You don’t really see the impact that an ashram has had on you until you leave the place and return to your normal life. Only then, said the former nun from South Africa, will you start to notice how your interior closets have all been rearranged.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
I heard these lines on my iPod today as I continued to look through boxes in my closet. I opened one card and found the only lines from my father in the whole menagerie of photos, cards, trophies, report cards, certificates, newsletters, textbooks and old ESL teaching material:
Darling, this card says a lot about the way we feel about you. You will never know how Momma and I love you. Daddy There on the underside of a Hallmark card my mind jarred back in time as I recognized the handwriting.
Nine other letters from my mother are in the box, written when I was at summer camp in the mid-70s:
Well kid — I’m telling you — the next time you go to camp — your dog has to go too — this dog — wow — she has looked everywhere for you — she thinks we are hiding you some place + our neighbor said she keeps coming over there looking too — Last night I thought maybe she would like to sleep with me — so I took her blanket back and put it on the foot of my bed then I went in the bathroom — and I heard your daddy laughing — when I went out that dog had pulled her blanket off my bed and pulled it back to the den and was trying to get it back on the couch — it looked like she was trying to say —look if you want a blanket get one of your own — so I finally took her — the blanket and put her on my bed and she was happy — Well I have got to do the dishes so you have fun and remember you are coming home on the bus — I will meet you when you get off — Love from us — Mom
As a child, I didn’t notice my mother never used periods. In one continuous thought joined by dashes, she listed the events of her life. I’d receive several letters the week I was gone. She talked about ironing her uniforms for work, painting the house, rearranging the furniture, giving a woman a toolbox as a shower gift and all the errands she ran on her day off. She asked about my swimming lessons and gave updates on my softball team. I remember how excited I was to receive them.
Now I realize the summer camp was down the road from the facility for tuberculosis-susceptible children she was sent as a child to be fattened up. She didn’t want me to feel abandoned as she had.
Classes started this week at the community college where I teach, and my students will be doing the same timeline journal I did in Clue class in 1977. It includes: a page of failures, successes, heroes, comparisons, likes, dislikes, questions, special times, observations, emotions, opinions, feelings, a time line with photos, a collage using magazine clippings and an acrostic poem. I hope my students open a box one day and find that life, moving vans and a wet basement haven’t eaten away the words.
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