Each Christmas the lot at the condominium get together for a huge dinner, catered, at the swanky social suite on the main floor. Each brings his own plate and cutlery. Stewart donned his neat green jacket and red tie and off they went. That night they discovered the heirloom silver spoons from Joan’s grandfather (who left her the fortune she is enjoying now) were missing. Stewart wanted to post a notice on the board but Joan held him back. “We will be making out everyone is a thief,” she cried. Time passed and now they are in the airport on February 1, ready to go through the gun frisking. Joan slides through then the machine let out a scream when Stewart’s body got in. They frisked him again, more screams as Stewart kept crying he had nothing on his body. Finally he found a few silver coins which went in a saucer and more tests. More screams. Passengers were now getting edgy and the official took a hand-held explorer and went over Stewart’s body pocket by pocket. Lo, when he hit one pocket the machine went berserk, and lo, there was a hole in the lining and in went the silver spoons where they had lain since Christmas. As the official drew them out and all heads craned to see what Stewart was trying to sneak into Hawaii, there was a loud cry from Joan: “MY SPOONS! MY SPOONS!” The official’s face was full of disbelief as Stewart tried to explain the long story and he hustled them through the turnstile. By now red-faced and overheated, they scurried down the aisle to the plane when loud cries brought them up short as the official came up with the silver change they had forgotten to pick up.
I wonder if the pleasure I take in these anecdotes is because when I read them, I seem to hear my grandmother recounting them. “No one can hide themselves in their writing,” she noted in one of her letters; “you just read them, then you know them.” Don’t you think that’s true? I suppose it does assume a fairly direct relationship between writing and identity, without due caution for the conscious and unconscious ways we construct ourselves in words. And yet it also seems a common-sense version of Booth’s theory of ethical criticism: writing always conveys an ethos, a sense of self. From my grandmother’s letters, I can pick out her flaws and blind spots, certainly, but what I see most of all is her zest for life, with all its ups and downs and mysteries and revelations. “I don’t envy people who have tension-free lives,” she writes in one; “how dull it must be.” No one with her flair for making drama out of the mundane could ever be dull, but also growing up in the Depression taught her to appreciate the little things. Reminiscing about her life-long friend Dorothy (shown with her in the 1929 photo on my previous post), she noted that when they were young “the biggest thing was to walk from the west end where we lived up to the old Carnegie library on Hastings Street for me to get my books. . . all we needed was an excuse to go somewhere.” Both the need and the destination sound just about right to me!
Anyway, as I said, I have only a small selection of her letters left, but I treasure them. How she would have loved email! I have a vast archive of messages from friends and family — especially from my dear mother, another excellent correspondent. The form really doesn’t matter: what counts is the connection. As my grandmother says, “Why is it so hard to explain to anyone what a joy a loving and news-filled letter does to the soul? It really is magic.”