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fall beauty and the pain of old letters

Today is what we actors call “a show day.” I have a show tonight – actually a class, but it’s a show to me, which means gearing the whole day to the energy I’ll need tonight. 15 registered so far, which may mean it’ll be full by class time. It’s funny that at nearly 3 hours, a class is as long as most plays. But curtain is earlier, thank god – 6.30 p.m., not 8. I get to be in bed by 11, when in the old days, I’d just be hitting the bar.

Immersed in the treasure trove of mail left by my mother – a heartbreaking letter in 1944 thanking Mum for her kind note, from the mother of a friend of Mum’s, an RAF pilot missing, presumed killed; telegrams and cards on my birth; a note in May 1958 that she was going to see “My Fair Lady” in the West End which, I looked up, had the original cast – Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway. Snippets, fascinating and upsetting, about me at 7, whom my parents found difficult, and my 4-year old brother, whom they both adored. Dad is in Halifax and we are in London, England while my mother finishes some courses:

Michael is back at
school and beginning to bloom again – he seems to be going thro’ a gorgeous
phase, unless it’s because his hair is longer – I just can’t take my eyes off
him – he’s all twinkles and fun and humour and so adorable. How could there be
such a contrast between 2 children? Beth is honestly so impossible at times.
She seems so totally lacking in any sympathetic response to anything and is
completely subjective about everything.

In another letter, she writes about my brother, He is a gorgeous little boy and we are so lucky
to have him, I think. It is so difficult to hide this feeling from Beth, who is
so different. He has a dreamy quality I adore (you know it, of course) and the
smiles he gives to greet you when you go to pick him up are absolutely
shattering. …

And then, about me: I’m giving her more
and more little jobs and getting, of course, more and more protests. She has
no idea of giving out of the pure joy of it.

I was seven.

I read these bits to Jean-Marc, who had a clear vision during our renovation last winter of the more neurotic side of my personality and found them hilarious. But it does hurt, even after all these decades, because that disparity – difficult, adorable – continued for a long time, if not forever.

Pieces of the puzzle, falling into place. How to turn it into literature? Sorry if this seems to be dripping with self pity. Actually, for a moment or two there, it was; I feel sorry for that little girl who didn’t sob over everything the way her mother did and thus was perceived as unsympathetic – and was insanely jealous of her brother, with good reason. This was NOT what I was expecting when I began opening those envelopes but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Notes from Anna about her kids’ school – the principal said to her, today, “Last year I made something from nothing, but this year they expect miracles.” The school has heard about a school in Etobicoke which has even fewer resources, and though Parkdale is definitely a have-not place, they are going to send some of what they have to Etobicoke. This is a wonderful community that will be sorely tested in the days and months ahead.

Yesterday morning, Ben McNally’s Books and Brunch with two of my creative nonfiction colleagues at the King Eddy – four wonderful writers, including the extraordinary Jesse Thistle, once a homeless First Nations crack addict, now a York University professor and author of a successful memoir, From the Ashes. Inspiring and beautiful.

Fall is moving in, the days shorter and greyer, though still warmish. The garden at its most beautiful, because we know how soon the end is nigh. How it feeds my soul, this beauty.

And now, because it’s a show day – time for a nap.



2 Responses to “fall beauty and the pain of old letters”

  1. Hello Beth,
    I found your blog a few months ago, I can't remember how now, and I want you to know how much I look forward to reading new posts. I was in Cabbagetown this past weekend and was telling friends about your wonderful writing and how much I enjoy reading your updates. I have just started writing beyond my blog, with only a handful of published pieces having just started this year (my first piece was picked up by the Guardian which I'm sure will never happen again, but goodness what excitement that was!).

    Anyway, I read this today and thought of you and your mother's letters.

  2. beth says:

    Dear Frugal Trenches, how wonderful that your piece was picked up by the Guardian – what a great boost. I'm glad you're along on my journey; I'll check up on yours periodically too through your blog. I too try to live as frugally as possible; my readers know all about my second hand habit. And thank you for this article – as I said, I'm trying to figure out how to turn all this old paper into something interesting for others, and the piece gave me some ideas. Happy reading, dear friend.

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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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