My Nan used to be a pretty regular letter-writer. She would send handwritten letters to Reader’s Digest about her subscription, to Publisher’s Clearinghouse about contests or about whatever oddity she had purchased from a magazine advertisement. She also wrote letters to family out of province and even sent handwritten notes along with newspaper clippings to my brother, cousins and I.
Near the end of her illness, she was lamenting the lost art of letter writing and the associated difficulties she was having getting her hands on a nice set of letter paper. She angrily growled that she had bused to a handful of card stores only to be told that they no longer carried letter sets. At the time, her legs were so swollen from the lymph fluid building up in her extremities that she would often fall or have to rest frequently. Getting to those card stores represented days’ worth of outings for her. I knew what I had to do.
In the age of Google, my Nan was a steadfast “do-it-in-person”er. I saved myself some time and looked online for a likely place. And found one. A small specialty shop downtown that I knew would have what she wanted.
I made a trip down to choose a patterned paper set for my Nan. The one I picked had 4 different patterns of paper. All were floral and one had gorgeous big strawberries on it. It came with matching envelopes in a box neatly packed. I felt connected to my Nan in a deeply personal way as the lady behind the counter slid the box into one of the shop’s branded plastic bags- I had found this small but longed-for item for her. I felt like somehow I was beating back the march of her cancer to give her this bastion of normalcy- this tool for her voice in the world.
My Nan never got to use the paper. She loved it when I gave it to her. She sat it on the bookcase she used to hold all her assortment of Kleenex, pens, crossword puzzle books and newspapers yet to be clipped.
The day my mother and I went to her apartment to go through her personal belongings, the patterned box of letter paper was sitting where she had left it. My eyes darted to it the moment I entered her crowded little livingroom. Of all the things she left behind, I took a couple rings I remember her wearing through my childhood, a few knickknacks I had given her growing up, and the box of letter paper. I had no earthly idea what I would do with it.I sent my mother a letter, just to try it out- everyone loves getting something besides a bill in the mail after all. Then the box of floral paper and matching envelopes sat forgotten in my closet in a box of my Nan’s things.
I got pregnant some time after Nan passed away. It’s one of my regrets that my daughter never got to know her Grand-Nana. Nan would have doted on her. I think she secretly always hoped I’d have a baby…
When I was as certain as a woman can be that this baby was safely growing and would make her way into this world, I went to Nan’s things in my closet and pulled out the box of letter paper. I never really realized before how youthful, sweet and innocent those patterns were until I looked at them with my daughter in mind. I would use Nan’s letter paper to introduce myself to my unborn daughter.
I began writing letters weekly to her after that. I would tell her about our doctor appointments, about my prenatal yoga classes, my last days of work, our baby shower, and her father. I wrote to her about how much I loved her already and how big she was growing. I told her when she was the size of an eggplant and when she grew finger nails. I even wrote to her from our delivery room- before the contractions made coherent thought impossible!
I have continued to write to her, although we have long since exhausted the supply of Nan’s letter paper. I look at the pile of sealed envelopes and feel a surge of love and pride. In a way, Nan will get to meet my daughter. She has become for us the opening to a lifelong conversation. I will tell my daughter how these letters started- and maybe, when she moves away or goes to college, these letters will go with her. A piece of her past before she even drew breath. A reminder of my love for her. Small snapshots of our life together before she could remember for herself. Maybe someday her daughter will be reading those letters, seeing my handwriting, learning about her mom as a baby,as a little girl and a young woman. You see, I plan on writing to my daughter for years to come- I imagine her reading these letters any time she feels lonely or homesick.
Nan gave us that. The power of words, gifted lovingly on patterned stationery.