My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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It’s spring, and a middle aged woman’s thoughts turn to … income tax.  Ah well, a quick hard sting and it’s over, whereas the blooming outside the window, the forsythia and daffs and cherry blossom and magnolia – oh, the magnolia … these will last for at least a week or two.  It’s hard to sit inside working on the perfect days, which my Canadian bones know are short-lived; I unsuccessfully fight the urge to slip out and potter in the garden.  Luckily I can unplug my laptop and move around the house following the sun – even sit outside tapping on the deck.  Hi my name is Beth and I am a lightoholic.

A few days ago I went to my local copy shop – on the way in, passed my Cabbagetown neighbour the magnificent Michael Ondaatje, on the way out – and copied all of my penpal Barbara’s letters from the early Sixties, to send to her family in England.  Her sister Penny wrote today that they had arrived – 78 pages worth – and she’s almost afraid to read them.  She’s waiting till the weekend when her older sister arrives, and they’ll go through them together.  Barbara was 12 when our correspondence started in 1962, and 16 when she died at the Mayo Clinic after an operation to repair the hole in her heart.  I marvel that somehow, through all those years, I knew the worth of her letters and kept them safe.  Even as I xeroxed, I was eating an apple and to my horror, the dampness on the counter smudged a few lines, written with a fountain pen. 
As I wrote to Penny today, nothing except the health of my children matters more to me than saving stories, than listening to the voices tell their tales.  One of my life’s jobs is not only to chronicle my own life stories, but to encourage others to do the same.  
I opened a dusty box last night that has been on a bedroom shelf, undisturbed, for years, “letters, souvenirs” marked on the side.  Inside I found files: “Writing 1967-74,” “Letters by me,” “Letters to me,” “Souvenirs 1989-95,”  “correspondence,” “friends.”  I found an envelope marked “Anna’s hair, May 9, 1981,” snipped when my daughter was six days old.  High-school and university essays on “Jude the Obscure” and “Salinger’s Opinion of American Society.” High school marks.  A letter my partner and I wrote to my grandfather one weekend in 1980, to tell him that I was pregnant and he would, at last, be a great-grandfather.  It was never mailed because my mother called to tell him the great news on a Friday and, though he wasn’t ill, he died on Sunday.  His message to her, to pass on to me: “I am beyond thrilled.  Get married immediately.” 
Some people leave the past behind and march on.  Others keep looking back.  No accounting for it; it’s just a way some of us live, keeping a paper trail of the heart.   



2 Responses to “souvenir”

  1. penny says:

    The longing to see my sister’s hand-writing, to hear her voice in my head overcame my trepidation and last night I read the letters and rediscovered my bubbling, sometimes babbling Barbara. Please write she says, over and over,as she said to us all.

    Maybe today Babs would have been a blogger, full of news to share and trivia which with the passage of time takes on new meaning. But then there would have been no ink on the page to endure – no changing script to tell the story of her growing up.

    Those who keep the faith and still take up pen and paper to create loving letters give a gift, a fragment of time to be folded up small, tucked in a drawer to bring joy in the future.

    We, who by instinct store and save, are the keepers of rich treasure to be shared.

  2. beth says:

    For anyone out there who has been following this marvellous story – the tale of the too-short life of Barbara, my penpal from the early Sixties, and the recent connection over forty years later between me and her younger sister – here is the next chapter, when you get to meet Penny and share the pleasure of her writing.

    Penny, this story is also a tribute to your mother, who saved my letters as I saved Barbara’s, and also much else, I gather, from your past. And yes, treasure is the word.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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