxes back on top. But my mother’s love letter goes up on the fridge held by magnets to help us remember to love each other a little more every day.