My mom was pretty amazing in a lot of ways. One of her strengths was that she was a writer. After she died, my family and I sifted through some of her few remaining things – she had given most of her possessions away. I found this little notebook with book reviews in it for the last couple of years. There were LOTS of books recorded in those pages. Usually it was just the title, author, who recommended it, if it was shared with members of her book clubs, a very brief summary and a subjective sentence or two. I never knew that she kept such a notebook. It pleases me to have a reading list of what she liked. Gold. Because as I read her favorites, I will imagine what she thought, imagine our conversations.
I have several stashes around the house of personal stuff including the occasional letter from a friend. You know how the mail is. As I approach the mailbox I have no expectations of receiving anything personal. Those days are gone. But my mom was a letter writer. While engaged in a little late winter cleaning this week (consolidating my piles), I collected all of the letters I received from my mom in the last 15 years or so. I took them out of their envelopes, dated them and put them into chronological order.
They tell the story of a life well lived. I did not stop to reread many, but I will read them all again. Perhaps over spring break or over a long weekend, for there are hundreds of pages. Some of it is sad, some newsy, some are about dinners with old friends or missing my family. There are bits about music – which she dearly loved, the weather – which she describes in delicious detail, wildlife – which she appreciated like few others. Some, not surprisingly, are about books she had read recently. I love those letters – they are my most prized possession. Nothing brings back my mom’s voice to me like that tight, neat, slanty handwriting and those clear, spontaneous, but still somehow well-chosen words.
Three years ago, I received a nice long letter from my mom. In it she apologizes for her handwriting, describes the music she is listening to (Mozart’s C Major Concerto), and details the weather in Mexico where she and her husband Jim were staying. She describes this beautiful little scene of watching Huichol Indians sitting near Lake Chapala with their babies painting pieces of bark. She wrote of many things in that letter and ended with this post script:
This is something I read and loved – Forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile.
I always looked forward to receiving letters from Ruck. At the end of that letter, she added a little piece she wrote called “On Being 82”. It is an honor to share it here.
On Being 82
Walking up from the lake one day I passed a pile of branches. When I got to the top of the bank and looked back I realized what a significant thing that had been. I hadn’t moved them out of the way! Why? I am 82. I knew it would be hard to do – and my body was just too tired. At 81 I probably would have moved them - and even found a few more tings to tug out of the way.
I am 82. Three of my children will soon be over 60. My baby is 46.
If I had to choose just one day to last my whole life through it would be…
Maybe I would choose just one of those sunny days spent in and out of the water with my pals Jess and Pat. Or the very special day my father gave me Lake Eerie.
If I had to choose one moment to live in my heart it would be that tender time when shy, young Jack O’Keefe repeated his marriage vows and looked at me with love.
The keepsakes of my heart would be the first time I saw each of those seven beautiful O’Keefe babies and stroked their soft skin and held their tiny bodies close.
When I drift off to sleep at night I think sometimes about certain minutes of that day – or different times in my life – or old times of my childhood. I dreamed of having a big family. So that I always send out the wish that my children will always be O’Keefes – banded by being their father’s children. I hope they will always be loyal to each other. That was so important to Jack O’Keefe and now it is to me.
I have lived 82 years now – So there probably won’t be many more years. The most upsetting thing about being old is knowing I am not going to see how everything comes out. I would like to know if Obama really changes the US. I would like to know what happens about global warming. I would like to know if efforts for peace will develop in time.
I would like to know what careers the youngest O’Keefes choose. I would like to live to see all my children hang together no matter what. A sad thing about being 82 is that I won’t be around to see everyone’s plan work out.
But no one has to feel sorry for me at 82. I may not have the energy to move that pile of brush – but in total I have been REALLY LUCKY. I could have been born poor. I could have starved to death.
Or I could have been born a fly and been eaten by a frog.
This is how I feel at 82 – I hope that you get to live until you are 82. Or maybe 122.