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reading 1963

A great gift arrived in the mail today – my own self, on paper, from forty-five years ago.   The English friend I have not yet met, Penny the sister of my childhood pen pal Barbara, found a packet of my letters to Barbara starting in February 1963 when I was twelve, and ending with Barbara’s death in 1966.  Barbara put them into a brown envelope before she and her mother flew from London to the Mayo Clinic in May of 1966, for the heart operation from which she never recovered.  She was sixteen. 

Today I received that brown envelope, with Barbara’s writing on the front: “BETH’S Letters To Me.”  Just looking at it made me burst into tears.
Luckily, the letters themselves made me laugh.  Barbara had lots of pets, and I wrote back, “We have only two animals – a 9 month old dachshund, and my younger brother Michael.” 
On June 8th, 1963 – I was twelve, she was thirteen – I discussed our exchange of girls’ magazines: I sent her “Calling All Girls” and she sent me “Princess.” I had also sent her a map of the imaginary island a friend and I had invented, where we lived as orphans, and Barbara replied with a description of her own fantasy.  I wrote back:
“I think your dream world sounds lovely.  Is the house positively riddled with secret tunnels? I am glad your parents escaped the executioner and that you have a maid to wash the dishes.”
And then: “Have I ever told you about the time I won a Junior Encyclopedia Brittanica? [my spelling at the time] It started this way, at lunchtime:
Mum: Oh, look Beth.  It says if you write about your favourite book, you can win a Junior Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Beth: crunch, munch, crunch, chew, cough, slurp
Mum: Beth!  Listen, it says … (repeat)
Beth: Oh (munch) very nice (munch munch slurp)
Mum: (excited): Oh Beth.  You could win.  DOOOOOOO enter.
Beth: (Munch) Well, (crunch crunch) O.K. (chew)
Mum: Oh good.  I’ll get pen and paper.
Beth: (reflectively) Hmmm.  (slurp)  What is my (munch crunch) favourite book?
Mum: You liked “A Little Princess.”
Beth: (smacking lips) Ah, delicious.  Oh yes, by Francis Hogson Burnett.
Mum: (patiently) Yes dear, except it’s Hodgeson, to rhyme with Podgeson, you know.
Beth: Oh … (thinking)  Oh.  (scribble scribble) Oh dear!  Does this ketchup blob look too terrible?  I like this book … ( mumble mumble) Mother!  (vehemently)  I can’t write with you snorting down my back.
Mum: Beth.  Don’t be rude!
Beth: Because she is genuine and (mumble mumble) There.  I’m through.  It took me five minutes and if I don’t hurry, I’ll be late.  Bye!
And I won.  Isn’t it amazing?”
Amazing.  That is exactly how it happened; I remember that lunchtime well, though I was eating a poached egg which doesn’t involve much crunching.  But there are so many other things I don’t remember, which I can bring to life again through these letters.  Now I have the entire correspondence – hers to me and mine to her.  And also, more than forty years later, emails between Penny and me, as we become friends long distance, just as her sister and I did.  
How rich is life.
Munch, crunch, slurp.

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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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