Since my mom passed away last September and my dad is living in an apartment, our family farmhouse has been left unused, and we're in the process of emptying it and dealing with the property.
My youngest brother, Errol, was at the house last week and brought back some old letters, school report cards, and other things belonging to me -- things I hadn't laid eyes on in many years.
Rather than just giving me this particular item, he made a point of drawing my attention to it with considerable fanfare and reading it out loud for special effect. It's a letter I wrote to my mom in 1974; she was in the P.E.I. Hospital having just given birth to Errol the day before. I was just a couple of months short of my tenth birthday. Here's the letter, in its entirety (I've added a couple of square-bracketed bits for clarification):
I have plenty of news for you!
First of all, we had the meanings test today. I made 100% in it. I studied it very well.
I saw Natalie [my cousin] yesterday. She asked me if I had a sister, and I told her I had a brother. She pretended she was mad.
I think the name is real nice. Lincoln [older brother] likes [the name] Errol. Of course George is after Grandpa MacLean.
He’s an awful big baby – 10 pounds and three ounces. I can’t wait to see him.
I hope you don’t think I’m unhappy because it’s a boy! I, truly, couldn’t be happier! I’ll have fun with him too. Now I’ll be middle! I’m like Deb Corney – she has 4 brothers, too, and no sisters.
Some other kids got 100% too, in reader. J.T., V.B., R.A., R.N., K.M., and I all did. See you Friday.
X X X X X X
O O O O O O
We got a good laugh out of this letter. I had absolutely no memory of writing it, but this is what I think now about the person who penned those words:
I was quite the little scholar. Errol made a point of mocking the fact that, the day after my mom had given birth, I wrote her a letter beginning and ending with information about my academic achievements. But hey: those university degrees don't get themselves.
I was quite the writer, too. The whole thing was in very neat cursive, not a misspelling or grammatical error in sight. I particularly like the "I, truly, couldn't be happier" part -- though Errol says adding "truly" and putting it between commas like that is a sure sign that I was lying.
My love of language is evident in my mention of a "meanings test" (presumably that was a test of definitions of words) and getting 100% in "reader."
It's been suggested to me that it probably wasn't necessary for me to explain to my mom why she and Dad had chosen a particular second name for my brother. Or to use the words "of course." I guess I thought it was my job not only to receive the information, but to interpret it.
My childish faith in our national institutions, such as the postal system, is shown in the fact that I wrote a letter to the hospital on a Monday, knowing my mom would be getting home already on the Friday. (I don't know why I didn't just send the letter with Dad, since he must have visited my mom sometime during those four days.)
What would I say to my nine-year-old self today?
Keep reading and writing.
It's great to get 100%, but you won't always excel at everything; just do your best and try to enjoy it.
Don't use too many commas.
Put X's and O's at the end of your letters whenever appropriate.
Never lose sight of the important things in life, like family, love, and relationships. In fact, maybe that's what the phrase "meanings test" really refers to.