When my sister and I were away at overnight summer camp, our Mom sent us daily letters.
8 summers, 8 weeks each summer. You do the math!
Every day the mail was delivered, we could read a letter from Mom.
Each letter started the same way.
“I hope this letter finds you well and happy.”
These were short, newsy missives, updating us on her latest bridge game, volunteer activity or a new sweater she was knitting.
Once she inserted a sliver of cranberry-colored yarn to show me her current project.
It was her way of staying in touch and while we loved it, we took the daily letters a bit for granted.
If my Mom was feeling particularly brave, she would insert into a letter, carefully taped on one side, a single stick of Juicy Fruit gum.
The all-girls camp I attended had very strict rules on food packages. No gum!
So it was a special forbidden treat to find a stick of gum inside.
(News Bulletin to Camp Woodlands: take a look behind bunk #13; there may be some used gum stuck to the lower side, near the bottom.)
My Dad, however, sent exactly one letter each summer.
He was and is, at age 91, a man of few but well-chosen words. His letters were always typed, as his handwriting is illegible. Timed to arrive during the first few days of camp, his single offering would contain philosophical advice.
“Now that you are 9 years old, you are old enough to think about the importance of being kind to others.”
Or, “At age 10, we expect you to realize how lucky you are to be spending summers in the Maine woods. Your Mom and I miss you very much but being able to go to summer camp is a gift we are fortunately able to give you.”
I treasured those letters, even though they contained, as did all of his future letters to me, the following closing:
“If you have any further questions about this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I grew up thinking this was a normal paternal signature.
Later, when I was away in college, then in grad school, and then in law school (what can I say, I like learning), I called home at exactly 11 a.m. every Sunday morning.
You may not be old enough to remember but time did exist before the invention of email. We relied on phone calls that cost less if you made them at night and on weekends. So a regular Sunday morning phone call became habit.
My Mom would start off the call. She and I would exchange the news. I would tell her about school, friends and the boys I was dating (this was before I called them men.)
After I gave her all the latest info, she would always say – “Your father wants to say hello.”
The phone would be passed.
My Dad would ask: “How are you doing?”
The expected answer would be given: “Fine.”
He was not interested in details. Big picture only, please. My Mom was in charge of the complaints’ department.
His response: “Good, talk to you next week” and then he would pass the phone back to my Mom.
My Mom died when she was 54, 2 years after I graduated from law school and was already working.
Her funeral was on a Thursday and by that Sunday I was back in D.C. I was 28 years old, my sister 4 years younger. My Dad did not want us to linger at home, watching him deal with his grief. He encouraged us to get back to our own lives in other cities.
The following Wednesday night my phone rang.
It was my Dad. I was startled. I wasn’t even sure he knew my home number. My Mom had always been the one to do the dialing.
(We dialed phone numbers back then.)
Shocked to hear his voice on a weekday, I asked:
“Dad, Dad, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine, why do you ask?”
“Because it is Wednesday. I’ve never talked to you on a Wednesday. It’s not Sunday!”.
“Can’t I just call to see how you are?”
And the phone line crackled with the sound of unshed tears on both sides.
The ice was broken. He could now call me on weekdays and occasionally he did, and still does, sometimes for no reason at all.
And when my own kids went off to overnight summer camp, I wrote them letters every single day.
Letters about how our dog was doing, what I was reading, stuff in the news.
A daily tribute to my Mom.
My husband, however, would send each of our kids, a single thoughtful letter at the start of each summer, adopting my Dad’s tradition.
Guess whose letters our kids have saved from their summer camp years?
Read more from Nancy Wolf on her blog, Witty Worried and Wolf