Sunday Sentence(s): From Mom’s Monday Letters ( A Reprise)

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The “Kitchen Sink” shortie: all the essentials in a hurry and with love.

It’s five o’clock on Monday morning and my mother sits in bed, knees up, a pad against her thighs, her second cup of coffee steaming within easy reach. Her pen flies across the page in front of her leaving behind a trail of thoughts that have been on her mind for days, minutes, or take shape as she writes.

I can reconstruct this because on more than one visit home back in the early days of my adulthood, I found her there, often with my infant son tucked into the pillows next to her after she’d swooped him up so that I could have a rare extra hour of morning sleep.

“Happy Monday. Hope between you and the numerologist you had a good weekend.” Monday, 1980

These were her “Monday Letters.” She wrote her first one when I left home at 17. As the rest of us tumbled out of the nest, one or two a year, she wrote more. She has written over 1,500 Monday letters to me by my estimation. Add my siblings, step siblings, her godchildren, and fellow travelers she adopted along the way, and we are talking serious writer’s cramp and the death of a forest or two before the advent of email and texts.

“Dear Betsy, a day late and dull stationery to boot and oh dear a lousy pen. Not a very good way to start the day. It’s 6:15.”

Not long ago, I was rooting around in the garage and found a battered cardboard carton labeled “Mom” in black marker. The seams of the box were worn; the top barely able to contain the letters jammed inside. The letters, survivors of my mother’s weekly correspondence, seemed to be pushing their way out of the box to find me. I forgot whatever I’d been looking for and hauled the box into my office and for the next few days, I read them all.

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I picked up each letter with the same combination of eagerness and trepidation I used to feel mid-week when her letters usually arrived.

“Our conversation was most unsatisfactory – to be blamed in all fairness on both of us. I for my part am sorry I always flunk pretty badly when I attempt to contain myself and unfortunately I’ve been containing my opinions on this for a very long time.”

They weren’t always written on a Monday. They weren’t always written before dawn. She used whatever paper she had and whatever time she had between jobs, errands, doctor visits, or when she woke in the middle of the night with someone on her mind.

“I’ve been awake since 3 a.m. Thinking of you.”

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They weren’t always fun to read. The letters I found spanned a chunk of late seventies, early eighties when I moved with a man ten years older to the suburbs without getting married and without a job. I went into debt. My son was hospitalized after COBRA ran out. My relationship with my partner slid into a swamp I couldn’t seem to get out off with my self-esteem intact. She called often. We visited when we could. But her letters never stopped coming. Holding one — even the lectures — was like feeling her hand in mine. She couldn’t pull me out but the letters told me she would be there, cheering me on when I finally emerged on my own.

“Don’t beat yourself up.  Whatever you do, we love you.”

Each letter was at least one, but often a combination of the following:  hello, weather report, family news, a verbal finger-prod between the shoulder blades, a long-distance hug, wistful wonderings, a mirror, warning, atta-girl, “to-do” list, food for thought, how-to make everything from chicken l’orange for eight to how to manage money. There were lots of letters about money, how I handled it; how I didn’t.

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These recipes rescued me when I first confronted making dinner for adults

“Thought I’d try to give you a rough outline of how to make a budget.”

And there were plenty in which she wrote about her own fears, her own anxiety about the future, her own struggles to grow.

“Thanks for listening to me. I’m really in a mess. Trying to control what I probably should do with what I want to do. I know that it will work out.”

As I sift through the letters, though, the content of the letters is eclipsed by the fact of them. They are tangible evidence of who I was, who she was, and how we worked our way through the holding on and letting go between a mother whose nest was beginning to empty and a daughter whose start-up nest was a hot mess.

“You have to get a grip on yourself. You will NOT be alone for the rest of your life no matter what. The hardest thing is when you’re really are trying and you really feel that you are contributing and then you get so lonely and are shot down. I’m speaking from the heart. It just doesn’t have to be. You get ahold of yourself and stay hold no matter what and don’t let your stubborn determination get the best of you. Have a good week, Love, Mom.

In them was the determination to forge new relationships not just with me but with each of her offspring and other loved ones, to help us nurture connections with each other. They were her way of reconciling her determination to make us all independent with her desire that we all stay connected. They show that when she had a few minutes to herself, she thought of me, my siblings, all her loved ones, and got out her paper and pen. She started out more than one with “Just wanted you to have some mail.” We all knew that some got longer letters some weeks than others; some weeks were tougher than others. Sometimes, a letter was meant to be shared as was the case with this one to me and my son sometime in 1981:

“Hi, I love you and I hope your respective lives are moving onward and upward. Happily, Hastily, Mom/Gramma”

Over the years, the letters helped to weave the fabric connecting all who received them. We can lob a standard quote, “Have the courage of your own convictions” to a stepbrother or sister and they can laugh and toss back, “And poco a poco” or “Don’t lose perspective.”

We chuckle, but we hear her. Even now, we hear her.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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mom card 2014

A Mother’s Day collage of Monday Letters

Sunday Sentence: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

“He was the sort of fellow that kids laughed at and dogs wanted to bite.”-Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

There are other, more poignant moments in this beautiful book but for some reason I this sentence grabbed me during a recent re-read. I know that sort of man. I know those kids. I felt a prickle of discomfort when I realized I probably had been one of them.

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I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.

Homecoming for me and books for you

As you read this, I will be back in the springtime embrace of my old homes. All of them. I’m bringing Casualties to the places and people who launched me as a writer and fed my writing , my dreams, and the story itself — sometimes in surprising ways. I’ll be writing about that when it all has a chance to sink in.

As we enter the eleventh week of Casualties‘ time in this world, I wanted to share a bit of my excitement about how it’s all been going by offering two signed copies over on Goodreads. To enter,  just click here: GOODREADS GIVEAWAY

Casualties - Version 3

This is the first of regular giveaways not only of my novel, but of books by authors I have long loved and new writers I have discovered.

I’ll always be mentioning any giveaways for Casualties here, but if you are interested in books by others, please sign up for my newsletter by going here NEWSLETTER SIGNUP. That way I’ll be able to let folks know what books are up and they can let me know if they are interested in them.  Here, for example, are advance review copies five books that are not even published yet by some wonderful authors you will recognize and some you may not.  I’m looking forward to this!

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Sunday Sentence: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

“The hawk sat on a limb three feet above my head and did not stir as I walked under – that was the first sign.” – From Bill McKibben’s introduction to Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This edition of Walden is a particular joy because of the spare, on-target interpretation of Bill McKibben. I bought this book as a companion for my walking. I dip in regularly.

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I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.

Sunday Sentence: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

“What you deserve and what you can stand aren’t necessarily the same thing.” – Kelly Link, Get in Trouble

The stories in this collection prove the power of simple sentences. When arranged in the right and sometimes unexpected ways, they offer a world that may look skewed on the outside but very familiar in the inside, where most of us live.

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I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.

Sunday Sentence: Youngblood by Matt Gallagher

“I took in a deep breath of wet cigarette and watched the green camo nets ripple slowly with the wind, marking time.” – Matt Gallagher, Youngblood

There are small stories in every sentence in this novel, just one of the reasons I slowed down as I neared the end. I didn’t want to finish so soon.

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I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.

Sunday Sentence: Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

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“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.” – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, A History of Walking

Because I love walking. And Solnit’s book.

I love reading them, so now I’m joining the #SundaySentence party started by David Abrams over at the Quivering Pen and on Twitter. It’s not a review. It’s not a story. It’s just one sentence I read this week, presented “out of context and without commentary.