GRANDMOTHERS AND GINKGO LEAVES

by Kay Etheredge

He said his grandmother writes him letters, long letters.  He described her precise cursive handwriting and how it leaned in one direction.

“It’s beautiful”, he said. “But sometimes it’s hard for me to read”.

He then described how she included in her letters “random facts” about people and places he doesn’t know.

He is young, in his twenties, and his heart is kind so none of his words were meant as criticism.  I rode in the backseat as he drove, and it was two days after Thanksgiving which he had spent with our family because his was too far away.  And when he mentions his grandmother his whole face lights up and I have never met her but I wish she could see this.

I leaned forward from the backseat and said, “Why don’t you write her a long letter and include random facts about your life?”  I told him it would be such a treasure that it would have to be pried from her cold dead hands when she dies.

He doesn’t see any urgency to do that because he is young, and he says he doesn’t know many random facts anyway, and my mind begins to wander to letters I’ve received and to my own grandparents, all who have been gone for years.

Handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past.  A social media driven generation puts everything online and emojis tell our moods and spell check gives instant indication if a word is misspelled and I remember fondly and with a measure of guilt the handwritten letters that my grandmother wrote me all my life.  In my own youth I was unwise enough to throw almost all of them away.  Today, they would be a treasure.

She lived in Tennessee and I lived in Alabama and I adored her even though I don’t believe I ever told her that. When we visited her and my grandfather in their tiny town named Liberty, one of the greatest delights was to walk to the post office with her.  She would turn the combination on Box 57 and there were newspapers and letters and magazines.  One of those magazines was McCall’s, and in that magazine were paper doll cut outs…Betsy McCall…her clothing and friends and even pets.  My grandmother would let me cut out the paper dolls from the magazines that had come since my last visit.  After our visit she would write me newsy letters and always include the Betsy McCall paper dolls that had recently come.

This was a habit she continued until I was way too old to play with paper dolls.  She enclosed them in her letters until I was in high school.  It was embarrassing to me, a teenager, to get those paper dolls.  I would scan her letters and stuff them in my nightstand drawer until the drawer became full and I would throw them all away.  I realize now that she was trying to maintain a connection with her only granddaughter who she saw was growing up so very fast and she grasped at something she thought would bring her joy.  I would give anything now to have even one of those letters, and years ago I bought some uncut Betsy McCall paper dolls off ebay, framed them, and hung them in my sewing room.  I smile when I see them and think of my grandmother, who died in our home when I was a senior in high school.

So if I could write her a letter now I would definitely mention the Betsy McCall paper dolls, but probably foremost I would mention how very much I miss her and how I adored her so much that it hurt.  I would tell her the trips to the post office are a highlight in my mind, as well as trips a little farther down the street to her small town store.  I can still hear the wooden boards creak under our feet as we walked inside this small general store illuminated primarily by the sun beaming into the large front windows.

I would tell her random facts as well, about my husband and children she never met and how at 61 I’m a grandmother and I can only pray I can do half the job she did.  I would tell her about the ginkgo leaves on the tree in our yard and how all the fan shaped leaves fall in one day…how they leave a golden carpet on our yard that takes my breath away.  I would say that yesterday I took Tobias, my two year old grandson,  outside to play in the golden leaves and how he belly laughed and we threw leaves up in the air and let them rain down on our heads.  About how he wanted to take one home with him and my heart swelled when I saw him march up to his mom, our oldest daughter, and hand her that one leaf…his golden treasure.   And how on a small table in my living room that actually used to be her table in her living room, two of those leaves lie right now, a sweet reminder of a memory I made with Tobias.

My other grandmother had only a sixth grade education and there was a time I would have been embarrassed to put that in print.  This same grandmother taught me about cooking and sewing and she sewed professionally even if there were many words she couldn’t spell.  She made wedding dresses for others and soft nightgowns for me and only after her death did I learn about a woman who was a client who wore a size 22 but bought size 18 patterns and my grandmother with her sixth grade education altered those patterns to fit and never said a word about the too small patterns.  Even with bad spelling I would love to get a letter from her and be able to write one as well.  I would surely mention the aluminum Christmas tree she used to have in her living room and I would say I sew but even with more education I don’t have her talent for it, but last year I made Raggedy Ann dolls for my grandchildren and I like to think she watched over me as I sewed these gifts of love with red yarn hair.

One of my tasks at Brother Bryan Mission is to go to the post office downtown.  It is one of my favorite jobs.  I love the activity at the post office and the long rows of boxes and maybe there is a part of me that remembers those walks with my grandmother to the post office in Liberty that would be a fraction of the size of the Birmingham one.  And for the past several months there has been mail for one of the guys in the program here from his mom, who seems to regularly send letters and packages.  As I balance the unwieldy packages I can’t wait to get back to BBM and deliver his mail.  And I hope his mom includes random facts and he replies with random facts of his own, and every line of any letter is an actual gift.

There are also gifts to BBM from supporters…monetary gifts and notes of encouragement and blessings from people we may never actually meet who spill over generosity and prayers and they clump together in that post office box with the brass front and it is always expectancy to pull out those letters.

I hope our young friend has already written to his grandmother and included random facts he thinks he doesn’t really know.  I’ve never met her, but I would love to tell her how he has a certain laugh that he uses only when he talks about her, and how her sweet potato casserole is legendary in his memory.

The holidays are upon us and what a perfect time to put our screens down, take a break from social media, and pick up a pen.  Write someone a letter, short or long, and tell them they have blessed you and why.  Tell them random facts if you know any, and tell them something about them that makes you smile and why.    Put a stamp on it and place it in a post office somewhere and know that you have mailed a precious gift to someone who will more than likely consider it a treasure.

The most priceless treasures sometimes come in the form of letters or golden ginkgo leaves that fall all in one day and make a golden carpet and make a two year old and his grandmother throw them in the air and belly laugh.

 

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